Figment's Friend sent me a rather anxious e-mail last week. This JHM reader wanted to share a bit of news coming out of WDW's Magic Kingdom which had really upset him:
Did you see what happened to that portrait of Tony Baxter which was hung in the new interactive queue of Big Thunder Mountain? Disney had to remove this painting within 48 hours of it being hung because of the way that Guests had been defacing it. I can not believe how disrespectful these people have been to this Imagineering Legend.
But here's the thing, Figment's Friend. Those destructive Guests in Big Thunder Mountain Railroad's queue? I'll bet you that 99% of these people have absolutely no idea who Tony Baxter is. More to the point, given the style in which this particular portrait was painted (i.e. reimagining Baxter as an 80 year-old gold magnate from the 1880s), I'll bet you that there are Disney history buffs / theme park enthusiasts out there who -- when they were shown this likeness -- wouldn't have recognized that it was Tony who had supposedly served as the inspiration for this painting.
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So -- to my way of thinking, anyway -- this really isn't a case of people deliberately being disrespectful to an Imagineering Legend. But -- rather -- WDW Guests once again behaving badly. Defacing a painting that they found to be within arm's reach inside of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad's new interactive queue.
Over the past week, I reached out to a veteran Imagineer who was familiar with this situation. He/she asked me not to reveal their name or specific job title at WDI as part of this story. But that said, this individual did have some very interesting things to say about this picture-defacing incident.
In a lot of ways, this is Imagineering's fault. We've known for years now that there's a certain segment of the theme park-going public that -- whenever they're standing in line for a ride and beginning to get bored -- will then begin picking at the props in the queue. Seeing what stuff they can reach and play with. Maybe break off.
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And WDI used to take that into account whenever we designed a queue for a Disney theme park attraction. We'd deliberately put all of our decorative props & theming out of reach of the Guests and then glue these items down into place. That way, even those people who were tempted to misbehave couldn't really reach the items that they were trying to damage. And even those who could would then find that the prop that they were reaching for to try and break off & steal had been glued down or nailed into place.
But now that we've begun installing these interactive elements in a lot of the queues for our theme park attractions, we've been getting reports from Maintenance & Operations that there's been this noticeable uptick in vandalism within the queues. Supposedly caused by Guests who -- once they move past the interactive elements -- then begin looking around for other items inside of that queue which they can then maybe get their hands on.
So is this sort of bad Guest behavior really a new thing at the Disney theme parks? Sadly, no. As my unnamed Imagineer friend goes on to explain:
This really isn't a new phenomenon. People have been doing gross & destructive stuff at Disneyland and Walt Disney World for decades now. Take -- for instance -- that armchair in the Haunted Mansion that people spit on.
My WDI insider was referring to that red, overstuffed chair which sits at the edge of the Endless Hallway in the Haunted Mansion. You know? The one that kind of looks like it has a face? The janitorial staffers who take care of this attraction always make a point of stopping at this point along the ride track so that they can then wipe this chair down. Why For? Because a significant portion of Disney theme park Guests always try to spit on this piece of furniture whenever their Omnimover moves through this part of the Mansion.
"And why exactly would people do something gross like that?," you ask. No one knows for sure. But there are those who work at Disney Parks & Resorts as well as Imagineering who have a couple of working theories.
One theory suggests that -- given that the Endless Hallway is really the first scene in the Mansion where the spirits begin to manifest themselves -- the more superstitious Guests (those who buy into that Old World belief that spitting helps ward off evil) can't help but spit at that moment in the attraction.
The other prevailing theory suggests that this is more a matter of a convenience. Given where this armchair is positioned along the Haunted Mansion's ride track (i.e. close enough to one's Omnimover that it makes a tempting target, yet far enough away that spitting on this particular chair would be something of a challenge), there's a certain segment of the public that just can't help themselves as they pass through this part of the Mansion. They HAVE TO try and spit on that overstuffed armchair.
Now it's worth noting here that Disneyland and Walt Disney World management believe that it's a certain specific segment of the theme park-going public which is responsible for the bulk of this sort of destructive behavior / defacing. And that's preteens who visit rides, shows and attractions without adult supervision.
So is it any wonder over this past weekend, we've seen both the Disneyland Resort as well as the Walt Disney World Resort embrace a new admissions policy that requires that any youngster entering the theme parks now must be accompanied by someone at least 14 years of age?
Mind you, Disney officials are insisting that this change in admissions policy was not made in response to any particular incident. But Company insiders that I've spoken with insist that this uptick in vandalism within the queues that Maintenance & Operations had reported was indeed a factor which then contributed to this corporate decision.
Getting back to that defaced painting in the Big Thunder Mountain queue (which -- FYI -- will be returned to this thrill ride in the not-so-distant future. Only next time, it'll be on display in an area that's well beyond the reach of most Guests), there's one other interesting little bend to this story. One that has more to do with the times that we now live in rather than the period that this Frontierland attraction is supposedly set in.
I'm told that -- before they actually removed this portrait -- a Disney World Cast Member did finally catch one Guest in the act of defacing this painting of Barnabas T. Bullion, the (to quote the elaborate back-story that the Imagineers have crafted for this new Magic Kingdom character) " ... gold magnate who rules the Big Thunder Mining Company with a golden fist." When this Cast Member asked why they did it, the Guest responded with kind of an interesting explanation ...
... what we saw as a fun inside joke, a nice tribute to Tony, the Guest saw this painting as a tribute to the mean old man who ruled over Big Thunder Mountain with an iron fist. This filthy rich guy who forced the people he employed at this mine to work under extremely dangerous conditions like earthquakes & cave-ins.
So by defacing this painting, this Guest was just doing what the miners would be doing if they could get away with it. Getting back at their boss, sticking it to the man by defacing his formal portrait.
Which -- I'll grant you -- is the first time that I've ever heard the Occupy Wall Street mindset used as an excuse for defacing props inside of a Disney theme park attraction.
But just so you know, this isn't the first time that something like this has ever happened to a painting inside of a Disney theme park.
Take -- for example -- "Pinocchio's Daring Journey" at Disneyland Park. If you keep a sharp eye out as you move through the Pleasure Island sequence in this Fantasyland dark ride, do you know what you'll see tucked away in one corner? The Mona Lisa with a moustache drawn on her. Which suggests that -- while Tony Baxter / Barnabas T. Bullion (FYI: I've been told that the "T" in Barnabas' name does in fact stand for Tony) may not have enjoyed being defaced -- he's at least in good company.
I suppose it's worth trying a ban unaccompanied minors. I fear the effect will be negligible however, because (in another sign of the times), accompanied minors are no better. I see plenty of bad behavior in the parks (though I've seldom directly observed vandalism in-progress), and almost all of it was perpetrated by minors misbehaving in full view of their bored/distracted/indifferent parents.
I can understand that children under the age of 14 should not be allowed to enter alone. I understand that they may be part of the vandalism problem.
What I don't understand is how a 10 year old is an adult in the eyes of Disney?
The Mona Lisa's mustache has to be on purpose! I have always assumed that it's a reference to Marcel Duchamp's L. H. O. O. Q. and, considering the number of refurbs, if it wasn't intentional she would have been destached by now.
It's obvious that the back story the concocted for the Barnabas T. Bullion (tony Baxter) portrait was very negative and not very flattering. They really need to go back and improve his image (pun intended).
Wonderful article, Jim! A question for you and other readers: I'm a Disneyland girl, and haven't been to WDW in years so I can't really compare, but I've heard Disneyland attendees tend to be more knowledgeable about the park, and more respectful (not that we don't have our share of annoying 13-year-olds). Is this true? If so, I would only speculate it's because DL attendees tend to be repeat visitors with some "history" with the park. Thoughts?
I read an interesting story a few months back about the parks in Tokyo. Japanese people are the exact opposite of Americans and in fact respect and admire all the props placed throughout the queues there. From what I read most of the props can be easley touched and aren't even glued or bolted down. There was a picture of a rifle against a wall in one queue unsecured and yet no one dare touch it. It really is ashame what people do when they are bored and I don't blame it on interactive queues, I blame it on the way we live and are raised now a days! It really is a sign of the times!!!
The rudest guests at WDW are those unruly south American tour groups. I have seen them climbing over sections of rides where they know full well they shouldn't be. And don't get me started on seeing some of them "acquire" items for free.
I am from the UK and I would never imagine behaving like they do. It has got to the point where I have even started to think of visiting somewhere else in the USA to avoid them.
I don't believe the story that miscreant told the CM when caught.
Seriously, we're supposed to believe that he wanted to be part of the Big Thunder show? That's nonsense.
I will never again be able to go passed that arm chair without thinking of how disgusting people can be. If they know this is a problem, in that particular area, they should set a camera, when the person gets off the ride, they should be banned from the park.
@Mitch, I think of it more in terms of height. Usually, 10 year olds are tall enough to pass any height restrictions. Since they can experience all the rides, they pay full price. Disney could sell tickets based on height, but it's harder to accurately predict the child's height at time of travel compared to predicting his age.
How dare the vandals spoil what doesn't belong to them, but belongs to all of us who love Disney and everything it stands for? I'd have to hurt one of the little rats if I ever caught them doing anything destructive in my company.
There are many people that do not know how to behave in a line. I have had someone continually walk into me every time the line stopped (you'd think they'd figure out to leave some room), parents let their kids climb on the rails and swing their arms and kick which hit me (again without a second thought about leaving enough room), people leaving trash wherever (even though a trash can is 5 steps ahead). It's almost like Disney needs to take a lesson from video games that use level 1 to teach you how to play (a ride to teach you to be respectful in line?). Maybe they can incorporate it into the Disney Must Do's to help people experience lines more calmly (top 5 tips for lines!).
Unfortunately there isn't one solution to the problem. I've seen adults encouraging bad behavior in the kids they are supervising (I even got in an altercation with one who was lifting his child over a fence and into a flower bed to get a "better view" of the fireworks. I've see college students be FAR more destructive than unsupervised kids. I've also seen people from other cultures that treat the parks as their own personal playgrounds to deface as they see fit.
The sad thing is that it doesn't have to be that way. When I visited Tokyo, we marveled at how pristine the park was, not because of upkeep, but because the Japanese people respect other people's property.
If I were Disney, I would post notices that anyone caught defacing the property would be escorted from the park and asked not to return. It's not like they would be hurting if this small percentage of visitors were sent packing and not allowed to return.
Disney monitors guests via CCTV while they're actually riding an attraction...I guess they'll need to set up a few more cameras & eject miscreants who vandalize queue spaces, too. I don't know what the official policy is, but I imagine that if someone is caught vandalizing the inside of, say, the Haunted Mansion, they're kicked out of the park. If that's the the case, they should extend the policy to include all other areas of the park, and be very aggressive about removing people from the park. They need to establish a reputation for not putting up with any crap.
If I saw someone vandalizing property, you bet I'd report it to a CM who could do something while the perpetrators were still nearby. That kind of thing used to not bother me very much, but now it pisses me off. Maybe I'm getting old and much more willing to complain (I'm 42). I mean, I've reached the point where I physically prevent Brazilians from cutting in line...you bet your ass I'm going to confront someone who's destroying props.
YOU KIDS GET OFF MY LAWN.
First offense: banned for the day. Second offense: banned from all Disney parks for a year or more. Now that Disney attaches your fingerprint to your ticket, all they have to do it ban your fingerprint from entering the park.
It's sad, but that's about the level of respect people give things that aren't theirs these days. Some people seem to think that if something's within reach in a public place, that gives them a right to deface it, and it's not just props - how many times have you been in a queue where someone's peeled the paint off of a handrail or carved their name on a wooden handrail rail or in a wall? It used to be that Disney parks' cleanliness used to encourage people not to throw their trash on the floor; these days, that cleanliness just seems to give people more incentive to be slobs.