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Monday Mouse Watch : Down Under Disney Style

Jim Hill

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Monday Mouse Watch : Down Under Disney Style

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Now that the Walt Disney Company has grown comfortable with the idea of allowing outside firms to operate eateries inside of its theme parks (Witness the Tutto Italia Ristorante that the Patina Group just opened in the exact same space that Epcot's L'Originale Alfredo di Roma Ristorante used to occupy) as well as build brand-new resorts on property (i.e. The luxury hotel & golf course that the Four Seasons Hotel & Resorts plans to have open at WDW by 2010) ... Is it really so much of a stretch of the imagination to think that Mickey might someday allow third parties to help develop new World Showcase pavilions?

Well, there's one Kissimmee-based company -- Lionsgate International LLC -- that certainly hopes that this will actually be the case someday soon.

According to information that's currently posted at this company's website ...

Lionsgate International has the objective of building 6 pavilions that will expose millions of people to the countries we have chosen offering our guests authentic food and beverage and merchandise acquired from companies from each country, thus increasing their economy while we promote their tourism.

We will soon begin negotiating a 20 year contract with the Walt Disney Company and assist the Walt Disney Imagineering group with the design and planning stages to the actual construction phases. We will create pavilions that will truly showcase the countries we have chosen.

And Lionsgate already has some very specific plans in mind. Take -- for example -- the Photoshopped image below that shows how the Australian pavilion that this company wants to build might look.

 Copyright 2006 Lionsgate International LLC. All Rights Reserved

Obviously, this proposed structure draws its inspiration from Sydney's Opera House. Now what's kind of intriguing about all this is that -- back in 1978 -- the Imagineers dearly wanted to include an Australian pavilion as part of World Showcase's Phase One. And -- as you'll notice in the screen capture below ...

Copyright 1978 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved.
Special thanks to Martin Smith for providing the image
capture used to illustrate this section of today's article

... they too envisioned a show building that would draw a lot of its design inspiration from that iconic structure. For that matter, the wizards of WED were also planning on positioning their version of the Australian pavilion in pretty much the same location along World Showcase Lagoon that the crew from Lionsgate International LLC chose.

So could this proposed Epcot addition actually make it off the drawing board someday? To be honest, it doesn't seem all that likely. At least to me, anyway.

"And why not?," you ask. For starters, the folks at Lionsgate International are trying to insert themselves into a process that the Walt Disney Company is perfectly capable of handling all on its own.

In fact, the Mouse has periodically held talks with various Australian government offices & corporations for over three decades now. Not just because Disney wanted to add an Aussie-themed pavilion to Epcot's World Showcase area. But also because the Mouse has given some very serious thought to building a full-blown Disneyland down under. So -- if that's the case -- why would Mickey then need Lionsgate International to do his talking for him?

And then there's the Animal Kingdom factor. Since the Imagineers first began toying with building an animal-themed theme park at the WDW resort, one of the ideas that they kept circling back on was an Australia-themed area. And one of the more intriguing concepts that WDI cooked up would have placed a bunch of Australian animal enclosures inside of a two-football-fields-long version of Ulura AKA Ayers Rock.

 Copyright 2007 Australian Tourism Commission. All Rights Reserved

And given that Disney management still believes that -- in addition to the handful of new rides, shows and attractions that have to be added to DAK over the next decade (So that Animal Kingdom can then provide a full day's worth of entertainment) -- that Animal Kingdom still needs a few more animal enclosures ... Well, I've been told that any Australian-themed additions that were originally proposed for Epcot have now been placed on hold. Given that it's far more likely that the Imagineers will want to use that continent's creatures & culture as the jumping-off point for a brand-new "land" at DAK.

Mind you, the folks at Lionsgate International haven't pinned all of their hopes on this Australia-themed pavilion that they've proposed for World Showcase. They've supposedly already talked with officials with Greece & Russia about those countries possibly sponsoring Epcot additions as well. And I'm told that they've also put out feelers for additional international pavilions with representatives from Brazil, Chile, New Zealand and Sweden.

And while there are admittedly lots of empty expansion pads around World Showcase Lagoon (Please note the bright red areas in the photo below) ...

Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

... Let's remember that the Mouse doesn't always respond well to outside overtures. Particularly when it comes to Epcot.

To explain: How many of you recall -- five years ago this week -- that story about that group of Spanish businessmen who approached senior Mouse House officials and then tried to persuade Disney to add a Spain pavilion to Epcot? Those talks eventually went nowhere. Partially because the folks at Walt Disney Imagineering hadn't actually originated that idea.

So please keep this info in mind as you poke around Lionsgate International's website later today. Sure, the ideas listed there may sound pretty cool. But -- again -- these proposed Epcot additions didn't originate with the Walt Disney Company. And even though the Mouse has changed the way that it does business (particularly when it comes to on-property restaurants and hotels) ... I'm not entirely sure that things have changed so much that Mickey would actually be willing to let someone else do the talking (More importantly, the negotiating) for this Fortune 500 corporation.

That said, it'll still be interesting to keep an eye on Lionsgate International LLC. To see whether this Kissimmee-based company (Which was still actively trying to get its new World-Showcase-pavilions project off the ground as recently as March of this year) really does eventually manage to get into business with the Mouse.

But do you folks think? If this is what it actually took to get some new pavilions added to Epcot (i.e a third party acting as sort of a marriage broker for the Mouse as well as a nation that might be interested in underwriting the cost of first constructing and then operating this World Showcase addition), could you then get behind that idea?

Your thoughts?

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  • The Australian concept sounds great! it would work well with the already existing lagoon.

  • silly silly silly

    If Disney Co really really wanted another pavillion in World Showcase, they would send in some guys with hammers and a year later - poof - there's a building. They don't need Australia's permission to fill a dark ride with kangaroos. The vaunted Disney Co surveys obviously show that a new country in World Showcase is not going to bump attendance - or a new country would be there - five years ago.

    What Disney Co does want is $$$ from foreign countries/companies/backers. If Lionsgate or anyone else comes to Disney Co and says, "pardon me, but we can offer the support of government X plus a guaranteed $Y million over Z years," Disney Co will be more than happy to talk to them as long as the X,Y, and Z fall into acceptable limits. Eisner's bonuses proved there's enough $$$ floating around that the company could use for some pretty amazing things - if they really wanted to. The standard Company line, and Roy's main legacy, is that "there's no money for that." I guess that's why it takes 4-5 weeks to put the Nightmare cutouts in the Mansion each year - they only can afford one Imagineer and one carpenter for installation. Give me five Jungle Cruise skippers and two of the HSM Live cheerleaders - I'll have the Mansion switched out in 4 days -plenty of time left over to fly to Florida and build an Aussie Pavillion.

  • I say go for it, let someone else pay for it, take the time negotiating and then benefit fromt he added pavilions.  While they are at it Disney could convince them that those pavilions in order to succeed need an actual attraction

  • I'd prefer they build a Disny park in Australia! I hate that, being in Australia, I only get to visit Disneyland every few years!

  • I think that any thing they can do to get new countries in the World Showcase would be great.  As long as the detail is there they should move forward.  I also don't see why they couldn't do this themselves.

  • Interesting article. In light of some of the recent developments that have been announced by Disney, I think the time and atmosphere may just be right for such a venture. Disney (Iger), seems to be looking for ways of making improvements that will grow their properties without actually costing them any significant investment. We've seen this with the Four Seasons deal, Tutto Italia, Ying and Yak restaurant, Dinosaur themed restaurant at DTD, Western Way expansion. Perhaps this isn't a bad idea. Maybe they could cut a deal with Lionsgate to work with Imagineering for one pavillion, and see how it goes. Of course, they would have to work with Imagineering to build this. But, if it were successful, maybe it could be expanded.

    I have to wonder though, just what they (Lionsgate) would expect to get out of building a new pavillion.  Would they want to put in a tourism/vacation planning desk for that country? I mean, are any of the pavillions generating any kind of recognizable revenue, outside of the trinkets they sell? Is there any real money to be made by a company hosting a country at Epcot?

  • Wait, Alfredo's closed? When did this happen? That was my family's favorite restaurant in the park. Now I have to inform them all that it's gone.


  • I would LOVE LOVE LOVE more countries in Epcot!  Shopping and sight-seeing those little spots are such a kick for me, and I still haven't seen everything in TWO trips to Epcot!  Austrailia is an especial favorite, too; they oughta strike while the iron is hot.  But I think they should avoid having a third party handle all this; Disney does best when Disney organizes everything itself.

    I would rather see Aussie as an Epcot attraction than an Animal Kingdom one, though.  I made one trip to Animal Kingdom and it was NOT fun.  The place is too darn small!  There's no room to walk, no real way to see the animals when its so unbelievably crowded.  Adding more to that shrinky-dink little park would make it unbearable.  

  • One thing I've never understood about Disney and Epcot is that, unlike the other parks, Disney seems unwiling to add anything new unless a sponsor is covering the lion's share of the costs.  Elsewhere, if Disney has an attraction they think will impact the attendance, they justify it on that basis.  Sure, they seek as much sponsorship money as they can--but the green light isn't dependent on it.

  • What they ought to do is put the Australia pavilion in DAK, between Dinoland and Forbidden Mountain, to tie in to the Nemo show.

  • Screw putting in Australialand at DAK, I want a friggin' Beastly Kingdom! Why is that such an impossible request?

  • Jim, you appear critical of Disney for rejecting ideas if their own staff didn't think of it first.  However, it is common for creative companies to automatically reject unsolicited suggestions, lest they be sued later for "stealing" ideas (as often happens in the movie industry).

    I don't know whether Disney adheres to that policy, but I'll bet their legal department recommends it.

    I would also like to see more countries added to Epcot.  As my kids have grown older, it has become our favorite park.  It would be nice to explore something new next time we visit.

  • doceagle said:

    "One thing I've never understood about Disney and Epcot is that, unlike the other parks, Disney seems unwiling to add anything new unless a sponsor is covering the lion's share of the costs.  Elsewhere, if Disney has an attraction they think will impact the attendance, they justify it on that basis.  Sure, they seek as much sponsorship money as they can--but the green light isn't dependent on it."

    Yeah, I don't really get that either, but it's always bugged me too.

  • Okay okay.... pavillions, countries, lands, blah blah blah.  Did anyone else notice, in the satalite photo of Epcot, what appears to be a monorail expansion to the west?  Look carefully near The Land and you'll see two yellow lines that connect to the main monorail line and head off towards... Animal Kingdom?  Maybe?!

  • I am such a dork!  I just can't get enough of that VERY interesting Epcot Master Plan.  

    It's fairly new, but not too recent.  Please note the planed area (red highlighted) to the south of The Land which is where they put Soarin'.  That tells us this picture was taken before Soarin' was built in Florida.  Also of interest is the Wonders of Life pavilion.  Why is it not marked in red?  Hasn't that area been marked for future redevlopment for a while now?

    What could they possibly want to do with that area out by the parking lot?!  It's HUGE.  More parking probably...

    Looks like they have plans for six more countries to be added.  Lastly, it appears there are plans to add/update something on either side of the American pavillion.


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