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Monday Mouse Watch: Is there really such a thing as putting too much Walt into a Disney theme park?

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Monday Mouse Watch: Is there really such a thing as putting too much Walt into a Disney theme park?

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Last month, theme park fans the world over rejoiced at the news that the Walt Disney Company would be spending more than a billion dollars to redo DCA. With a large chunk of this cash being committed toward the retheming of the entrance portion of this troubled theme park. Which will soon be turned into this nostalgic recreation of the Southern California that the company's founder encountered when he first arrived in Hollywood back in 1923.

This -- of course -- was heralded as great news by Disneyana fans. Who (as you might expect) can't get enough of the Ol' Mousetro. These folks just love it when the Imagineers fold in little nods to Walt & the characters that he created into the rides, shows and attractions that they place in the parks. Which is why the fans gave this portion of the proposed DCA redo (Which will even feature a brand-new version of the "Partners" statue. Where the young Walt Disney stands with a pie-eyed Mickey Mouse, surveying the city they're both about to conquer) a big "Thumbs Up."

Copyright 2007 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Well, would it that the guys at WDI were just as enthusiastic about DCA's proposed entrance area as Disneyana fans seem to be. You see, the Imagineers are concerned about what the 99% of Disneyland Resort guests who are not Disneyphiles will make of the redone entrance area of that theme park. Whether the $100 - $120 million that's about to be invested in reconfiguring this part of the park is going to have any real impact on these people at all.

As one WDI insider that I spoke with recently put it:

"There are at least two generations out there now who grew up without regularly seeing Walt on television. To them, Walt Disney is just like Betty Crocker or Colonel Sanders. He's not a real man. He's just some corporate symbol.

Which is why a number of us here are concerned that it may be a mistake to make the front part of this park a celebration of Walt. In essence, we're trying to force people to feel nostalgic about a man they never knew.

 Copyright 2007 Disney. All Rights Reserved

We're wondering if it wouldn't be smarter in the long run for us to take the money that's been budgeted for redoing the front part of that park and just use that amount to build another E-Ticket. Something that would appeal to 18-to-25 year-old males. The people that we're actually hoping will form some sort of emotional attachment to DCA. So that -- sometime in the future -- they'll then return to this same theme park with their own children."

Believe it or not, folks, this is a very serious concern of WDI's. Making sure that this reconfigured version of California Adventure appeals to more than just us Disneyphiles. That this revamped theme park will have a strong enough mix of new rides, shows and attractions that the general public will also embrace this new version of DCA with great enthusiasm.

This is actually why the Imagineers decided to add Carsland to this California Adventure. This new 12-acre "land" will feature the "Radiator Springs Racers" ride, which WDI insiders have described as being like " ... 'Test Track' meets 'Indiana Jones Adventure' meets Pixar." Translation: That sort of state-of-the-art, cutting-edge attraction that the Imagineers used to build only for the Tokyo Disney Resort. Which (it's hoped) will help make this radically revamped version of DCA a "must see" for tourists the very next time they visit Southern California.

 Copyright 2007 Disney. All Rights Reserved

The same could also be said for that immense "Little Mermaid" dark ride that's supposed to replace "Golden Dreams" at this theme park. Given that California Adventure is thought to be lacking in attractions that appeal to young girls, it's hoped that this new "Mermaid" ride will finally address that need. Make DCA seem that much more 5-to-8-year-old girl-friendly.

Which brings us back to DCA's entrance area with all of its references to Walt. As my Imagineering insider continued to explain:

" ... this part of the park was deliberately designed to serve as a sop to those people who have been complaining about DCA since the place first opened in 2001. We're basically giving them another version of Main Street, which is something that these annual passholders are familiar with. More importantly, we're making this new entrance area one big tribute to Walt. Which will hopefully finally silence those Disneyana fans who have continually bitched about how California Adventure doesn't have enough Disney in it.

Copyright 2007 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Of course, the real irony here is that we're trying to placate people who can never be placated. If you look around the Web, you'll see that Disneyana fans have managed to find fault with everything that WDI has ever built. So it's virtually guaranteed that -- no matter what we do with the front portion of that park -- Disneyana fans are still going to find a way to complain about it.

Mind you, we're still going to go ahead with this portion of the redo. DCA managers are particularly excited about the new curved retail corridor that we've designed for their theme park. They believe that this new design will actually slow people down as they enter & exit California Adventure. Which will hopefully make more guests notice the stores that line this street and get them to do a bit more souvenir shopping.

So I guess you could say that the redo of this portion of DCA is serving two needs. It's supposed to make Disneyana fans feel like we actually listened to their complaints & responded to their concerns by attempting to give this theme park a stronger tie to the company's heritage by folding in a lot more Walt. While -- at the same time -- we're servicing the resort's retail needs. Slowing down the guests as well as making sure that the shops that line this retail corridor look that much more appealing. Which will hopefully eventually translate into better per-square-foot sales ratios for all of these stores."

Copyright 2007 Disney. All Rights Reserved

So there you have it. When you break down the key components of Disney's California Adventure's proposed redo, you can see this retheming for what it really is. Which is not this overall ambitious plan, but -- rather -- a piecemeal approach toward addressing what many see as DCA's key weaknesses. Which -- in this instance, anyway -- deals with this theme park's lack of appeal to young adult males 18-25, young girls 5-8 and Disneyphiles. Not to mentioning enhancing DCA's "Main Street" retail corridor area.

But what do you folks think? Is this Imagineer correct in suggesting that it might be a mistake to spend $100 - $120 million on making the front part of this theme park a veritable shrine to Walt Disney & the Southern California that he encountered back in 1923 ? That -- if the Mouse really wants to bond with Generations X & Y -- this money might be better spent on something other than Walt-centric window dressing?

Forget that you're a Disneyphile for a moment and ponder this question: Is there really such a thing as putting too much Walt into a Disney theme park? Particularly when these new touches are deliberately being designed as a means to an end (i.e. to finally silence DCA's more vocal critics) rather than as true tributes to the man?

Your thoughts?

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  • Really the only bit of Walt your average parkgoer will observe is the Partners statue. Everything else is nostalgic or exotic, depending on a parkgoer's age and background. I grew up with annual Disneyland visits and Main Street never seemed specifically about Walt to me back then.

  • what exactly is to much Walt about the entrance?

    a statue and a theater with a museum inside referencing Walt.

    The rest of the area actually deals more with the connection of the parks name.  A major city in California.

    The teen group was addressed already with attractions like Screamin and most recently with Tower of terror.  That alone did not seem to do much for the park.

    This WDI (if he exist) has really little idea of what works and does not.  A change in the entrance will do more than just please a bunch of disney fanatics.  The entrance change will finally bring a much more pleasant feel as you enter the park instead of large cold concrete areas.  Store that have gaudy neon signs and laughable replicas of some known buildings.

  • Will most of the non-Disney dweebs not really care about the Walt references at the entrance? Probably. Does that mean that the redo of DCA was a bad idea and that they should build another E-ticket with the money? Probably not.

    Disney's tried the "if we build an E-ticket, they will come" bit and it didn't work - wasn't ToT supposed to bring a big boost to attendance? If they just built Carsland and left the entrance as-is, they'd probably have the same thing that happened when ToT and a bug's land and WWTBAM-PI opened - a brief attendance spike for the folks coming over to check things out, then attandance would fall back to the usual low levels. I don't know if all the changes to DCA's entrance will be enough to pull people in and keep them in, but maybe with the new look and the new attractions, at least people might stick around and give the park another chance.

    I'm a little surprosed I'm defending the re-do, since I've actually gotten to like the place - it's no Disneyland to be sure, and I'm still convinced that if they'd sunk the money into the original design and building of DCA, the park as originally built might have actually been a modest success. But it's become pretty clear that a segment of DLR visitors don't care much for DCA as-is, so they've gotta trying something.

    Oh, and one last aside to Mister "The Disney Dweebs Will Never Be Satisfied No Matter What We Do": Ever check the attendance figures across the way? DL may not be perfect (goodness knows it's still got a few problems), but WDP&R and WDI  must be doing something right over there. Maybe you and your friends should quit complaining about how those stupid guests don't appreciate the hip and edgy feel you tried with the original design of DCA and figure out what will draw them in.

  • Putting shops next to a statue of Walt Disney? That's not the right way to honor someone. People are going to get the wrong idea. They'd think the statue is a tribute to a billion-dollar corporation, not an inspirational artist. Moves the stores away from Walt.

  • What's needed are a whole lot of attractions, E-ticket attractions that don't remind people they could have spent a lot less at Knott's Berry Farm. The entrance is a good start, but I'm hoping that some of the cool stuff you find in Japan actually makes it way over here... Including rides that are a little more immersive than plywood cutouts or another film.

    It would also be nice to have some new top of the line attractions that aren't spun off of already popular franchises (you know, to make MORE franchises!)

    I was just watching a historical perspective on Pirates and HM, and those two attractions have been a draw for thirty years. Let's see some innovation where Disney can return to a leadership role, rather than be a follower.

    I know these are pipe dreams, and new, innovative rides are expensive, but DCA was conceived as a mall- with a few rides, and it really does show.

  • If the entrance is MGM good pre-sorcerer's hat, I'll count it a winner.  A decent reference might be the New York section of TDS.  Areas like that cause people to linger and enjoy, lingering people buy more stuff, ride their favorites a second time, etc.  With the ease of park hopping, E-Tickets alone aren't the answer.  One could easily jump to DCA, ride the new stuff, and jet back to DL (as has been the pattern at DCA since day 1).  Comfortable, warm, engaging ENVIRONMENTS cause people to want to hang out in a place... that plus a few fun rides means people will WANT to stay without thinking about what they're missing across the way.

  • Wow...one wonders how long a WDI with that attitute would have lasted if Disney was still here?  He certainly wanted to hear all sides, but this blanket 'blame game' would never have been tolerated...that's one employee that needs to look for a new line of work.

    They still insist on making 'shopping' their primary goal, it should be in a supporting role and never give that in-your face feeling.  I have malls at home.

  • I believe that a permanent tribute area to Walt is something they definitely should pursue. As one who, on every vacation trip to WDW, always made a point of seeing "The Walt Disney Story" tucked inside that little corner of Main Street in The Magic Kingdom for many years, I think something along those lines would be very welcome indeed for real Disney fans. For those who never did experience it, "The Walt Disney Story" consisted of an approximately 15 minute film about Walt, from his boyhood to his success as a world entertainer, with a waiting area/lobby that featured all manner of wonderful momentos of his films, such as animation maquettes, a small scale model of The Nautilus, and his special set of Oscars for "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs". In short, it was a quiet area of the park where Disney fans could come to celebrate this great visionary who had brought the world such everlasting pleasure with his creations. Is a similar tribute to be built at DCA really too much to ask? Apparently some Imagineers think so. Perhaps they're the ones who don't belong at Disney...

  • Ponsonby Britt-

    Your comment about "real Disney fans" is the exact problem MANY people in the Disney company have with us Disney-philes. The fact is that most of the current visitors to the Disney parks are more into "HSM" and the Johnny Depp version of "PotC" than Walt and his legacy. It's the reason the Disney Channel is the hottest network for the ever important tween market and no longer shows classic Disney shows (how I miss Vault Disney...).

    DCA needs massive work. And I would love the new Disney Museum being developed to be at DCA. But most of the people making the trek to the Disney parks could care less about going to a museum. The question Jim raised is a very valid point.

  • "Of course, the real irony here is that we're trying to placate people who can never be placated. If you look around the Web, you'll see that Disneyana fans have managed to find fault with everything that WDI has ever built. So it's virtually guaranteed that -- no matter what we do with the front portion of that park -- Disneyana fans are still going to find a way to complain about it."

    Wow ... hopefully this isn't the way WDI folks really feel about their guests, otherwise this company is in more trouble than I thought. I've often suspected that Imagineering held guests to some level of contempt (based on their recent penchant for guest abuse, a la spraying them with water, blowing stink in their faces, etc.), but to see it so boldly in print is very troubling.

    Have they ever stopped to think that we're not happy because they're not doing a very good job?? Because most of their attractions lately have been well below par in terms of Disney attractions? I mean really ... when was the last time Imagineering put together something that truly just blew everyone away? Something like Pirates or Haunted Mansion?

    And the other thing that really irritates me is how badly out of touch with things they are? I can't believe they're still in this "building an E-Ticket thrill ride solves all problems" mode. Haven't they learned yet? Yes, it's worked a few times but it's fallen flat more often than not. They need to stop worrying about appealing to this demographic or that demographic.

    True Disney attractions are timeless and span ALL demographics. I don't think there's a single group out there (except maybe disaffected teens and you can't get to them anyway) that doesn't love the classic Disney rides. I mean do you REALLY think those lines at Pooh and Peter Pan are only because parents want to take their kids on them? Hell no! They want to ride as much as the young-uns do. Ditto for Pirates, Haunted Mansion, Jungle Cruise, etc. I mean wasn't Walt's ENTIRE IDEA for Disneyland to build a park that adults and kids could enjoy TOGETHER?? Why all this slicing and dicing???

    Look Mr. Imagineer ... Just build a great freakin' ride and then everyone will shut up and stop criticizing you. Attendance will go up, across all your demos, and your problems will be solved. Otherwise, if the best you can do is garbage like Stitch's Great Escape, why don't you fold up your tents and go home. Because crap is crap, regardless of whether it says Disney on it or not.

  • The biggest problem with DCA... is that it's next to Disneyland. A theme park next to Disneyland gets inevitably compared to Disneyland. Not only that, but if a family is coming, and can only afford to go to one of the two theme parks, which do you think it's going to be?

    As for me, I will stick with what I've always said, which is that I personally enjoy DCA more than Disneyland, partly because of the very thing that probably irks Disney management... it's not as busy as Disneyland. Plus, the backlot area of the park does more to showcase the work of Disney than anything in Disneyland does.

  • Gee, Jim, I thought you're first article after Thanksgiving would be about how Enchanted turned out to be such a disappointment at the boxoffice, not how the billion dollar re-do of DCA is on the track to being a disappointment.  I'm disappointed in you!

  • I don't even know where to begin on this one Jim.  I guess I'll start with the trivial.  First, you might want to clue in your WDI "source" to the fact that Col. Sanders was a real person (Betty Crocker was not, Sara Lee is, and Walt Disney was).  Second, considering that there is virtually NO Walt Disney in DCA I don't know how you could have too much of Walt in a park that doesn’t have any of Walt to begin with.  Third, "demographic" teen boys and little girl groups don't pay for their park admission; don't pay for a hotel room; don't pay for their 3 meals a day (and snacks); don’t pay for souvenirs, etc.  Let us remember that the purpose of DCA was to turn Disneyland into “Disneyland Resort” for multiple day stays by guests, especially families from out of state.  Fourth, I believe that the parks are for “peoples of all ages” (correct me if I’m wrong) and as such “demographics” has no business being in the vocabulary of an Imagineer.  Fifth, your “source” sounds like a hold-over from the Pressler era and needs to either leave WDI and move over to the Accounting department or leave all together.  Lastly, the fact that many people do consider Walt Disney just a corporate creation is MORE reason to have a greater Walt Disney presence in DCA.  I think it safe to say that the WDC does as much as it can to take Walt Disney out of the Walt Disney Company.

  • I must agree with the above poster. I can't imagine a theme park using such defined and niche market segments. At WDW, a single E-Ticket attraction can save a theme park (a la Expedition Everest) because you must drive (or be bused) from park to park. When you can walk out one theme park and right into another, a simple ride addition isn't goint to create any sustainable spike. If Disneyland truly is trying to built their marketing plan as if they were a rock radio station ("we must cater to 20 yr old males!") then things have really gotten bad out West. The problem with MGM and CA is the lack of a story. Every Disney park needs to have a story, just as every ride within the park should be telling a part of it. A hodge podge of rides whose only theme is "It's in California!" or "It's from some movie!" doesn't make a good Disney park. That might fly at Six Flags, but there are higher standards here. There are reasons people make Disney a full vacation, and not a stop along the way of a larger one. Creating a true Disney experience will go a long way towards that.

  • Jim - you must be talking to people who are friends of the Disney Animation sources you have. You're already priming the pump for the "see I told you so" stories that will come for the coming years from every WDI person who LIKED what they did with DCA and don't like the fact that they have bene second guessed. Again - you're inside sources a a great plus for us Disneyphiles but over the last two years your info has been so one-sided.

    To add - why does your WDI source have concern with 18-25 males, and then Mermaid only for little girls?  Supposedly this push for the remake at DCA was supposed to overall attract the family again instead of focusing on any single demographic. I can see it now - just like a Bad Hollywood script (in the hands of Disney Pictures exec VPs no less) - too many re-writes to the plans of DCA and the pressure these pundits will put in order to make their "stamp" on the park will definitely hurt the overall product.   They have to have something for everyone - the Walt-0-phile, the E-ticket junkie, the hang-out-at-the-park visitor, etc. That's why Disneyland itself does so well - and it keeps getting swept under the rug as "old school".

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