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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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  • I hope that if this does go through, the concept of Australia isn't stereotyped into the Sydney opera house. While it's a cool building, it's a building. A modern building. Not only would it clash with the aesthetic of the older architecture throughout World Showcase, but it's just not all that Australia is about. There's so much more to it than that one symbol. I would hope Disney would be smart enough to showcase Australia through something more tied into Australia's deep history and not an iconic building that was built in the 70s!

  • Exactly, Desperad07.  The World Showcase countries are supposed to "transport" the guests to another place, to give them a real sense of walking around in that country.  Somehow, just standing outside a big building--even one as architecturally cool as the Sydney Opera House--just doesn't cut it.

  • -- Any proposal for a pavilion for a country with no easily identifiable national cuisine (e.g. Australia or Russia) starts with one strike against it. Reality isn't important here, just the perceptions of the US public. But I suppose people would love it if it included an Outback Steakhouse :rolleyes:, which would at least take some of the pressure off LeCellier.

    -- I'd love to see an Australia-themed addition to AK, which would not include the obligation to build an Australian restaurant.

    -- Jim said on the WDWToday podcast that Lionsgate misspelled "Sydney" in their proposal. That's no way to do business. I'd toss such a proposal straight into the trash.

  • I also hope that Disney doesn't use the Opera House or Uluru as the theme buildings or structures. That stupid Opera House isn't really Australian...it just lives there. There is so much more to Australia than it.

    And we do have cuisine that is Australian...it includes Steak that is COOKED and not rare as well as mostly food that is NOT deep fried or Turkey leg based. It also includes the Pavlova, Lamingtons and Meat Pies...and I mean real meat pies...not the runny muck I found in the 'meat pie' being sold in the US. The best Australian restaurant would be a Bakery!!! That DOESN'T make funnel cakes or any other foul deep fried pastry.

    As for a Disney Park in Australia. That will never happen. It very nearly did many years ago and was going to be set up in Queensland...but the stupid state government said NO!!!! The moron essentially doomed Australia to NEVER have a Disney Park. This is why we now have Movie World, Sea World and Dream World instead...bleah. The final nail in coffin was the creation of Hong Kong Disneyland which is so close that we will never ever get a Disney park

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