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Will Walt Disney Imagineering ever revisit the "Pluto's Playland" project ?

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Will Walt Disney Imagineering ever revisit the "Pluto's Playland" project ?

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For over 50 years now, the Walt Disney Company has been going to the dogs. Particularly when Mickey was looking for strong story material to build new motion pictures around.

Think about it. Ever since "Lady and the Tramp" first bounded into theaters back in June of 1955, the Mouse Factory has turned out a steady stream of feature films that have either starred and/or prominently featured heroic canines. We've had "Old Yeller," "Savage Sam," "Gregfriars Bobby," "Big Red," "The Incredible Journey," "The Ugly Dachshund" and "The Shaggy Dog." Not to mention Disney's dog-related animated features like "101 Dalmatians," "The Fox and the Hound" and "Oliver and Company."

So given this studio's history, is it really such a surprise that Walt Disney Pictures is getting ready to put on the dog once more? Releasing a brand-new live-action version of that animated television series from the 1960s, "Underdog." Which opens at a theater near you tomorrow.

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But given all of the canine-related cartoons and feature films that Disney has produced over the years, it's kind of surprising to see how little of this material has actually made it into the theme parks. I mean, sure. You've got "Tony's Town Square" eatery at WDW's Magic Kingdom. As well as the Barnstormer at Goofy's Wise Acre Farm. But beyond that ... With the exception of a few canine walk-around characters that you'll see in the Disney theme parks, the Anaheim & Orlando resorts are virtually dog-free zones.

Which is kind of ironic. Given that -- in the early 1990s -- the Imagineers actually explored the idea of building a Disneyland for dogs: "Pluto's Playland."

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Strange but true, folks. You see, back then, Disney executives were actively looking for new worlds for the company to conquer. Which is why we saw Mickey aggressively moving into new stand-alone projects like DisneyQuest, Club Disney, Mickey's Kitchen and ESPN Zone.

And about this same time, Mouse House officials came across an interesting piece of research. Which showed that -- out of the 54 million Americans who then owned dogs -- these folks (on average) spent $55 per year on treats and $35 on toys for their pets. Which suggested that consumers were willing to spend quite a bit of money to entertain their canines.

And after watching the growing popularity of dog parks in Southern California, several forward-looking execs asked the Imagineers to come up with some concepts for a stand-alone project that would (in theory) appeal to pet owners. Sooo ... Using Disneyland as their template, the guys from WDI then designed a decidedly low-tech 20-acre park where Fido & his human family could go have fun together.

From a distance, Pluto's Playland would look sort of like your standard Disney theme park. Given that it seemed to have a fairy tale castle as its "wienie." It was only after you got up close to this 70-foot-tall structure that you then began to realize that this was no castle. But -- rather -- a giant pile of meat rising out of an enormous version of Pluto's dog food dish.

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As for the rest of this proposed park ... Well, it would have been doggie heaven. There would have been fields set up for competitive Frisbee flinging, complete grooming facilities for those who wanted to pamper their pooches. And did I mention the numerous snack bars?

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Each of which would have featured a canine-friendly serving counter ...

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... as well as a seating area where your family & the family dog could have enjoyed a healthy snack together.

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And let's not forget about the doggy stunt show. Or the carousel for canines. Or the outdoor theater that would have perpetually screened Disney dog-themed movies like "Lady and the Tramp" and "101 Dalmatians."

I know, I know. This all sounds like a very nutty idea. One that perhaps tries too hard to appeal to a fairly narrow demographic (i.e. People with lots of disposable income who love to pamper their pets). Which is why "Pluto's Playland" never actually made it beyond the design phase.

But here's the thing. Since this project was initially proposed back in the early 1990s, pet-related spending in the U.S. has more than doubled. Going from $17 billion in 1994 to an estimated $38.4 billion in 2006. And Disney Company executives have clearly noticed this trend. Otherwise, how would you explain the Mouse's decision last year to aggressively move into the pet care field? Doing everything from allowing Kroger to start selling an "Old Yeller" -themed brand of dog food at its 2500 stores to convincing Walmart to start stocking Disney-themed pet apparel.

So what with the Mouse getting all gung-ho these days for pet-related product, is it possible that the Imagineers could someday revisit the "Pluto's Playland" project? Perhaps pull all of these plans out of a drawer and see if conditions are now right for reviving this project? Maybe on a much less ambitious scale?

Well, you know WDI. It's the place where supposedly no good idea ever dies. And given that every dog has its day ... Who knows? If the Walt Disney Company genuinely believes that it can get a significant ROI on a project like this, maybe "Pluto's Playland" will eventually make it off the drawing board.

But what do you folks think? Is this elaborately themed dog park really the sort of place that you'd take the family pet to? Or was "Pluto's Playland" just one dog of an idea?

Your thoughts?

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  • Ehh...  Not too keen on the idea.  Keep the parks for the humans.

    But if they go ahead with it, they could use the release of Bolt next November to start promoting it.  Maybe get Michael Vick as a the spokesperson.

  • //Well, you know WDI. It's the place where supposedly no good idea ever dies.//

    Except...at least from where I'm sitting...this doesn't seem like a particularly good idea.  Just imagining the potential...err...messes that could arise, it seems like it could be better in theory than in practice.

    Plus, those stand-alone attractions haven't exactly been hits, now have they?

  • Umm... some of them have been successful.  Especially ESPN zone.  1 in Cali, 1 in Florida, 1 in NY, as well as LV in NewYorkNewYork Hotel.

  • Sounds like a dumb idea to me.

  • I remember reading somewhere that spending habits associated with pets don't seem to be as affected by economic slumps.

    I think a pet park would be a tough sell, particularly if the prices are up there., which is likely with insurance (doggy fighting and loving) and maintenance (particularly if the park is low on grassy areas).

    If it existed, I'd probably give it a chance though. I'd love to be able to take Fluffy to a Disney park. http://geocities.com/rammanluvsmanefaces/molasses/fluff.jpg

  • Here's hoping they build it and then it immeadiately burns to the ground.

  • I actually think it's a good idea.  As long as the custodial team is prepared (if they'd be anything like the ones at WDW, then they probably wouldn't be...I'm shocked by how much trash I see on the ground there), then I saw go for it.  Dog parks already exsist, but they're just parks.  I bet those who already pamper their pets (Georgette from "Oliver and Company" comes to mind), if they're already planning a Disney park trip, would go to Pluto's Playland.  As long as they would have some things for humans to do (Jim did mention the Disney movie screenings), then even non-pet owners (or non-dog owners) would go to the park.  I would check it out if it opened at WDW, even though I don't yet have a dog.

  • too strange. no thanks.

  • I don't have a dog, but I definitely can tell that pet spending is going up.

    The days of the kennels for taking care of your pets is gone.

    Near the Columbus International Airport about a year or so ago, they opened up Pet Palace -- a complete spa and resort for your dog (maybe other animals, too?).   Nice building, crappy neighborhood...   but it's a perfect place for people to leave their pets when they're in town with their dog and staying at a hotel near the airport that doesn't allow dogs or when you're on a trip and have nobody to watch after your dog.

    This could be one of the best ideas Disney ever had for the resorts *if* they have an option of using it in place of the current kennels as well.  A place to have fun with your dogs, but also a place for your dog to have fun  while you have fun in the no-dog zones.

    This would be a huge hit among the vacationers...     and probably more appealing than sticking them in a cage all day.

    I'm really confused by one establishment, though...    why is it called Oliver's?   Oliver was a cat...    Moreso, why does it say Oliver's and have a picture of Dodger?

  • I never undesrtood why there aren't more stuff at the parks for Lady and the Tramp, Aristocats and Fox and the Hound. But a park for dogs? That's as smart as that bit on "Scrooged" where the guy wants to plan TV programs for pets.

  • This is one of the dumbest ideas I've ever heard. What's next? Bring your goldfish to interact with Nemo? How about an area for pet rocks? Although I will say this: It would be much easier to please the dogs then their owners!

  • It may sound crazy, but I'd bet there's a market for this. There are a lot people out there that are very devoted to their pets. I should know - I'm engaged to one of them.

    I know someone whose biggest complaints about WDW are that they can't really bring their pets with them unless they want to stick them in the WDW kennels (which are pretty nice as kennels go, but they're still kennels) or rent an RV and take up one of the limited spots at Fort Wilderness where pets are allowed. Disneyland also doesn't allow pets to stay in their resorts, and their kennel is strictly for day use.  That means a bunch of Disney fanatics are taking their pets and their money and staying in non-Disney hotels or are coming home from vacation a little early so they can get back to their pets.

    Now, imagine if they built this thing somewhere on the DLR or WDW property and allowed pets to stay in hotel rooms at one of the resorts nearby (it wouldn't necessarily have to be the entire resort - say, one building).  I could totally see some folks going to Disney and adding a day or two more for quality time with Fido (and spending a bit of money on him/her to boot).

  • It's not a horrible idea, I just can't see anyone paying admission for it.  You'd be competing against other dog parks, which are free, and it doesn't sound like they came up with enough one-of-a-kind attractions to justify the cost.  What do you think the gate price would be--$10?  $20?  $30?  You'd almost certainly spend that much once you figured in snacks, souvenirs, and other service costs--that's a pretty hefty chunk of change for a few hours' fun, especially considering the average dog owner only spends $90 ("$55 per year on treats and $35 on toys") on their pets all year.

    I agree with pschnebs, though--it could totally work as part of a pet-friendly resort on property.  Scale it back a bit, make it free, and the extra guests you bring in, plus the merchandise/refreshment sales, will totally make it worthwhile.

  • Wow.  I thought I knew a lot about Disney until I read this article.  A Disney doggy park has got to be one of the stupidest ideas I have ever heard of, but this is the reason I love this site even though it sometimes gets a little deep in the numbers-crunching.  Thanks for bringing us the obscure and ridiculous Disney as well as the popular and profitable Disney, Mr. Hill!

  • And sorry to double-post, but I agree with pat and pschnebs.  As part of a pet-themed and friendly resort, and scaled down, it could be a winner.  

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