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Monday Mouse Watch: "It's like sending a boy scout into the court of the Borgias"

Monday Mouse Watch: "It's like sending a boy scout into the court of the Borgias"

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John Lasseter clearly must be a theater fan.

After all, week before last, Lasseter was down at Disney World checking out DAK's "Finding Nemo --The Musical." Then this past Thursday, John was out in NYC attending the opening night of Disney Theatrical's newest production, "Mary Poppins."

Which is kind of ironic. Given that -- when it comes to the on-going drama at Walt Disney Imagineering -- Lasseter has been kind of a no-show lately.

Alright, to be fair, since he came on board at the Mouse House of this year, John & Ed Catmull have been concentrating on turning Disney Feature Animation around. Which only makes sense. Given that WDFA literally is the creative engine that drives the Walt Disney Company.

After all, unless Feature Animation can get back to producing popular motion pictures that feature memorable characters ... Well, that makes life extremely difficult for Disney's Consumer Products division (Which constantly needs new characters to feed to its network of licensees) as well as Parks & Resorts (Which regularly needs new films with memorable characters, stories and settings to serve as inspiration for rides, shows & attractions for the parks).

This explains why John has spent most of the past 10 months focusing on reviving WDFA. But those guys over Glendale -- particularly the ones who grown tired of dealing with Walt Disney Imagineering's poisonous corporate culture & constant in-fighting ... Well, they're wondering when WDI's new principal creative advisor is actually going to start advising them.

As an e-mail that I recently received from an Imagineering insider so succintly put it:

Lack of movement by Lasseter to eliminate the existing politically driven management at WDI is bringing morale back down to the pre-Pixar announcement levels.

Existing management has actually become more emboldened in their former attitudes. (Imagine what the Bush administration would be like if the Democrats hadn't taken over Congress).

The current focus on 'placemaking' (paint, plants & change of theme) just reinforces the fact that no true visionary is involved in recent projects. Visionary creativity being replaced with pabulum.

Again, to fair, in the months immediately following the Pixar acquisition, Lasseter was heavily involved in Disney's promotional efforts to support the international release of "Cars." Then there was that long family vacation that John had promised to take with Nancy and the boys.

But all that was over months ago.

Meanwhile, many veteran Imagineers are wondering when Lasseter is finally going to call WDI management on its increasingly manipulative behavior. Take -- for example -- that "Cars" themed E-Ticket that's been proposed for DCA's San Francisco district. John was supposedly thrilled when the guys at WDI initially pitched this thrill ride to him. Which will reportedly make use of the very same ride system that Epcot's "GM Test Track" uses.

But no sooner had John left on his family vacation when these WDI managers not only cut the budget for this proposed California Adventure addition, but they then pushed back the start of construction of this attraction by several years.

"Why would these Imagineering managers do that?," you ask. Well, quickly stepping around the whole "Cars"-didn't-do-nearly-as-well-as-Disney-execs-had-hoped-it-would issue (The mere mention of which tends to make certain JHM readers froth at the mouth) ... To be honestly, this is pretty much business as usual at WDI.

What do I mean by that? Well, if you look cold-bloodedly at the history of this division of the Walt Disney Company, you'll see that there have literally been dozens of ambitious projects (EX: The "Dick Tracy Crimestoppers" thrill ride, The "Island at the Top of the World" E-Ticket, the "Babes in Toyland" dark ride) that were tabled when senior management suddenly lost enthusiasm for the productions that these projects were supposed to be based on.

And then there's that "Journey into Imagination with Figment" redo that Lasseter had supposedly been personally championing. Preliminary plans for this renovation had reportedly been drawn up. A budget was dummied out. There was even talk of fast-tracking this particular project. Just so that the renovation of this Future World favorite would then send the appropriate message to the Disney fan community that WDI was now under new management.

But then -- almost as soon as talk had started about this "Imagination" redo -- this project fell off of Imagineering's fast track. Allegedly because WDI management had talked John out of pushing for this particular redo.

"And why they'd do that?," you query. To be honest, redoing "Journey into Imagination with Figment" just didn't make fiscal sense. This Future World pavilion had already gone under the knife twice in the past seven years, with the Walt Disney Company spending tens of millions of dollars in an effort to freshen up & improve "Imagination." Meanwhile, there are other parts of Epcot that hadn't received any TLC in more than a decade.

So spending more money now on yet another attempt to improve this particular Future World attraction (at least in the eyes of WDI's current management team) just seemed wasteful. Or so these managers supposedly told Lasseter.

And let's not forget about the hidden agenda that's now being serviced by that proposed redo of Disneyland's Tom Sawyer Island. How many of you recall that somewhat infamous trip that John Lasseter and his son made to that Frontierland attraction back in January 2002? These two were accompanied to TSI by then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner. Who was reportedly incredibly embarassed by the decrepit condition that many of the attractions on this island had been allowed to fall into.

Given that Lasseter supposedly has very fond memories of what Tom Sawyer Island was like back in its heyday ... Well, John's own affection for this attraction is allegedly one of the main justifications that WDI execs are now using for fast-tracking this particular project. These guys have reportedly been telling Mouse House managers that " ... John will be very pleased if we can turn the island back into one of Disneyland's showpieces."

Oh, by the way ... For those of you who are concerned about how a Pirate-themed island will actually fit into the Frontierland setting ... The revised plans for this project now allegedly calls for an overlay that actually straddles both of these worlds. So that Tom Sawyer Island would now become the home of river pirates similar to the ones that Davy Crockett & Mike Fink did battle with in the studio's 1956 film, "Davy Crockett & the River Pirates."

To further ease your concerns about this particular redo ... Word has begun leaking out Jerry Bruckheimer's production office that among the story ideas that Ted Elliot & Terry Rossio are considering for "Pirates of the Caribbean IV" is that Capt. Jack Sparrow and friends will make a trip upriver to New Orleans. Supposedly at voodoo queen Tia Dalma's request. So -- if production of that "Pirates" sequel does go forward in 2009 or 2010 -- having a river pirates-themed version of Tom Sawyer Island might then actually make some sense.

Anyway ... Getting to the main thrust of today's story ... Which is that many Imagineering veterans are wondering when John Lasseter is going to start taking a more hands-on approach toward his dealings with WDI. Or -- at the very least -- stop listening to those senior Imagineering executives who keep persuading Lasseter to abandon particular projects for the theme parks or (worse than that) convincing him that certain projects that service their own agendas are actually based on John's own suggestions.

What's particularly worrisome to some Imagineering veterans is that all that talk that used to be out there about how significant management changes were allegedly in the works for WDI ... That's all stopped now.

In fact, these days, it's looking far more likely that the Disney Parks & Resorts side of the business will see big changes long before any senior execs who are currently in power at Walt Disney Imagineering will ever be shown the door. Which -- as that e-mail that I excerpted toward the top of today's article clearly demonstrates -- just depresses the hell out of certain folks at WDI.

Perhaps it's the words of one veteran Imagineer that I spoke with late last week that best sums up the current situation. As we talked on the phone, he said:

"You wanna know what the real problem here is? John's a genuinely nice guy. So his first instinct is to trust people and take them at their word. Which just doesn't work in a snakepit like WDI. It's like sending a boy scout into the court of the Borgias.

These executives have been lying to Lasseter & manipulating him from Day One. He just hasn't realized it yet."

Well, after today's article, perhaps that will change.

Your thoughts?

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  • Pirates on Tom Sawyer Island is still a backward idea, no matter what the movie people toss into the next sequel. Frontierland's island should reflect the nation's pioneer history. It may be adapted, not desecrated.
  • First off, I agree with OnceUponaDream- Tom Sawyer is as American as apple pie...Pirates of the Caribbean- well, they're from the Caribbean.  They'd fit better in Adventureland- wait- they're already there!  
    What if Disney had promoted either (or both) "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" or "Tom and Huck" better- then kids these days would have a better appreciation of this particular attraction.

    I was looking forward to the Figment re-do.  I haven't personally seen the old version (any old version), but I know about DreamFinder, and I know that so many people miss him and the old version.  It's not the non-execs' fault (regular Imagineers) that they were forced to change the attraction.  Did WDI do surveys of park guests and asked their opinion on the ride before the first re-do?  It's unfortunate that the situation has come to this.  I hope eventually that the ride, although I'm a fan of it, can get back DreamFinder and its orignal glory.

    Maybe after John Lasseter has been working for WDI for a while longer he'll feel more comfortable standing up to the exec bullies?  Does he have the power to fire them?  What good is having John Lasseter in charge if he's really not doing his job (being in charge)?  Sounds like he's just a yes-man.  Tisk, tisk.  

    I hadn't heard about that "Cars" ride that Jim mentioned, but I had been looking forward to the Indy 500/Autopia re-do with the "Cars" theme that will probably never see the light of day (at least I haven't heard about it in months).  

    I'd be interested in reading an article about "mistakes" that WDI has made over the years- attractions that were built that just stank and had to be closed, or attractions that were going to be built that had been long in the planning stages that got shelved...how many of those kids of things were the faults of the suits?  It's a terrible situation, and I hope that Lasseter can get tough enough to stand up to these suits.
  • Yes, yes we know ... John Lassiter is evil. First he made that horrible Cars movie and now he's letting the poor people at Imagineering down.

    What terrible thing will John do next, I wonder?? Maybe leave the toilet seat up or some equally horrible faux pas!

    Please ...........
  • There's a cycle that WDI follows that's being missed here.  For each resort, there generally is one "major addition" every 5-7 years (E-Ticket) and a "plus" every 2-3 years (C/D-Ticket, show, upgrade, etc.) with a new park or major land every 15-20 years.  I've been a mouse fan for years and studied the trends and this always seems to hold true.  If an attraction development timeline is five years and the cylce mentioned above is more-or-less true, that means we are a LONG TIME away from seeing Lassiter's real impact.  It's like hiring a new coach for a college football/basketball team... you don't really get a sense of the coach's worth until after her/his first real recruiting class reaches its senior year.  I think Lassiter has more than earned our trust as we go through this frustrating period of transition and waiting.
  • "Existing management has actually become more emboldened in their former attitudes. (Imagine what the Bush administration would be like if the Democrats hadn't taken over Congress)."

    Oh, please. What a pitiful analogy. The nightmare is that the Dems HAVE taken over Congress, and already one of those Dems has proposed bringing back the draft and another wants to - you guessed it - raise everyone's taxes and give the money primarily to people who keep giving birth to children they can't afford to raise (which will win them a free house from Habitat for Humanity, for starters) and to people who Dems have labeled "underprivileged" because they're not the right skin color (talk about a bigoted attitude). And of course the Dems' primary goal -  if indeed they have goals at all - is to declare that the United States military can't defeat a bunch of murderers and criminals in Iraq and should run like hell. That analogy blew your contact's cred, Jim, so I have no worries regarding Lasseter's involvement in WDI. Your contact probably is ticked because he didn't get a raise or something.
  • After that thing with "Frog Princess", and taking this article at face value, I'm beginning to entertain the notion that WDWacky may have a point.

    From the day they announced JL being WDI's creative advisor, we kept hearing that the post was "largely ceremonial."  Now we're apparently mad because JL hasn't been shaking things up adequately.

    I also feel forced to point out that, in an article that keeps reminding us what a nest of vipers WDI is, that all the main sources are the vipers themselves.  Can't have it both ways, y'know.
  • PS:  Oh, shuddup, gigglesock.
  • gigglesock...America prefers Democrats to the lying, expensive (the most expenisve Congress in HISTORY), and GOP-edophilc  republicans.

    Lest we forget, gw bush was in the White House when terrorists attacked on 9/11, with ample proof (yes, FACTS) that he knew something was up, and yet did NOTHING AT ALL to attemp to stop it.  He started an unecessary war in Iraq, and has left American Taxpayers holding the bag, while he runs to "daddy" for help.
    Meanwhile, the Taliban is taking Afghanistan back, and the opium harvest is larger than it's ever been.   North Korea AND Iran nearly have nuclear technology.

    And the surplus is gone.

    America is ashamed of bush.  And rightfully so.

    Thank GOD Democrats will bring BALANCE and FAIRNESS back to Washington.

  • It is really 2 bad that such a company that has the ability to do so much wonderful things is being destroyed by its own management. I don't think a Lassater interference is enough.. A big bad old reorganisation; throw the whole company around. That should do the trick.. Bring it back to a house of creativity, instead of war.
  • John Lasseter is the head of creative, not the head of WDI. It is his job to make sure that the ride designers are coming up with the best ideas, that the rides are top notch, and they are finding new ways of entertaining guests. It is not his job to approve budgets or come up with a strategic plan for all of the parks. It's more like, "Hey John, here's this idea I had for an attraction," and John says, "Sounds great, but it could be better if...".
  • Hey, Scroobiedrool, GOP-edophilic is clever but untrue, and the Dems won Congress because Bible-thumping Bush and the Republicans were acting like socialists anyway --- AND insisting on a pointless war. So I think that analogy works perfectly. Still I take Jim's stuff with a grain of salt: a steady diet of Disney with a heap of rumors. Sometimes true, usually not, and probably with an agenda of its own. If it helps Lasseter get his act together and make better decisions, great.
  • "Yes, yes we know ... John Lassiter is evil. First he made that horrible Cars movie and now he's letting the poor people at Imagineering down.

    What terrible thing will John do next, I wonder?? Maybe leave the toilet seat up or some equally horrible faux pas!

    Please ........... "

    LOL

    What everybody failed to mention for a long time is that, with all this fighting overseas, our original intention was to get back at the Al-Qeda organization that was involved the 9/11 debacle, which was engineered primarily by Osama bin Laden. But because the government was focused on "finishing" something less rated to the current War on Terrorism, but more in relation to the Iraqi War more than a decade ago, we now have a whole mess of enemies who want to kill us regardless of whether we quit this Vietnam-ish War in Iraq.

    As for WDI, it can't be as bad as they're saying it is. A recent article indicates that attendance in the theme parks are on the upswing.
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15642243/

    The only thing I agree with about today's article is that the waiting game is excruciating. But who said there WASN'T going to be some hurdles along the way? A lot of cool ideas for both animation and imagineering are naturally going to be set aside for a while as they have to focus on making better ideas for current projects. And the lot of us animation fanatics are still waiting for the imminent return of Disney's hand-drawn animation, which is still months and years off, as they (re-)tool the current works-in-progress into potentially stronger offerings.

    As much as we hate it, Disney's road to recovery is not an overnight process.
  • blackcauldron85 said:
    "First off, I agree with OnceUponaDream- Tom Sawyer is as American as apple pie...Pirates of the Caribbean- well, they're from the Caribbean.  They'd fit better in Adventureland- wait- they're already there! "
    ---
    More importantly, the momentary "Pressler's Disease" fit of Current Movie Tie-In Fever has passed, and designers have forced themselves to try and look at non-movie ideas to keep their attraction idea but save face...As usually happens with bad attraction ideas that publicly hit the fan.  Next step in recovery is traditionally either to water the change down to a harmless idea, or drop it completely and just fix up a rehab.
    ====
    mawnck said:
    "I also feel forced to point out that, in an article that keeps reminding us what a nest of vipers WDI is, that all the main sources are the vipers themselves.  Can't have it both ways, y'know."
    ---
    It's a general rule in journalism that the more (ahem) -colorful- your source's opinions are, the more personal the grudge is likely to be, and the more suspicious that he's so willing to talk to anybody in print--Good investigation lets baloney alarms ring on both sides.
    And yeah, the cheap political-bait non-sequitir as icing on the cake didn't exactly HELP.
    ====
    "'Why would these Imagineering managers do that?,' you ask. Well, quickly stepping around the whole "Cars"-didn't-do-nearly-as-well-as-Disney-execs-had-hoped-it-would issue
    you'll see that there have literally been dozens of ambitious projects (EX: The "Dick Tracy Crimestoppers" thrill ride, The "Island at the Top of the World" E-Ticket, the "Babes in Toyland" dark ride) that were tabled when senior management suddenly lost enthusiasm for the productions that these projects were supposed to be based on."
    ---
    Uh, thought that had to do more with the "Dick Tracy, Island, Toyland, Atlantis and Reign of Fire-didn't-do-nearly-as-well-as-execs-had-hoped-they-would" issue?
    (So, either the Cars ride being axed was a "conspiracy", or the boardroom still second-guessed the movie as a "flop", one of the two, I'm confused here!!)
  • Can we just please give Pixar its own land in the parks and be done with it already?
  • I had such hopes back when JHM posted the article that DreamFinder might be returning to Journey Into Imagination because of Lasseter. And I know Tony Baxter would have to be chomping at the bit to take on the 4th redo. Putting a little more money into a park's major character makes more sense to me, but then I'm baised!
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