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Why For: Don't get Shanghaied by Disney theme park concept art

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Why For: Don't get Shanghaied by Disney theme park concept art

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MickeyFan238 sent me this e-mail earlier this week:

I just can't wait until Friday. How much do you think Disney is going to reveal about the Shanghai park at this groundbreaking ceremony?

Concept art for Storybook Castle and some of the Fantasyland section of Shanghai
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

MickeyFan238 is - of course - referring to the groundbreaking ceremony for the Shanghai Disneyland Resort. Which was held earlier today on those flatlands just outside of the Chuansha town of Pudong New Area.

As for what Disney officials revealed at today's groundbreaking ceremony about this $4.4 billion project ... Well, given that the Shanghai Disneyland Resort isn't actually supposed to open 'til 2016, you should anticipate that the finished theme park will differ in many ways from the pieces of concept art that were released earlier today.

Concept art for the Magic Kingdom portion of the Shanghai Disneyland Resort, which --
according to Company's press releases -- will be "... authentically Disney but
distinctly Chinese." Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

That's typically what happens with all Disney theme parks & resorts. The broad strokes of whatever project gets announced will basically remain the same. But when it comes to the specifics, individual rides, shows and attractions -- or sometimes entire lands -- will get dropped from the roster as this project moves from its design & development phase through to actual construction.

Don't believe me? Then I have two words for you: Beastly Kingdomme ...

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

... that section of Disney's Animal Kingdom which was to have celebrated mythological creatures. Or - better yet - Hong Kong Disneyland's Frontierland. Which - according to the press release that the Company released when the HKDL project was officially announced back in November of 1999 -- ...

Frontierland is a walk right into the American Old West of the 1880s. Here park guests explore a frontier outpost at Fort Comstock. They might also take a frightfully funny trip through a haunted mansion, shoot the rapids on a river raft ride, or experience for themselves just how tough it is to be a bug in a one-of-a-kind show.

Though both of these "lands" were fully designed & developed by WDI, they never quite made it off of the drawing board. Largely because Disney management's vision for that particular project changed over time.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Mind you, most of the time, the really big changes (at least when it comes to the overall look & layout of a particular theme park) come during the initial design & development phase. Take - for example - what happened with Oriental Land (which is the name that the Tokyo Disneyland project went by, at least as far as the folks at WED were concerned, in the mid-1970s).

According to Walt Disney Productions' 1976 annual report, Oriental Land ...

(though) similar in concept to our American theme parks, it would consist of six themed lands, Adventureland, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Westernland, International Land and the World Bazaar - each emanating from a central hub hightlighted by a Fantasyland castle.

Interior of the proposed International Land section at Oriental Land
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

The World Bazaar would be a climatized center for international shopping and dining, offering a wide variety of entertainment. It could operate independently of the other "lands," remaining open when other areas of the theme park have been closed for the day.

As you can see by the above concept painting, the World Bazaar (at least in this version of Orient Land) was to have been a fairly sleek and modern affair. With its interior space heavily influenced by the look and design of Walt Disney World's Contemporary Resort Hotel.

And given how modern its interior looked, the exterior of World Bazaar had to look sleek and modern as well ...

Herb Ryman's early concept painting for the exterior of the Oriental Land's International
Land show building.
Image courtesy of Profiles in History and Van Eaton Galleries

... Well, sleek and modern-looking by mid-1970s standards, that is.

Further development art by Herb Ryman for the International Land show building at
Oriental Land. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

By the way, the Imagineers did revisit that " ... could operate independently of the other "lands," remaining open when other areas of the theme park have been closed for the day" concept while they were working on Hong Kong Disneyland (Or as this project was known based in 1997, Disneyland Asia). I recall that at least one version of the initial plans for this theme park called for HKDL's Main Street, U.S.A. area to become - in essence - that resort's Downtown Disney complex.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Back then, while the exterior facades along the "Street of Dreams" were still supposed to be turn-of-the-century small-town-America themed, the interiors were going to be quite different. Instead of the Emporium and Carnation Café (you know, the usual assortment of shops & restaurants that you find along Main Street, U.S.A.) picture trendy U.S. -based brands like The Gap and Hard Rock Café.

More to the point, when the actual theme park portion of Hong Kong Disneyland closed for the night, a long ornate steel gate barrierwas to have been rolled across the top of the "Street of Dreams" just below the hub. Which would have then allowed Guests to remain inside of HKDL's retail corridor for another four or five hours to ship & dine after park close, while Hong Kong Disneyland's maintenance staff was then free to work on the rest of this theme park.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All right reserved

That somewhat radically reinvention of Main Street, U.S.A. eventually came off the drawing board for the Hong Kong Disneyland project. As did the International Land section that the Imagineers initially proposed for Oriental Land (Which - truth be told - was supposed to be filled with clones of the rides, shows and attraction that WED was developing for World Showcase ...

Herb Ryman at work on the 1975 version of WDW's World Showcase
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

... back when this Epcot-inspired was supposed to be a stand-alone theme park. Which would have then been built along the shores of Seven Seas Lagoon near where the Tickets and Transportation Center is currently located).

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

So I guess what I'm saying here, folks, is that while I'm sure that we'll be hearing more about the exciting new rides, shows and attraction that are being proposed for Shanghai Disneyland at some point ... Just because the Company issues a brochure  ...

Westcot informational brochure. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

... or releases some concept art ...

Concept art for the Crossroads U.S.A. section of Disney's America theme park
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

... or a photograph of a highly detailed model ..

Model of the DisneySea theme park section of Long Beach's Port Disney project
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

... That doesn't mean that this project will ever actually be built. At least not in the way that it's originally presented to the public.

Initial concept art for Disney's California Adventure. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

So just a word to the wise. Don't let yourself get Shanghaied by Disney theme park concept art. Because - just as Robert Burns put it in his 1785 poem, "To a Mouse" -

The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry
and leave us nothing but grief and pain for promised joy.

Your thoughts?

Image courtesy of Profiles in History
& Van Eaton Galleries

FYI: One of the pieces of theme park art that was used to illustrate today's article is actually an item that will be up for bid in the auction that Profiles in History and Van Eaton Galleries will be holding on May 14th & 15th. To learn more about this once-in-a-lifetime event, please click on this link.

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  • Nice article, Jim! I've seen teh concept art above on the Disney Parks Blog; although it's pretty (one or two of them remind me of Herb Ryman's concepts for Cinderella Castle), the main thing that struck me was that there wasn't a lot of "there" there. Oh, well, I'm sure we'll see some more details eventually - D23 Expo, maybe?

  • pschnebs says: "the main thing that struck me was that there wasn't a lot of "there" there"

    In looking at these concept paintings, that's exactly my impression as well. I'm not convinced that the Disney folks really have any clue as to what's going into this new Shanghai park at this time. Instead they're trying to dazzle us with all those lights and fireworks in the artwork, while trying to distract us from the rather fuzzy, indistinct shapes and colours that suggest generic, undetermined attractions.

    Frankly, these paintings are just not very good. When compared to the Herb Ryman paintings of yore that gave a pretty good indication of what the parks and attractions would be, even if the final form was still not committed to, these contemporary concept paintings tell us absolutely nothing of what is being developed. It's all just smoke and mirrors at this point, as I suspect that the Disney folks haven't actually put much thought into it. They just want to get the deal signed first - then they'll figure out what to build later. Just pitiful...

  • I love China, but "intellectual property protection" is not really well known.  Releasing full concept art would almost assuredly result in a cheap knock-off park going up inside of a year.  Keeping things under wraps as long as possible provides at least SOME chance of creating something unique.

  • There's going to have to be massive security there otherwise criminal organizations are going to spring up specifically to target Shanghai Disney guests.  If you think the organized stroller thefts at WDW are bad, the Shanghai gang(s) are going to be really thorough and shocking.

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