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Disney World soldiers on, looking for new ways to plus the Parks for the holidays

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Disney World soldiers on, looking for new ways to plus the Parks for the holidays

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As you walk around Walt Disney World this time of year, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by all the seasonal sights, sounds and colors.

Unless you happen to be David R. Hartmann. As Art Director for Walt Disney Entertainment Design, Hartmann actually has the opposite problem. Whenever he walks around WDW in November & December, David is actively looking for additional ways to cram even more holiday fun into the theme parks.

Toy soldiers make their way down Main Street during the Mickey's Once Upon a Christmastime Parade
Photo by Gene Duncan.
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

Case in point: Those toy soldiers who march through the Magic Kingdom during Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade. This “Babes in Toyland” –themed unit has long been a Guest favorite. The only problem is … The only time that WDW visitors ever get a chance to see and/or photograph these characters is during this seasonal parade.

Well, Hartmann noticed this. More importantly, he saw how many people were now posing for pictures in front of those large scarecrows that his department had set up in Town Square as part of the Magic Kingdom’s fall décor package.

“Since those scarecrows had proven to be so popular with our Guests, we wondered if a holiday-themed photo op in that exact same spot could be just as successful,” David explained. “So we had a mold made of one of the toy soldier costumes from that parade. We then had a few copies made and placed them in the Town Square planters. And as soon as we put those soldiers in place, people began lining up to have their pictures taken in front of these characters.”

Disney's delightful Tin Soldiers are now in Town Square
Photo by Jeff Lange

Mind you, what makes this year’s addition to Town Square particularly sweet is that – by placing the toy soldiers in those planters – it then extends & reinforces the story that Hartmann & the Walt Disney Entertainment Design team began telling last year. Which is when they turned Tour Guide Garden into Candy Cane Garden by filling that previously empty area to the left of Town Hall with over-sized peppermint sticks. Which then made this seriously under-themed section of Main Street U.S.A. seem like a far more suitable setting for Santa Claus to do meet-and-greets with WDW visitors.

“That’s the real challenge for this time of year,” David continued. “Finding new places, new ways to bring the holidays into the Parks. Delivering on that overwhelming, magical experience that people have come to expect from Disney at Christmastime.”

And Hartmann & his crew at Walt Disney Entertainment Design take their duties very seriously. Which is why every year, they attend Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party just as the Guests do. Walking through that entire theme park to scope out all of the decorations. Standing on line to attend every show. Always keeping an eye out for ways that this seasonal experience may be falling short, where it could possibly be improved.

Mickey and Minnie spread holiday cheer in front of the beautiful Magic Kingdom Christmas decorations
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

“We’re pretty hard graders,” David admitted. “We’re always on the lookout for places we can squeeze a few more Christmas trees. Maybe what used to be stroller parking into a new seasonal character meet-and-greet area.”

That said, Hartmann’s not one for hogging all the credit when it comes to Christmastime at the Parks. He’s quick to credit the rest of the team at Walt Disney World who actually makes this seasonal retheming possible.

“I applaud the people who do all the scheduling for these changeovers,” he said. “The people who deal with all the ripple effects that Entertainment Design unintentionally cause when we decide to change the way that we decorate one part of the Parks for the holidays.”

The view down Main Street at Chsitmas time in Walt Disney World
Photo by David Roark.
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

That – to David’s way of thinking, anyway – is the toughest part of his job. Balancing Disney’s need for keeping things fresh while -- at the same time -- preserving those items that the public has come to love about Christmastime at Walt Disney World.

“I remember when my family used to come down to Orlando from St. Louis. And my favorite thing at the Magic Kingdom was the Mickey Mouse Revue,” Hartmann recalled. “So you can imagine how crushed I was when I learned that they were taking that show out.”

But over time (especially during those 10+ years when David worked in Entertainment. Where he performed in shows & parades at the Parks as a dancer, Character and puppeteer), Hartmann learned how important it was for WDW to supplement old favorites with something brand-new. Which is why he now spends the bulk of his time these days looking for ways to plus Disney World’s seasonal celebrations.

The tin soldiers from the Disney Christmas parade now stand guard in the potted plants in the Magic Kingdom
Photo by Jeff Lange

Which you’d think -- given that David is right in the thick of designing new holiday decorations for WDW as far back as February -- would cause Hartmann to cut back on Christmas at his own house. Keep thing simple on the home front during this time of year. But that’s where you’d be wrong.

“In my job, you have to keep your inner four year-old alive. To be able to see WDW’s theme parks for the wonders that they are, while – at the same time – watch out for those blank spots on the canvas. Those places where we can improve on our show, at least on a seasonal basis,” David concluded. “Which is why I always decorate my home for Christmas. To help keep the kid in me alive.”

Which is just what you’d expect to hear from someone whose job involves finding the perfect spot to place six foot-tall toy soldiers.

Your thoughts?

If you’re thinking of doing any holiday shopping on Amazon.com on this fine Cyber Monday, could you please first click on the banner above? If you do that ... Well, JHM then gets a teeny tiny chunk of whatever you spend. Which would be a very nice way of showing your appreciation for all the great stories that you've read here on Jim Hill Media over the past year.

Happy Holidays!

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  • PingBack from http://www.everythingkids.org/2009/11/29/jim-hill-disney-world-soldiers-on-looking-for-new-ways-to-plus/

  • This post was mentioned on Twitter by JimHillMedia: Disney World soldiers on, looking for new ways to plus the Parks for the holidays: Jim Hill talks with D... http://tinyurl.com/yfmx2mu #D23

  • While Magic Kingdom may be looking to "plus" the holiday experience, EPCOT is intent on "minusing" theirs ... with the removal of Lights of Winter (and nothing to replace it), the park has completely lost its unique seasonal feel.

    I sure hope this turns into a one-year hiatus, but it appears the intent is to permanently retire the Lights of Winter.   I'm already looking for alternatives for Holiday 2010, as if Lights of Winter don't return, neither will I.

    If WDW is looking for further suggestions for Magic Kingdom, they could start by bringing back the Country Bear Chistmas overlay.

  • They replaced it with the Delights Joyful choir at the fountain stage.  A great show I enjoyed watching the other day.  From what I understand the "Lights of Winter" came out of storage in REALLY bad shape this year and they had to rush to find something else that would work.  They might be back next year or something else might be there.  And if you think that was all of Epcot's "seasonal feel" then you really should spend more time with the Holidays Around the World.  Sheesh those lights were like 5% of Epcot's holiday offering.  Go watch the Osbournes or something...

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