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Monday Mouse Watch: The Battle of Midway (Madness)

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Monday Mouse Watch: The Battle of Midway (Madness)

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If you've been wandering around the Web lately -- in particular poking around the discussion boards over at MouseInfo and WDWMagic --  you've probably already heard the name "Midway Madness" bandied about this past weekend. This is that new interactive "Toy Story" -themed dark ride that's supposedly being added to both Disney's California Adventure & Disney-MGM Studios theme park in 2008.

But -- what with all the talk about these two new Disney theme park attractions --  Disneyana fans seem to have missed the truly significant news that is buried deep down inside of this story.

The DCA version of "Midway Madness?" It's actually being built back in the Paradise Pier section of that theme park. Which has long been criticized as not having enough family-friendly rides, shows and attractions that feature the Disney characters.

But what's really significant about this proposed Paradise Pier addition is that "Midway Madness" is being built in place of DCA's next placemaking project. Which was to have revamped the entire "Sunshine Plaza" section of Disney's California Adventure. So that -- when all this retheming was done -- the entrance area of this troubled theme park was then to have resembled the California that Walt Disney first encountered when he arrived in the Golden State back in August of 1923.

Whereas the Disney-MGM version of "Midway Madness" ... This interactive dark ride was originally supposed to be built between "Muppetvision 3-D" and "Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano." You know? That large slab of land that "Al's Toy Barn" and the old "Hunckback of Notre Dame" theatre currently occupy.

(FYI for all you Disney trivia fans out there: This particular MGM expansion pad was where Muppet Studios was originally supposed to have been built. Which was where the infamous "Great Muppet Movie Ride" would have been located.)


Photo by Martin Smith

However, instead of building a brand-new building to house this dark ride, what the Imagineers have opted to do instead is place Disney-MGM's version of "Midway Madness" inside of two already-existing structures. To be specific, Soundstage 2 & 3. Which are currently the home of  the "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire -- Play It!" attraction.

You get what's going on here yet? In both of these cases, WDI had the option of spending a huge amount of money on something (I.E. A rethemed entrance plaza for DCA, a brand-new show building for MGM) that wouldn't have had all that big an impact on how the guests actually experienced these two theme parks.

But -- in the end -- the Imagineers opted to put the needs of the paying customers first. Not the annual passholders, mind you, or the hardcore Disney dweebs. Those people who would have actually noticed that DCA's revamped entrance area was supposed to represent Walt's arrival in California circa 1923 and/or would have "Oohed" & "Aahed" if a distinctive looking new show building had been added to MGM's Backlot area.

Instead, the Imagineers opted -- in the case of DCA's version of "Midway Madness" -- to put an family-friendly attraction where it was actually needed. Which -- in this case -- was 'way back in that theme park's Paradise Pier area.

And -- in the case of Disney-MGM -- the Imagineers finally tried to be somewhat smart with the time & money that they'd been budgeted to build this attraction. Knowing that -- if WDI retrofitted several of MGM's soundstages so that they could then serve as home for that theme park's new "Midway Madness" ride -- they could then keep construction costs down. More to the point, the Imagineers could actually shave months off of the construction time of "Midway Madness." Meaning that the MGM version of this attraction might then be able to open months ahead of the DCA version of this same attraction.

"So what's so significant about all this?," you ask. Well, this is the brand-new WDI that you're looking at, folks. The version of this organization that -- with the hope of impressing both of its new corporate overseers, Bob Iger & John Lasseter -- will attempt to do better with the budgets that it's given. Spending this money in ways that the guests can actually see it & appreciate it. Rather than just on vanity projects.

Which -- to be honest -- is the way that a lot of WDI-types now see DCA's placemaking efforts. As a vanity project. An attempt by Imagineers who weren't originally allowed to work on California Adventure to finally get their hands on that theme park. Remaking DCA in their own image, so to speak.

As one WDI insider recently told me:

"Remaking the 'Golden Gateway' and 'Gateway Plaza' so that 'Sunshine Plaza' then looks like the California that Walt Disney encountered when he first arrived in the state in 1923 is an incredibly stupid idea. Who -- outside of a few annual passholders -- is actually going to understand or appreciate a concept like that?

That's $30 million that WDI might as well flush down the toilet. For -- if they actually spend that money to redo DCA's entrance -- it's going to have zero impact on the park's gate.

After all, nobody goes to a theme park because they heard that that park now has a snazzy new entrance area  that tells a story. They go to a theme park because there's a brand-new ride to ride or a new parade or fireworks show to see.

This whole placemaking thing is a crock. I wish that they'd just abandon this idea and let us get to the job that really needs to be done here. Which is designing & then building all of  the rides, shows and attractions that DCA needs. So that that theme park can finally be a worthy companion to Disneyland."

Of course, the best news here is that the Imagineers decided to build "Midway Madness" in the Paradise Pier section of DCA. Which signals that WDI really hasn't given up on this side of that theme park. That the Imagineers are going to try & find a way to make this part of the park finally work.

Mind you, this wasn't always the case. As recently as last year, a certain VP at WDI was still pushing hard for DCA to wash its hands of Paradise Pier. To literally wall off this section of that theme park. Deannex this area to Downtown Disney, so that its collection of carnival-types rides & games could then be considered part of that dining, shopping & entertainment district's assortment of attractions.

But now that "Midway Madness" is on its way to Paradise Pier (More importantly, given that Steve Davison's next big extravaganza -- the "Wonderful World of Color" fountain spectacular -- is expected to be up & running in Paradise Bay by late 2008 / early 2009), this whole area will become the new focal point of that theme park. The place that you have to visit whenever you go to DCA.

Whereas the MGM version of "Midway Madness" ... One of the main reasons that this new dark ride is being built on Mickey Avenue is that -- sometime in 2007 -- Mickey Avenue's other big attraction, the "Voyage of the Little Mermaid" stage show, will be closing.

Why For? Well, to be honest, for much the same reason that the "Tarzan Rocks!" stage show had to close at Disney's Animal Kingdom back in January. Because Disney Theatrical was prepping the  Broadway version of "Tarzan" and they didn't want any authorized Disney "Tarzan"-themed productions out there that their new musical could be compared to.

Sooo ... Given that Disney Theatrical's version of "The Little Mermaid" is reportedly due to arrive on Broadway during the 2007 - 2008 season ... That's why MGM's "Voyage of the Little Mermaid" has to close sometime in 2007.

And given that Disney-MGM could actually use a new attraction that would help drive guests into the backmost portion of this theme park ... Well, that's why (in addition to that construction cost savings) it does make sense to install "Midway Madness" in Soundstages 2 & 3.

Speaking of cost savings ... It's kind of ironic that here are the Imagineers. Working so hard to prove to Mouse House managers that they can do lots better when it comes to the way that WDI spends money on new theme park attractions (This new efficiency initiative supposedly came about because of all the cost over-runs on DCA's new "Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue" ride. Which reportedly drove the construction costs of this DCA redo well over $30 million).

And yet here's John Lasseter, the Principal Creative Advisor of Walt Disney Imagineering, suggesting ways that Disneyland's new "Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage" can be "plussed." Even though construction of this $70 million retheming of Tomorrowland's "Submarine Voyage"  was already well underway, with concrete being poured and steel beam being anchored into place, John -- in a recent meeting with the "Finding Nemo" design team -- was talking about how he wanted changes made to several show scenes. Rather expensive changes, I might add.

And as the "Finding Nemo" design team laughed & smiled at Lasseter's suggestions, inwardly they wondered. Sure, John would be able to get all the money necessary to make all of these changes (And we're talking millions here, folks). But -- even so -- trying to work all of these proposed new show scenes & effects into the "Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage" is going to probably put this Tomorrowland construction project behind schedule. Which might make them miss their Spring 2007 completion date.

But -- again -- given that it's John Lasseter who's asking for all these changes, time & money are no object. Right now, anyway. Though one wonders how long John's honeymoon period is actually going to last.

Me personally, I think a lot depends on how well "Cars" does at the box office this summer. If Pixar's newest animated feature pulls in at least "The Incredibles" -level money, then Lasseter can pretty much write his own ticket. Push through whatever theme park projects that he choses.

If -- on the other hand -- "Cars" under-performs and Wall Street starts talking about how Disney overpaid for Pixar ... Well, then this honeymoon may be over real quick. At least when it comes to Lasseter always getting his way with WDI projects.

Anyway ... That's a quick overview of what's been going on at Disney's California Adventure, Disney-MGM Studios theme park, Disney's Animal Kingdom and Disneyland. With a particular emphasis on where this new "Midway Madness" attraction actually fits into the bigger picture.

Your thoughts?

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  • jim, jim, jim,
    all those details about the ramifications of this one ride.
    yet you leave out the most important thing of all..... TELL ME ABOUT THE RIDE!!!!! WHAT IS IT? WHATS GOING TO HAPPEN ON IT? WELL???
    LOL
    sorry, i thought i'd be the first one to ask...
    thanks! glad i got that off my chest.....
    paUL
    P.S. Like my new avatar??? i just LOVE that willie!
  • Saving the Paradise Pier area?    woo hoo    let me stop off at the nearest gift shop and buy some enthusiasm.
  • How about just joining up Disneyland and California adventure and ending this whole charade? The notion of a second theme park at Disneyland, which mainly looks like it was designed to put Knott's Berry Farm out of business, has the Eisner "make money at any cost" fingerprints all over it. Walt wanted a new Tivoli Gardens, not a tacky Long Beach Pike imitation. My vote is to replace the tacky amusement park rides with real Disney theme rides one by one until this abomination has been erased.
  • I am intrigued about what the ride is going to be.  Finally a dark ride where it should be, on the midway!  That was definitely what that area was missing but I think it's going to take more than a dark ride to really improve the midway even more...
  • Anyone else think the name "Midway Madness" conjures up images of cheap neon-painted cardboard flats?
  • Some details about the actual attraction would be really nice. Glad to hear they're finally building something else at MGM, but it disappoints me that we're loosing an attraction (two, if you count Mermaid), so it's not really a gain. This sparks even more questions, though:
    1) When are they going to close Millionaire at MGM? I'm guessing it will be before November, which is when we're going again. I was really looking forward to taking another crack at it. I made the top audience score once and would have gone to the hot seat, but they didn't have enough time for another contestant.
    2) What's going to replace Little Mermaid? Are they going to put another show there? Maybe use one of the other Princesses?
    3) What are they doing with the TimeKeeper spot in Tomorrowland? I've heard they're already gutting it. Are they building something else there, too?
  • Well,
    The first time I read about the new entrance for DCA, I thhought that they were moving in the right direction. I thought that Walt's California Adventure was a better Theme for the park. Now I agree fully that spending money on an attraction is a better bang for the buck. I still think the new layout is a great idea and should not be lost, can you imagine main street with out main street? Now if they could tie in an attraction with the new entrance, maybe a new version of the Great Movie Ride with Disney charaters would be a great start
  • I suppose this is all we can expect in this age of greatly diminished expectations.  I'd like to point out that (at least for WDW, I can't comment on California Adventure) this is a net loss of theming.  By permanently converting two of the erstwhile soundstages, the whole idea/rationale/raison d'être takes a hit, as it becomes that much less of a "working" studio.  I know very well that it never was very much of a working studio, but at least it had the trappings and theme of one.  The studio connection in the form of an attraction based on film characters is a little tenuous.  It also has none of the implicit backstory that makes the attractions at, say, the Magic Kingdom seem like much more of a cohesive whole.  It would make more sense to have a wholesale makeover of the Studios, and make them something much more "fantasticated," like something out of the Roger Rabbit universe.

    One used to be able to expect the immersive theming and amazing attractions at a Disney park, and not get insulted as a "dweeb" for doing so.  Times change, half a loaf and all.  It's sad that now we get half a loaf, when one used to get a tasty sandwich.
  • Just tear down most of DCA and construct "Fantasyland II" with rides based on the more recent Disney classics, like Aladdin, Mermaid, Hercules, or The Lion King. Not everything has to be a thrill ride, bring back the dark rides. However, if you want a new thrill ride, how's this for an idea: VR:Virtual Rocketeer?
  • The "unnamed WDI Insider"'s comments skate dangerously on the grounds of being misinterpreted (namely by short-attention'ed "Aw c'mon, howzabout another E-ride?" fanboys):
    His "Who needs theming?" comment was directed more specifically at DCA, and yes, that one DID seem to have been envisioned first by "theme" set designers and by integrated ride designers second--Namely, a lot of area window dressing for *one* attraction each, and not a sense of "why" we're walking through a Dream-California, as a united "show" experience.

    It'd be easy to generalize his comments, but fact is, we do need theming, just so long as there's some actual cake under all that icing--
    DCA should've been a lot more than just an excuse to import Tower of Terror for Anaheim residents, and needs a few original licks of its own that no other park can duplicate....That's how you keep guests in the door.
    (And which they did have, before "Soarin'" went over to Epcot.)
  • Give us some specifics about the ride.
  • I am definitely not in favor of this in MGM. Although I think more attractions would be nice, I have some major problems with it....
    1) Why get rid of WWtbaMPI? The show still pulls in crowds. And why there when there is plenty of unused space (like the Backlot Theater & ABC Theater).
    2) How about we start making attractions not based on Pixar characters? I am sick of Pixar tie-ins to every new attraction. There is such as thing as originality.
    3) This sounds too much like Space Ranger Spin 2. Again, how about some originality?
  • Which, unfortunately, was one of the questions raised earlier:
    We've got two John Lasseters putting in ideas for the parks, and unfortunately, they're both the same person--One is the "Disney Dweeb" Lasseter, who wants to undo all the Pressler Evils of the past fifteen years and make old-style neo-Walt-era attractions (and, being a Fanboy, wants every single one of them to be dark E-rides)...And then there's the "We won, we won!" triumphantly-vindicated Pixar-president Lasseter, who wants every single one of them to be about Pixar movies.

    ...Hopefully, one will eventually be able to shut the other one up (and we *know* which ones), but first "they've" got to get over "themselves" and get with the larger Imagineering program--just like "Walt would've wanted"--before Gollum and Smeagol can argue it out.
  • Disney hasnt forgotton how to do theming right. Take a look at Tokyo Disneysea. While I have never been there, doing a simple good search to find some pictures will show you Disney KNOWS how to do themeing right. That park is just beautuful everywhere. (yes yes, they had additional funding..)

    I agree with AngusMcGonnigle. I am insulted to be called a Disney Dweeb.

    Just because I am an AP holder. Am not a family of four. and have no children doesnt mean that I, and thousands like me, dont POUR money into the Disney company. Take a look at my pin collection... Ask me about the Disney Tours Ive been on. Ask me what restuarant is my favorite at WDW, Ive eaten at all of them.  Consistantly playing to the 'simpleton tourist' will keep producing more 'Stitch type' rides. Why not take a look at us Disney Dweebs. Because its ME who keeps dragging my non-disney friends there. ME who insists to families I speak to, to stay here, eat here, see this, do that.

    I'll be in the parks tomorrow. And next weekend. And the weekend after. You cant tell me that Disney is losing *that* much money off of us AP holders.
  • "By permanently converting two of the erstwhile soundstages, the whole idea/rationale/raison d'être takes a hit, as it becomes that much less of a "working" studio."

    That's my biggest disappointment of this new attraction, aside from replacing Millionaire, which is something I enjoy, and losing an attraction to gain one. This move pretty much puts the nail in the coffin of MGM becoming a working studio again. I never understood why Disney hasn't produced any of their Disney Channel shows there -- talk about synergy waiting to happen. If North Carolina can be the number three state for filming (Dawson's Creek and One Tree Hill, and many films), I think Disney could have done a much better job with MGM if they had really tried.
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