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How Mark Renfrow brewed up "Unleashed the Villains" for Disney's Hollywood Studios

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How Mark Renfrow brewed up "Unleashed the Villains" for Disney's Hollywood Studios

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By now, you've no doubt heard about what happened at Disney's Hollywood Studios this past Friday night. How a New Year's Eve-sized crowd turned out for this "Limited Time Magic" event. Which led to some pretty interesting challenges for the very unlucky WDW cast members who were scheduled to work at this theme park on Friday the 13th.

It was body-to-body along Hollywood Boulevard this past Friday night.
Photo by Angela Ragno

Now there are plenty of places that you go online this morning if you're looking to learn more about what went wrong at "Unleash the Villains." But me? I thought that I'd try and focus on the positives on this LMT event. Which were largely due to the creative choices made by Mark Renfrow, the show director & writer on "Unleash the Villains."

I was lucky enough to get Mark on the phone towards the middle of last week. Which is probably when the very first annual passholders began lining up outside of "Villains in Vogue" in an effort to score some of those limited edition t-shirts. And I asked him about the origins of this "Limited Time Magic" event.

"For almost a decade now, we've been trying to get a park-wide, Halloween-themed event going at the Studios which would then be built around the Disney Villains," Mark explained. "And the last time we seriously talked about this project, one of the ideas that I pitched was Hades' Hangout. Which was supposed to be this combination underworld environment / exclusive New York nightclub that would serve as the hub of this Villains celebration."

Hades welcome everyone to his hangout. Photo by Angela Ragno

But WDW management once again nixed the idea of a separate Halloween event for the Studios. So everything that Mark wrote for Hades' Hangout got filed away. Until last Fall when word came down that Disney Parks & Resorts' year-long "Limited Time Magic" event was in the works.

"And as soon as 'Limited Time Magic' got announced, people in Entertainment at the Parks began saying 'You know what would be a really good fit for this? Hades' Hangout,' " Renfrow continued. "So we dusted off that idea and began looking at the calendar. And as soon as we saw that there was a Friday the 13th in September, that's when we knew that we had to stage this Disney Villains event at the Studio."

Okay. So that explains how "Unleash the Villains" wound up being held at Disney's Hollywood Studios this past Friday night. But how then did the villain from 1997's "Hercules " wind up as its master of ceremony?

The Big Bad Bad Wolf was a big man on campus this past
Friday night. Photo by Angela Ragno

"Who would be better for this gig than Hades?," Mark said. "Do you remember how this character was portrayed in that movie? Hades was already throwing off one liners. He's a natural comic. So this Disney Villain has license to be funny. More to the point, because he's the Lord of the Underworld, Hades has got to be familiar with all of the other Disney Villains' work. So who better to send out the invites to this sinister shindig?"

So with Hades as "Unleash the Villains" MC ( More importantly, with his "Hercules" co-horts -- Meg, Pain and Panic -- acting as his co-hosts), Renfrow then had to decide which Disney Villains to showcase at this Friday the 13th event.

"And since we were working this event on the 13th, we then decide to limit the number of Disney Villains that we were going to put in the spotlight to just 13," Mark stated. "And I wanted to make sure that we weren't going to fall back on the same old characters. I wanted to show some of the more obscure Disney Villains some love. Characters that people hadn't seen in a while or ever before inside of the Florida parks."

Oogie Boogie makes his Walt Disney World debut.
Photo by Angela Ragno

And given the positive reaction that Bowler Hat Guy from "Meet the Robinsons ," Shan-Yu from "Mulan " and especially Oogie Boogie from Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas" got from the thousands of people who lined up to have their pictures taken with these seldom-seen Disney Villains, Renfrow obviously has a knack for picking just the right characters to showcase at an event like this.

But of all the aspects of "Unleash the Villains," which did Mark find the toughest to do? Writing that 10 minute-long production number which opened the evening and then introduced all of the Disney Villains to be showcased at this event? Casting the face talent for this show? Designing the logo for this "Limited Time Magic" event?

"The biggest challenge was actually the 'Villainy in the Sky' fireworks display. I didn't want to fall back on the same old music that Disney always seems to use whenever  they're touching on the villains in a fireworks show. You know, songs like 'Be Prepared'," Renfrow said. "So I dug down deep into the soundtracks of our animated features and came up with some Villain-related tracks that I don't think people have heard in quite a while."

Photo by Angela Ragno

And indeed -- as people stood in Hollywood Boulevard on Friday night and watched as pyro shells exploded overhead to the music of the Hun Charge from "Mulan," Aladdin's battle with Jafar-as-a-giant-snake from "Aladdin ," Gaston & the Beast's battle on the rooftop from "Beauty & the Beast " and Esmeralda being burned at the stake in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame " -- they knew that this was the sort of fireworks display that they'd never ever seen (or heard) before inside of a Disney theme park.

"Of course, once you've put together the score for your fireworks show, you've then got to select all of the shells that you're going to be using," Mark continued. "We started picking out pyro back in February. And given that this is going to be the largest fireworks display that has ever been presented at Disney's Hollywood Studios, we had a lot of shells to select."

For all of you folks who remember Disney-MGM's old "Sorcery in the Sky" fireworks ... The reason that "Villainy in the Sky" looked so different than "Sorcery" is that shells were being fired from six different locations around that theme park on Friday night.

Photo by Angela Ragno

So after the estimated 35,000 attendees exited DHS after 1 a.m. on Saturday morning to the strains of "Carmina Burana," given how popular this "Limited Time Magic" event had clearly been with Central Floridians, annual passholders and WDW cast members, the obvious question then was: Will Walt Disney World ever host another "Unleash the Villains" -like event? When I spoke with Renfrow last Tuesday, he was cautiously optimistic about that idea.

"Look, in their movies, the Disney Villains are always popping up where & when you least expect them," Mark concluded. "So could an event like this rear its wicked head again sometime further on down the line? Who knows? I guess it all depends on what happens on Friday night."

And given that we all now know how "Unleash the Villains" turned out, the question now is: Will Disney Parks and Resorts -- given that it's been proven beyond a shadow (man) of a doubt that there is in fact a sizeable & passionate audience out there for a Disney Villains-based event -- now take this "Limited Time Magic" event and then turn it into an annual thing at Disney's Hollywood Studios?

It was a long, slow slog to the parking lot as the thirteenth hour struck.
Photo by Angela Ragno

And if they did actually do that, what sort of changes / improvements would you like to see them make to "Unleash the Villains" to then make this event a bit more fan friendly?

Your thoughts?

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  • Here were my notes:

    1. Why were the villains all huddled around Echo Lake?  If they were spread throughout the park, especially in streets of America, there was would have been a great way to ease crowds on that night.  Even with Villainy in the Sky, one could always work around that.  The congestion was a nightmare and spreading things out would have been much easier to stomach.

    2.  I applaud Renfrow's ability to dig through lesser-known pieces of music for the Villainy in the Sky, especially the "Bells of Notre Dame", and I totally get his reluctance to use the same old Disney songs, even covers.  But I said to a friend a great piece to include would've been the theme to "Gargoyles".  Heck, or even the chase music from "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", complete with the Headless Horseman's laugh. I wasn't a fan of the use of Pirates or Haunted Mansion music.  It seemed out of place.

    3.  I was not a fan of the intermissions with DJ IGGnite playing top 40. (We get it, everyone likes "Call Me Maybe")  But I think that would've been a great place to do some great cover/remixes of the villains songs, complete with pauses between songs.  I liked seeing the thinly-disguised Mulch, Sweat, and Shears band, but I felt overwhelmed with all the nostalgic 80's songs constantly rammed at the audience without so much as a breath between songs.  Or rather, two verses of a song before switching to another song.  There's a reason I don't go to raves.

    4.  Disney obviously vastly underestimated the traffic situation.  If there had been foresight to have CM's park in the backstage parking garage (where they park during Star Wars Weekends), it could've helped.  But from what I hear, only so much.  Maybe having the overflow park at the Epcot resorts and have the guests walk or take the boat (and at least theme it to Hades' boat on the River Styx. Ha!)  But when the park fills to capacity (As it did), they also have to deal with getting the message out, and it's not as though they can add space to accompany overflow inside the park.  But they'd have to do what Disney did for the 24 hrs events: sadly, ban cast members from attending.

    5.  And yeah, I'll say it because everyone else has.  No Queen of Hearts?  No Gaston?  No Lady Tremaine?  It was already awkward that Maleficent, Hades, Ratcliffe, Jafar, and the Queen were onstage THE EXACT SAME MOMENT FANTASMIC was going on.  And I totally give Renfrow props for including the lesser-knowns like the Big Bad Wolf and Bowler Hat Guy.  And I agree 13 was just the right number.  But I would also like to have seen Br'er Fox, Sromboli, Lotso, Madam Mim, and Prince John.

    6.  And there's a lot more villains Disney doesn't even have on hand.  Like Yzma, The Coachman, Madam Medusa, The Horned King, Ursula, Ratigan, Syndrome, McLeach, Clayton, Alameda Slim, Mother Gothel, and King Candy.  Now, a lot of people like Scar and I love Shere Khan, but Disney isn't so kind to quadrupedal characters unless it's Eeyore or Pluto.  If I may be so bold as to provide an experiment...Recall how the Cheetahs look in Broadway's "The Lion King".  The puppeteer's legs were their hind legs and they use rods to move the fore legs?  Simply do the same thing, but dress the puppeteer's upper body in stripes for SK and orange and black fur for Scar.  Too artistic, kids wouldn't get it?  Maybe, but I'd like to at least see it'd look like.  Besides, the whole event was geared more toward adults anyway.

    8.  Does any of Friday's events lend credibility to the rumor of the fifth "Shadow Kingdom" villain's park?

    I would love to hear what you all have to say as well.

  • the odd chance Disney execs in charge finaly give the okay for a villains  events like this and make it longer one thing they should do is not only have the villains they pick not just confined to one spot move around the park plus. also given how disney has such cool villians rotate some like next year if they do it . have the queen of hearts and ursala . and maybe scar. but keep hades as host and . just like ogggy booggie as one regular participant. but mostly let disney fans be able to have some fun with the villains byy doing some thing like this annualy now

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Guys, to be fair here, this was the very first "Disney Villains" event ever held at a Disney theme park (Well, two Disney theme parks. Disneyland Park had a "Unleash the Villains" event of its own on Friday the 13th). So there's going to be something of a learning curve.

    My understanding was that the folks at DHS were expecting just 15,000 people to show for the WDW version of this event. Their thinking behind this projected attendance was that A) mid-September is usually one of the times of year where the Resort historically sees its lowest attendance levels, B) there was a Disney Parks Blog event going on that same night that was supposed to lure annual passholders and the Disney diehards away, and C) there was a Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party going on at the same time. So it was believed that these three elements / events would help keep attendance at DHS' "Unleash the Villains" at reasonable levels.

    Now what kind of interesting is that -- back in February of 2012 -- the Disneyland Resort used the same sort of thinking to justify the relatively low number of cast members that they had on hand to handle that resort's Leap Day / "One More Disney Day" event. Arguing in-house that because this promotion was being staged on a Tuesday, and that because mid-week in February is historically when Disneyland Park sees low attendance levels, and because it's still old in February & Southern Californians don't typically go to Disneyland Park when it's cold ... Well, they were ready for a relatively low number of annual passholders & theme park enthusiasts to come out for "One More Disney Day" on February 29th. And -- as you recall -- so many people tried to get to Disneyland to take part in the Leap Day festivities that there were 7 mile back-ups out on the I-5.

    So given what happen on Friday night at Disney's Hollywood Studios (i.e. that this theme park quickly filled up and traffic wound grinding to a standstill out on Buena Vista & -- to a lesser extent -- World Drive. Which then impacted traffic out on I-4) ... Obviously when it comes to these "One More Disney Day" / "Limited Time Magic" events, the old metrics just don't apply. So Disney's just going to have to come with some new formulas when it comes to determining how many cast members it needs to properly staff events like this. Which -- while they may not have appealed to the Disney theme park's traditional audiences (i.e., families staying on property and/or vacationing in Central Florida) -- clearly struck a chord with annual passholders, Central Florida locals and cast members.

    That -- to my understanding -- was one of the main issues that the people who were working in the DHS parking on Friday were dealing with. That so many of the people who came out for "Unleash the Villains" drove by themselves to this event and then hooked up with their friends once they go into the theme park. With so many of these one-person-per-car vehicles pouring into Disney's Hollywood Studios parking lot in the late afternoon (as opposed to the usual traffic pattern. Where cars loaded with multiple passengers enter the Studio lot in the early morning hours. With the bulk of these people parked and inside of that theme park by 11 a.m. ), the lot quickly filled up. And once that happened, things then began to cascade.

    But on the upside ... You have to walk before you can run. And given that Walt Disney World Entertainment can now finally turn to Resort Management and say "See? I told you that there was an audience out there for a Disney Villains-based event at the Studios" ... Well, it's now a case of determining how to go forward.

    Mind you, what's not going to help this situation is that the left-front half of the Studios is becoming a construction zone as of mid-January of 2014, what with the start of work on that theme park's massive Star Wars Land expansion. So we may have to wait 'til the other side of all that work before we then get to see a full-realized version of "Unleash the Villains." But on the other hand, wouldn't be cool to attend a Disney Villains event at the Studio where you then get the chance to get your picture taken with Darth Sidious (i.e., The Emperor), Darth Vader, Darth Maul and General Grievous.

    So please be patient, Chad. It will take Disney a while to learn from Friday's mistakes as well as form some sort of workable plan for future Disney Villain events at the Studios (Imagine having a chance to get your picture taken with Lotso & Syndrome back in Pixar Place). But it will eventually happen ... I hope.

  • Jim,

    You didn't expect to slip in a note about a "Star Wars Land" and not get a few questions, did you?

    a) how certain is this report that actual construction will be occurring in mid-January 2014 (a mere 4 months from now)?  Is the expectation that a major announcement will take place between now & then, or is the plan to follow the blueprint that Universal has been working with over their last few projects and build first, release a statement at a later date?

    b) the "left front half" of the Studios being worked on for a "massive" expansion...I've seen posts on other sites saying that Echo Lake & its surrounding attractions (Indy Stunt Show, American Idol, what's left of Sounds Dangerous), the Muppet Studios area, Lights, Motors, Action! and the Streets of America could all be going to make way for a Star Wars section.  Have you heard anything more definitive?

    EDITOR'S NOTE: It won't actually be construction of Star Wars Land itself that starts in the first quarter of 2014. But -- rather -- site prep. A good portion on the Echo Lake area & environs needs to first be pulled down and hauled away before all of the necessary below-ground prep work for this DHS expansion / alteration can actually get underway. So it could well be late Fall / early Winter of 2014 before we then see any aspects of Star Wars Land go vertical.

    More to the point, given that Disney's going to want to get the biggest bang possible out of its official Star Wars Land announcement, the real question is ... When exactly would be the best time to reveal that this project is actually in the works? The folks in Publicity still haven't settled on a date & a time yet. But then again, think about how long we've been waiting for an official announcement about the start of construction of DAK's new "James Cameron's World of AVATAR" land.

    So sorry, Jim from NJ. But given that there are a lot of chess pieces still moving around the board here, it's hard to be too definitive about when construction will actually begin / when Star Wars Land for DHS will officially be announced. But please hang in there. This project is definitely happening and there will be some sort of announcement shortly. And by shortly, I mean well before Episode VII arrives in theaters.

  • I'm not holding my breath waiting for a StarWarsland at DHS.  As this Villains event proves, DHS can still pull in the crowds, and in a park that doesn't have much room to expand, I don't see this much discussed super project at DHS whereby large areas of the park are demolished happening anytime soon if only because doing so could cripple DHS's attendance.  As the Villain's event shows, DHS has carved out a niche for itself as "party park" whereby special events and shows are part of the park's bread and butter.  DHS sure ain't DCA 1.0, so I don't expect to construction walls up anytime soon, maybe to add a Pixar ride in seven years.

    Anyway, Disney would save money and expand capacity by building on that nice parcel of 'high and dry' land east of the TTC parking lot.  (Why spend a year removing Echo Lake?)  I could see a Carsland style Pixar land, and a StarWarsland built as part of this fifth gate . . . along with a Villains presence, after all, it would be Disney's 13th theme park . . . plus expanding the TTC parking lot would be a whole lot easier than expanding DHS's parking lot.  

    If you ask me, site prep for the fifth gate has already begun as lot of that land isn't being irrigated and its kinda dried up.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: 5th theme park? What have you been smoking, Anonymouse. WDW officials stopped talking about building a full-sized 5th theme park back in the Summer of 1998 after Disney's Animal Kingdom opened and began cannibalizing attendance at Epcot & Disney-MGM Studios. Since then, the only thing that's been semi-seriously talked about was Disney's Night Kingdom / Disney's Jungle Trek. Which was supposed to be a boutique park modeled after SeaWorld's Discovery Cove that would cater to WDW's high-end customers. But after the Wall Street collapse / financial correction of 2008, all talk of this deliberately low capacity (only 1500 - 2000 Guests per day) / high priced (Individual tickets were supposed to start at $300 per person) faded away. And today, the only elements of Night Kingdom / Jungle Trek that survive can be found in DAK's Wild African Trek (which costs $189 per person).

    As for your statement that " ... I'm not holding my breath for a Star Wars Land at DHS" ... You do realize that the entire Walt Disney Company -- from the Disney Channel through Disney Consumer Products to the Studios right down to Parks & Resorts -- is in the process of seriously getting into the Star Wars business? With everything focusing on the Summer of 2015 when Episode VII hits theaters and then the real fun begins. So to deliberately turn a blind eye to all that and then pretend that this major new film franchise won't then have some sort of impact on Disney's theme park in Florida that celebrates movies ... I mean, you're joking, right? You can't seriously be this out-of-touch with what's going on at the Company.

    As for construction crippling DHS's attendance ... You did just watch what happened at DCA, right? Where five years of construction walls lead to a creative rebirth at that theme park (not to mention a huge surge in attendance levels). Sometimes some pretty significant surgery is necessary in order to save a patient. And in the case of DHS, this theme park definitely needs some new blood. Or -- at the very least -- a more user-friendly layout.

    But beyond that ... Building a fifth theme park in the TTC's parking lot? Disney talked about doing something like that back in the early 1970s when they were looking fot possible sites for World Showcase and then didn't want to expand that Resort's monorail system. But it's been 40 years since anyone looking at that area for anything more than a possible site for another Seven Seas Lagoon adjacent resort. Sorry, Anonymouse. But that idea of yours just doesn't scan.

  • I've always liked this website and the info and speculation that it passes on to those of us who are a little Disney obsessed.  Having said that, when did the Editor's notes start insulting the commenters?

    There is no place for EDITOR'S Notes likes this:

    EDITOR'S NOTE: 5th theme park? What have you been smoking, Anonymouse. WDW officials stopped talking about building a full-sized 5th theme park back in the Summer of 1998 after Disney's Animal Kingdom opened and began cannibalizing attendance at Epcot & Disney-MGM Studios.



    What have you been smoking indeed.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: You did read the rest of the comment, right? Where I talked about how Disney has abandoned plans to go forward with construction of a fifth full-sized theme park for its Central Florida resort and is instead exploring the idea of building a niche park? Something along the lines of SeaWorld's Discovery Cove?

    Well, that's still the way the Imagineers are thinking. Nothing quite as grand as Epcot or Disney's Animal Kingdom. But something more on the small side that would cater to a deep-pocketed crowd that would be looking for a full day experience. If you attended those Imagineering panels that were presented at this year's D23 EXPO on Sunday, perhaps you saw the test footage of that day-long Pirate adventure experience which started at a WDW hotel, moved to the Magic Kingdom, and then ended with a night-time boat ride over to the beach at Fort Wilderness where a villainous rogue disappeared in a puff of smoke. That's the sort of the stuff that WDI is looking at these days. An intimate adventure that 1500 - 2000 people can experience over 12 hours time, not a place that 50 - 65,000 people could be crammed into. Which happens all too often at the Magic Kingdom on peak days these days.

    And I'm sorry if it seemed like I'm coming down too hard on Anonymouse. But if you've seen some of the other comments that this guy has posted here at JHM, it often seems like he sometimes takes a contrary position just as part of an artificial effort to stimulate conversation. And for Anonymouse to deny that Star Wars Land is coming to DHS when multiple sources have already talked about how this project is making its way through WDI's development pipeline and then insist that it will be years before this theme park sees another construction fence ... I'm sorry. But it bothers me when people deliberately turn a blind eye to a topic or a subject that they would prefer to deny. And (to my way of thinking) that's what Anonymouse is doing in this instance. Talking about something nonsensical (like the modern Walt Disney Company building a full-sized fifth theme park in the parking lot by the TTC) rather than acknowledging what actually is happening (which is the Star Wars Land that is now in the works for Disney's Hollywood Studios).

    Does that explanation give you a better idea of why I was appeared to be rude to Anonymouse or at least came across as frustrated when it comes to my dealings with this specific JHM reader? I hope so.

  • Jim, an ideal piece of land for a fifth gate is east of the TTC parking lot, not in it.  This land is above the 100-year flood plan . . . but land to the south of DHS/Cypress Drive is most certainly below this flood plan, hence DIsney won't be moving DHS's entrance and expanding in this area, though they could go east into the parking lot a bit.

    Yes, they could take out the Indiana Jones stunt show/Backlot Express, but as you well know, DCA's construction project involved turning a backstage area, mostly a parking lot into Carsland, and Buena Vista Street was essentially a new facade for the stores along the old Sunshine Plaza, the rumors (and there are many) are suggesting that Disney will remove whole sections of DHS which are currently used by guests.  All that DCA lost during construction was the ugly touristy strip-mall/Sunshine Plaza.

    Yes, AK "cannibalized" *some* attendance at the resort, but the resort as a whole gained much more guests than it lost.  Same calculations with a fifth gate, more guests arriving each year, building even a StarWarsland at DHS wouldn't solve this demographic issue, and DHS's parking lot ain't getting any bigger!

    DHS superficially looks like DCA, but DHS is doing quite well in terms of guest attendance.  There have been a lot of wild rumors flying around with regards to DHS and taking Osbourne Lights, Muppets, LMA, Backlot Express, Tram Tour, now Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular and Backlot Express I'm kinda skeptical with regards to these as a lot of them don't make fiscal sense.  Maybe you know more than me, Jim, and I certainly respect your encylcopedic knowledge of Disney, but what is the attendance goal at DHS?  Is DHS somehow failing?  DHS gets about 10 million visits a year, it ain't DCA 1.0.

    I am quite cognizant of Disney's StarWarsland plans, I applaud them (big Star Wars fan), but seriously doubt that StarWarsland will come to DHS.

    From a feasibility/fiscal common sense standpoint (and I know a bit about construction), it makes much, much more sense to build the beginnings of a fifth gate east of the TTC parking lot with a StarWarsland and another land, and it is a whole lot cheaper than plastic surgery on DHS.  You know as well as I know that Disney doesn't have much land in Anaheim, they *had* to fix DCA because it was failing financially and they don't have much room outside of an awkwardly placed certain 88-acre piece of land that is currently a parking lot.

    I don't take offense at anything JIm said, he has a great site.  Love Star Wars and think it would out great at DHS (though parking could be a nightmare) . . . but it would also work out great elsewhere, especially a fifth gate where sight lines could be properly addressed.  If they do build StarWarsland they don't want to be a victim of their own success and having parking issues . . . I think logistically it will, by necessity, need to go in next to the TTC parking lot, which can be expanded to handle the traffic.  Nobody is wringing their hands at Burbank wondering how to save DHS and if StarWarsland can do it . . . but they might well be looking at increasing offerings at WDW as tourism has bounced back.  WDW hit record attendance levels last Spring, they can build a fifth gate on unused land, (keep making $$ off of DHS) and entice the record number of guests to come back and stay longer.

  • I am a big Disney fan and I'd like to see all sorts of things built...but I also run my own small business and I understand that from a business perspective not everything it realistic. Has everyone seen the theme park rankings for 2012 in terms of attendance? The two Universal parks don't come anywhere near beating ANY of the Disney parks in terms of attendance in Florida. DHS blows Universal away. Until Universal manages to get ahead of DHS or even DAK in terms of attendance I do not think anything radical will ever happen at any of the Florida Disney parks. There's just no business reason for Disney to do anything epic like that until Universal becomes an actual threat to attendance numbers.

    Remember that all new construction will mean new operational costs, hiring more employees, and having to budget for the upkeep of more acreage. There's just no viable business reason to build a fifth park...probably ever. At some point in the very distant future there might be some kind of new concept that comes up (that we can't even predict right now) and that might necessitate a new park. I'm talking a concept that is like a "movie themed park", "an animal park", "a water park", etc. but something that does not exist in the marketplace right now. For instance, just say that new technology was invented that allowed people to hover on jet-packs...and then Disney could see a business need to build a "hovering jet pack park" because that was the new craze sweeping the country. Until something radical like that would change the marketplace, there will be no fifth Disney park in Florida.

    I agree with Jim Hill on that...and I also think that once the economy recovers (probably in 5 years) that Disney will create something like Sea World's Discovery Cove (the Disney's Night Kingdom). It will be a boutique park for the ultra-high-end market. That's assuming that Discovery Cove generates a lot of money for Sea World and is really attracting a market that Disney wants to have (high end big spenders). Disney could really build this little boutique experience adjacent to DAK someday...but the emphasis is on someday and frankly it would be like Disney Vacation Club construction to most people since the average guest would never get to experience that boutique park.

    I am really very curious to see what actually is built with Star Wars, because I read enough articles on the current Disney company to know that the accountants and executives in the company don't see the logic of spending big money in the parks...since Universal remains so far behind them in attendance. You see the word "potter-swatter" thrown around to obnoxious degrees on Disney fan sites...but Disney executives look at the attendance numbers and don't think Universal's Potter attractions have done any damage to Disney's dominance in Orlando. So, Disney hasn't felt a "potter-swatter" is even necessary....as much as Disney fans want one.

    I kind of feel like Disney is only reluctantly doing a Star Wars Land. It doesn't feel like Disney is excited by this idea or is going to give it its all. Let's face it, a Star Wars Land at DHS that is as well-themed as Cars Land was at DCA would completely change everything in Orlando. It would be epic.  I have two sons and a husband who are HUGELY into Star Wars and I have to admit that I too love the original Star Wars films (but I thought the recent prequels were stupid and were like watching videos games on a screen).  There are generations of people who would love to come to Florida to feel like they are immersed in Star Wars environments. Disney doesn't have to build a new fifth park because building a truly excellent and large Star Wars Land at DHS would essentially be creating a new park-within-a-park in terms of the draw that Star Wars has. This is similar to the Harry Potter stuff at Universal, because my sons don't use the name "Islands of Adventure" when referring to that park...they call it "Harry Potter Land" and they had little interest in going to other areas of Islands when we were there. They just wanted the Harry Potter and thought that the rest of Islands was junky-looking. They love dinosaurs and like Jurassic Park but there wasn't much to do there so it did not leave much of an impression.

    Disney has the potential to create a lot of excitement in Florida with Star Wars. But once that's unleashed, things can never go back to the way they are now. The Star Wars Land is a guaranteed huge hit...but it's going to bring a lot of headaches that I think Disney has not wanted to deal with. It will bump DHS in attendance, for sure...and I think Disney has always been satisfied with DHS attendance and maybe didn't want more. Remember that more people in the park and more energy going on there means more employees and more maintenance costs and more hassles. As long as DHS was beating Universal, Disney was happy.  So now we're in a situation where DHS is going to get Star Wars Land and become wildly popular...perhaps even more popular than EPCOT. I wonder if Disney executives are okay with initiating this change..and all the logistical changes in staffing, parking, traffic flow, spending patterns, etc. that come with this.

    I hope Disney embraces the changes whole-heartedly.  Wouldn't it be great if a new hotel was also built near DHS that was Star Wars themed...allowing guests to have a truly immersive Star Wars experience? We've yet to see any plans for Star Wars Land so we don't know if it will look at different planets or just be set on the desert planet Tatooine or whatever.  But there is a lot of potential with this franchise to build a lot of different things.  Yet, there's a limit to what can be done so that DHS doesn't feel like it has just become a Star Wars park.  That's why I think they will need to build another new land with Star Wars Land...from another franchise like Wizard of Oz maybe. Otherwise, too much Star Wars would make the rest of DHS look strange....since you'd have this big Star Wars area and then the rest of the park wouldn't mesh with that. Adding a big Oz area also would feel like Disney's answer to Potter's magical world.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Hey, BradyBBradleysMom. Welcome to the conversation. And thanks for bringing up DHS's operational issues. There are those within the WDW organization who believe that this movie-based theme park has huge infrastruture issues (i.e. its under-sized and poorly positioned back entrance on Buena  Vista, for starters. Not to mention all of the now-empty movie & television production offices & facilities toward the back of this theme park that severely restrict its ability to expand to the north and the west). Of course, the only problem with dealing with these issues is that -- to be blunt -- these are aspects of DHS that don't excite WDW visitors. And spending ten of millions of dollars on fixing / repairing / replacing these elements (while they may eventually have a positive impact on the future growth / health of Hollywood Studios) won't then have an immediate impact on DHS's attendance levels.

    So -- for the moment -- Disney is focused on the short-term future of Hollywood Studios (We're talking the next three to five years) and what they can do to better position this theme park in the post-Diagon Alley era of Central Florida tourism.

    Because make no mistake, folks: The way that Brady & Bradley talk about IOA (calling it the "Harry Potter Park," rather than "Islands of Adventure") is the way a lot of people who are planning on vacationing in Central Florida now talk about that theme park. And once Diagon Alley officially opens next June and tourists are then able to climb aboard the Hogwarts Express and journey from London to Hogsmeade Village and back again ... That's a real game changer. That's the sort of experience that people actually build entire vacations around (which is why it really isn't a coincidence that Universal's Cabana Bay hotel is opening the bulk of its 1800 rooms in July. That's when Universal Orlando anticipates that -- after all of the positive news coverage that will come on the heels of the grand opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley -- demand for on-site accommodations will spike).

    And you know how Disney is currently expecting to respond to what's going on at Universal Orlando? With MagicBands. Which will allow you to open the door at your WDW hotel with a single tap. Or order a churro and/or buy a pin with increased speed.

    Do you Disney defenders out there now get why this might be seen as an inadequate response? Or -- better yet -- why WDW officials are just dreading the Spring of 2014? Which is when people who write about the themed entertainment industry will begin comparing the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (which is -- let's be blunt here, folks -- a tricked-up kiddie coaster) to Diagon Alley's bells-and-whistle Gringotts Coaster.

    This is why Star Wars Land (that project that people like Anonymouse will continue to tell you is never going to be built) is virtually bullet-training its way through WDI's development pipeline. In a time when NBC Universal President and Chief Executive Officer Steve Burke is telling investment analysts about their aggressive plans to add one new attraction per year to the Universal Orlando Resort as well as out in Southern California at Universal Studios Hollywood (not to mention possibly adding 10 - 15,000 additional hotel rooms to its Universal Orlando Resort), Disney World can't honestly afford to set on its hands. It has to be bold right now. Which is why Star Wars Land and -- yes -- James Cameron's World of AVATAR are being fast tracked for construction.

    So in spite what Anonymouse is claiming (i.e. that maybe in a couple of years, we'll see a single construction fence go up as DHS half-heartedly tries to expand Pixar Place), look for WDW to really get serious about adding new attractions to both DAK & DHS. Given that these two theme parks are the most vulnerable (at least from an attendance point of view) when it comes to Central Florida visitors deciding to cut back on the amount of time that they usually spend at Walt Disney World to then go sample all of the new Harry Potter-related wonders which will begin coming online in June of next year at Universal Studios Florida.

  • Jim, I'm not saying that StarWarsland will never be built, just that it probably won't be built at DHS.  We all know that Disney sent out questionnaires to annual passholders on both coasts regarding a StarWarsland.  I'm a big Star Wars fan, so I can't wait for this addition.  A large Star Wars land, something planned to be the size of Frontierland, would be a major draw, but there are logistical/fiscal issues at DHS.

    Here's a grab bag of rumors and speculation regarding StarWarsland/fifth gate at WDW:

    1.  The putative fifth gate site is east of the TTC parking lot, but west of Fort Wilderness.  It's no secret that the Wookie homeworld (see Star Tours 2.0), is a prominent Star Wars locale in the post-Return of the Jedi World, a StarWarsland that incorporates said Wookie homeworld might make good use of Fort Wilderness, perhaps to even add some Wookie-style treehouse villas in the future.  DHS doesn't have room for such a 'hotel-in-a-theme-park' concept which was under heavy consideration for Westcot.  What would a Wookie homeworld resort/land at the back of a fifth gate look like?  Just walk around the Grand Californian Hotel area and you can see that Disney has been very successful creating believable forest areas, similar to California's Redwoods.

    2.  Carsland costed around $600 million, DCA 2.0 around $1.1 billion . . . when you think about the cost of a StarWarsland, I can see a budget near $800 million.  Add a hotel off of the Seven Seas Lagoon, or maybe a Wookie themed hotel attached to the park (hotel revenue is major source of revenue), and you're getting close to the cost of a fifth gate 'starter park' anyway.  Tack on $300 million for another land, and you're on your way to a full-sized theme park, with room for expansion.

    3.  The TTC parking lot could be serviced by two trams, one to the TTC, and another which drops guests off in front of the fifth gate.  DHS would probably need a parking garage if a StarWars land was put in there.

    4.  There were rumors of a fifth-gate Disney Experience/Adventure Park which would utilize Next-Gen technology, role playing, and immersive envirions on the scale of Carsland as an exicting new offering.  Remember that next-Gen pirates concept that was pitched *decades* ago with guests actually getting out of the boat mid-ride and exploring a caribbean village with CM's dressed up as pirates?  Think of that concept merged with a compelling franchise, such as a Villain's area with a Malificent's evil castle, or a Monstropolis with interactive characters, a high-tech Coruscant themed area of a StarWarsland in addition to the Wookie homeworld (two concepts under consideration by WDI), oh, and in case you didn't know, (I'm sure Jim does know about this as the guy has inside sources), Artemis Fowl is Disney's answer to Potter, and I have to say that the world of Artemis Fowl would make an excellent land, as compelling as a StarWars land or Potterland.  Disney's Artemis Fowl films will probably be close to Potter in terms of box office.  Here's the rumors I'm hearing:

    1.  StarWars land with Wookie homeworld and either Coruscant or Tatooine.

    2.  Maleficent castle with a courtyard area with a smattering of dark rides, (Villains LTM kinda shows that interest in a Villain's land is a feasible idea).

    3.  A Pixar-based land, Monstropolis vs. some other Pixar property like Good Dinosaur vs. Inside Out

    4.  Aretmis Fowl/Lower Elements land

    5.  Pixie Hollow (makes sense next to Artemis Fowl, no?)

    So, you see, while StarWarsland at DHS would present logistical nightmares, spending this huge amount of cash on a starter fifth gate next to TTC's parking lot would be an investment which would generate a much quicker return on investments, and there's tons of projects WDI has been hoping to work on given a proper budget and a clean slate.

    A medium-size StarWarsland at DHS ain't gonna cut it JIm, not with Potterland 2.0 and more guests than ever at WDW, Disney needs to go all in, in for a penny in for a pound, and when the Mouse finally responds to Uni, you can bet your bottom dollar that the empire will strike back.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Look, no disrespect, Anonymouse. But when you start talking about how Disney should build an Artemis Fowl Land in answer to Universal's Harry Potter offerings, I know that we're not going to be able to have a reality-based conversation.

    I mean, you talk about how Disney should be building a Pixie Hollow-themed area at one of the Parks. You do recall that that was part of the original site plan for Version 1.0 of New Fantasyland at WDW's Magic Kingdom, right? Mouse House managers obviously had the financials in hand for how much that franchise makes for the Company in terms of home video sales as well as Consumer Products. But even then, with those hard numbers in hand, WDW managers still couldn't bring themselves to pull the trigger on even a relatively under-sized Pixie Hollow. Which is why that part of the original New Fantasyland got scrapped in favor of Dumbo Circus (which also managed to keep the highly trafficked / super profitable County Bounty retail area in place. But that's another story for another time). And as for the Pixies ... Well, they might -- let me stress here, MIGHT -- eventually move into a rethemed version of the Swiss Family Treehouse if WDW management can ever bring itself to underwrite the cost of retheming that Opening Day Adventureland attraction as the Pixie Dust Tree.

    So Disney had hard numbers in hand and still couldn't bring itself to build a Pixie Hollow Land as part of New Fantasyland. So taking that into consideration, why would you then bother to float the idea that the Mouse would seriously be considering building an Artemis Fowl land at this entirely imaginary fifth theme park that you've dreamed up here when Frame One of film hasn't gone through a camera for this yet-to-begin co-production between Walt Disney Studios and the Weinstein Company?

    Look, Anonymouse. There's Blue Sky plans and then there are pie-in-the-sky plans. And a lot of the stuff that you just wrote about / proposed isn't realistic from a themed entertainment point-of-view.

    I mean, you keep talking about a full-sized, bells-and-whistles fifth theme park for Walt Disney World. Forget about it. It ain't happening. Why For? Because most people only get two weeks of vacation per year and only have a finite amount of money to spend on their WDW vacations. Four theme parks, two water parks and a retail entertainment district is pretty much all these folks can handle at this point. Were you to add a fifth full-sized theme park, people would then definitely start cutting back on their visits to DAK & DHS.

    More to the point, Disney World officials are already very concerned about the number of tourists (especially the Brits who rent vacation homes out in Davenport for their three week long holidays) who are already significantly cutting back on and/or just foregoing entirely trips to DAK & DHS and opting instead to spend their time & money at Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure. Which -- again -- is why James Cameron's World of AVATAR and Star Wars Land are being fast-tracked for these two theme parks.

    And speaking of Universal ... Anonymouse, you talk about how Disney needs to built a stand-alone, big ticket Star Wars themed theme park. You do understand the concept of how you have to walk before you can run, right? And in the case of the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter, even though Universal Creative had an IP that was tied to a best-selling series of books and a top grossing film franchise, they still initially played it safe. Instead opting to recycle / retheme two of  Lost Continent's already existing attractions as well as build the Three Broomsticks / Hogs Head Tavern up around the pre-existing kitchen for the Enchanted Oak Tavern. Thereby making it possible to build all of the other parts of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Hogsmeade for a mere $180 million.

    You see, major entertainment conglomerates like Disney and NBCUniversal exist in the real world. They have to actually answer to their boards of directors and shareholders. They aren't like you, Anonymouse. Who seems to believe that the Imagineers and/or Universal Creative have this seemingly bottomless bin of money from which they can pull the funds for whatever rides, shows, attractions, lands or entire theme parks they want to build. That they don't ever have to worry about mundane things like hourly thru-put or vehicle capacity.

    But me? When I write about what's in the works for Universal and/or Disney, I always try to mention / bring up these real world concerns. Because things like budgets and projected capacity really do have an impact on the sorts of rides, shows and attractions that get built at these theme parks.

    Now if you want to start having a realistic conversation about what's going on / what's in the works for WDW and Universal, Anonymouse, I'd be happy to continue this chat ... If -- on the other hand -- you're going to continue to propose / talk about projects that have absolutely no basis in reality (i.e. a Star Wars themed theme park & hotel right at the edge of Seven Seas Lagoon. You are aware of the dozens of friction pilings that have been jack-hammered into the ground at the proposed construction site of WDW's Venetian & Mediterranean Resorts over the years, never to be seen again? That historically swampy piece of property is incapable of supporting a single hotel. So what makes you think that it's now suitable to support a resort AND a full-sized fifth theme park?) -- I'm afraid that I'm going to have to pass on indulging any more of your pie-in-the-sky musings.

    Again, I don't mean to be rude here, Anonymouse. But I'm a big fan of grounding speculative talk in reality. And a lot of the stuff that you've been posting recently in JHM's discussion section is so far removed from the way theme parks are actually built & funded and/or the way that huge entertainment conglomerates like Disney & NBCUniversal operate that it's just tough for me to continue on in these conversations. More to the point, I feel like the more I try to introduce real world issues & concerns in my responses to your discussion section posts, the further you veer off into fantasies where every ride is an E Ticket and money is never ever a concern when a theme park is being built. Which -- please trust me on this -- isn't how things actually work in the themed entertainment industry.

  • Jim, Pixie Hollow was axed because the brass wanted a less girl-centric New Fantasyland, and so they replaced it with the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.  The Snow White franchise sure ain't more profitable than the Disney fairies.  Anyway, any Lower Elements land would be a phase 2 project, but it would fit in *very* well next to a Pixie Hollow.  You see, each park needs to have offerings for little girls and little boys, so that is why not all of the little girl stuff is clustered in NFL.

    A fifth park can easily be supported at WDW, and would take pressure off of aging infrastructure, and allow certain E-tickets to get more regular refurbs.  If WDW attendance goes up 10% in a decade, you can't expect all of those folks to be satisfied with long lines at the Magic Kingdom and a water park, so an expansion will be needed at some point just to keep up with annual growth, and I'm talking about a real expansion, not a re-theming.  Believe it or not, WDW hit record attendance last spring, there is a real need for more guest space, not just a retheming.

    The plans for a StarWars themed land are pretty impressive, as they should be.  One thing that impresses WDI with regards to the Star Wars universe is the American Graffiti-style hopping from one locale to another.  One idea is to allow guests to get a feel of the Star Wars universe planet-hopping, and this would be by constructing a land with various locales, such as a Wookie homeworld, Coruscant, and perhaps a Tatooine area as well, budget permitting.  Star Tours 2.0 uses this planet hopping appeal with the various locations/sequences.  Is World Showcase a "land"?  Or is each pavillion a mini-land?  

    Anyway, the more space the better, especially in terms of future expansions, with regards to a Star Wars land.  There are rumors of a central Coruscant plaza/futuristic city, with a hub design and pathways leading off to possibly a Wookie homeworld, Tatooine, a small Dagobah, space port, Mon Cal homeworld . . . a gigantic Tatooine isn't the goal, but to allow guests to planet hop, which would necessitate a large land with little subdivisions, some of  which may be added at future dates.  Sure doesn't sound like something that could easily fit in DHS, especially with a Wookie-style treehouse resort which is visible from inside the fifth gate.

    Uni was in the dumps, attendance-wise, before Potterland, so it was an easy decision to build it, at a cost closer to $265 million.  And Uni recycled two rollercoasters for Potterland, Disney doesn't have attractions to recycle in that corner of DHS.  DHS, is doing quite well attendance wise and has logistical-infrastructure issues with regards to plopping down a major land, so I wouldn't hold my breath.  With 10 million visits a year, Burbank isn't try to figure out how to jam another 1-2 million guests a year into this small park.  And as a StarWars land will likely cost around $800 million (we aren't talking revamping a Unicorn coaster here, but multiple E-Tickets), Burbank will want to put it where guests can easily access it.  WDW is a menu of parks, adding a fifth gate means another choice, another opportunity for families to decide to stay on property, a fifth gate would get about 6 million guests a year, (maybe much more considering Star Wars popularity), and then maybe lose 2-3 million in cannibalization . . . netting maybe 3-4 million more guests a year, possibly more if the rest of the parks are relieved crowding-wise.  Look at MK, Jim, uber popular, jammed packed . . . a fifth gate would be a great release valve/alternative, especially east of the TTC parking lot.  DHS with a moderate sized StarWarsland wouldn't get an extra 4, 3 or even 2 million guests a year, probably around 1.3 million extra guests a year.

    With regards to Seven Seas Lagoon plot, the land can be constructed on with current modern construction techniques which have evolved to build on such land, land east of the TTC parking lot is big enough to hold a park bigger than the Magic Kingdom, and has no such issues whatsoever.  I believe they floated some sightline balloons in this area when they were thinking about what could be seen from the monorail and even the Magic Kingdom's Main Street.

    The stock buy-back has but the kibosh on organic investments, over the next couple years, so, no, Disney won't be rushing to build a StarWars land quite as quickly as some believe, but investments happen in cycles, and it seems quite likely that after Shanghai Disney will turn its attention back to WDW, and is sure ain't gonna be dropping just $200 million to retheme Backlot Express to a Tatooine restaurant and add an X-Wing spinner and some meet and greets.  Carsland's lesson has been to build big, and to do it in a high quality fashion.

    When you're watching Halloween fireworks above a beautifully wicked Malificent's castle as a dragon rises from the moat (yes, the dueling castle idea ain't dead at all, and the plan early Fantasmic plan for putting the dragon near a Disney ain't gone either), from the curb of whatever street Glendale uses as this park's entrance/parade boulevard, (Monstropolis? Fowl's Ireland?), don't say I didn't warn you.  Disney spends billions on cruise lines, and nobody believes that they won't write the check for the fifth gate?  Amazing.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Look, Anonymouse. I've been polite and more than indulgent here. But when you talk about things like how the Imagineers are supposedly looking to build Corcuscant (The City Planet. Where the whole point of this locale in the Star Wars films is to show what an over-built urban environment would look like in George Lucas' used future) as part of Star Wars Land, an area that -- with all of its towering skyscrapers -- would basically be physically impossible to replicate inside of a real built-with-steel-and-concrete theme park ... I realize that you're kind of addicted to this pie-in-the-sky stuff. Whereas I am looking to talk about and explore the ideas that are really being considered for this DHS expansion.

    So at this point, rather than continue to try & steer this conversation in a more realistic direction and then just fail over & over & over again, I think that I'm just going to quietly step away and leave you to your fifth theme park at the edge of Seven Seas Lagoon that is never ever going to get built.

    Oh, and those sight-line balloons that you keep talking about that were recently seen around the TTC area? Those were for the DVC units for the Polynesian Resort that were announced earlier today. But -- again -- let's not let reality intrude on this fantasy version of what you're certain is someday going to get built at the Walt Disney World Resort.

  • Jim,

    I have a complete "out of left field" idea, and need to hear what you have to say. It's just something that I feel needs to be contemplated, since nobody has mentioned it elsewhere.

    With DCA gradually turning into the "Pixarland" theme park with Cars Land, A Bug's Land, and the rumored Monstropolis, has anybody thought that maybe a Pixar theme park (ie. Pixar Place expansion) is something that Disney wants to-- at least temporarily-- keep California exclusive (besides maybe international parks)?

    Therefore, why wouldn't the theory stay the same for Star Wars? Aside from Hollywood Studios, have you heard anything else for a domestic Star Wars land? Therefore, I throw out this idea. What if Star Wars Land was only the first phase? Various articles have stated that the Star Wars Land has been rumored to extend throughout the whole theme park. This would solve many of the problems that this park has. You said on the podcast with Len Testa, you can learn how Disney makes a movie when you buy the Blu-Ray.

    Could a Star Wars Galaxy Far Far Away be a possible replacement in the long run for Disney's Hollywood Studios?

    Thanks. I love reading the articles, and miss listening to the podcast. Any new episodes coming soon?

  • I want to offer a few thoughts on Artemis Fowl, since that series has been brought up in conversation in this thread.

    My entire family LOVES the Harry Potter books. I actually re-read them myself every few years, in October through Christmas. My boys enjoy watching the movies and the younger one likes reading the books with me. My older son is probably over Harry Potter now, but he still enjoys going to "Potter Land" when we are in Florida (that's what he calls Islands of Adventure).

    I tried twice to get my sons into other fantasy series like Artemis Fowl or Lemony Snicket or this other one I can't remember now but they made a movie of it too (Spiderwick something or another). My sons had no interest in these series. I thought the Lemony books were funny, but that Artemis Fowl was just dumb. I don't know how J.K. Rowling did it but she really caught lightning in a bottle with her Potter world. That woman is a genius. There's just nothing that competes with Potter in that particular niche of magical, slightly spooky, wizards and witches realm. This is not a situation like the cola wars where there can be Coke for some people and Pepsi for others and the two are rivals.  No, Harry Potter is in a league unto itself and Artemis Fowl is no competition at all.  Artemis Fowl is an "also-ran".

    Honestly, have you been paying attention to the box office lately? Something's happening that movie executives don't quite understand. The movie-going public is really tightening belts and becoming more choosy with what it will leave the house and see in theaters. I can only speak for my family, but with two boys, my husband, my mother-in-law (who lives with us), and myself it's easily $80 or more to go to a theater. That means we probably go to maybe four movies a year in the theater. The rest we see on Netflix or we rent a digital copy on Amazon for a night (for $3.99!). That Immortal Instruments movie just bombed. Those White House being attacked by terrorists movies bombed. Lone Ranger bombed. Most movies this summer underperformed. I think this is because people felt like they have seen all this stuff many times before and it was not worth the high cost of going to a theater.

    Artemis Fowl will bomb. I'm sure of it. Remember that all the movies that tried to be Harry Potter bombed (Lemony Snicket, that Spiderwick thing, and I think there were a couple others a few years ago). On top of this, the Artemis Fowl books are old now so it's weird that Disney is dusting them off to try again.  What I think is happening here is that some Disney executives are still smarting because they let Harry Potter go to Universal...which is the dumbest thing these people have ever done. So, now they are obsessed with trying to "rectify" that mistake. So they do things like jump on the rights to AVATAR and go after Artemis Fowl...but you can't catch that same lightning in a bottle that was Harry Potter. It's a fool's quest.

    Personally, I think Disney could build an Emerald City of Oz land at DHS and compete with Potter Land on some level...but it will not eclipse Potter.  Oz would be charming to visit, though...and they could get several movies out of the Oz characters. I think an Emerald City could be elegant and gorgeous and there would be loads of opportunities for all ages in Oz attractions.  I'd love to see this built at DHS alongside a Star Wars Land...so there would be some space movie stuff and some fantasy movie stuff, which would be a nice balance for me.

    Disney can't kid itself, though...because Harry Potter has made Universal a must-visit for one day while in Florida. Even if my boys were not with me, I would still want to spend the day at Hogsmeade and Hogwarts. But I will tell you this: I do not go anywhere else in Islands of Adventure because I think the rest of that park looks so ugly and junky. It just looks cheap. I really can't stand the ugliness of that Lost Continent area and how weird it looks right by the gates of Hogsmeade. I also think it's just tacky how Universal left all the steel from those two coasters they rethemed and how they didn't even try to make that look like part of the magical world.  That's my constant beef with Universal...that they do things 'good enough'...but you still have to use your imagination to overlook a lot of things as a guest there. I don't have to use my imagination to hide defects as much at Disney.

    I can tell you right now that when the Diagon Alley expansion opens at Universal I will be buying the two-park tickets so my family can ride the train back and forth to both sides of the Potter Land.  But, honestly, what Universal is doing is essentially creating a park-within-a-park and my family will no doubt spend all day in the Potter areas without ever setting foot in the other offerings at Universal.  We just have no interest in the rest. So, instead of spending all our time in Hogsmeade (and maybe a little Jurassic Park like we did on our last trip) we'll have a full day going back and forth to the two Potter areas. Universal will still be just one day of our trip though.

    There is nothing that Disney can do to get that day back from our family. Potter has given Universal one day for keeps, and the Potter expansion will mean that Universal will soon get a two-park ticket out of us instead of a one-park ticket. But Universal won't be getting more than one day out of us just because the non-Potter areas of those parks are just "good enough" in our eyes.

    Disney actually has lost a day in the water parks from my family.  That's the day we go to Universal now for Potter. We skip the water parks and just enjoy the hotel pools and go to Universal one day of our trip. This works for us. We're never going to add another day to our Orlando trips because we go for five days and that's enough time for us in Florida. We also have dogs, so we don't want to infringe longer on our friends who watch them while we are away. Currently, we do DHS and DAK in one day (half day at each), one half day at EPCOT (usually the day we fly in, as we arrive in the morning and hit EPCOT since we stay at Boardwalk and it's right there), one full day at MK, and then we have been doing the Potter day last full day before we go home. We like to end our trip with a half day at MK before we leave for the airport (I always get us the last flight home of the evening so we can be in MK until 5pm on that last day).

    What I see happening after Star Wars Land opens is that DHS will become a full day at the expense of Animal Kingdom. If that AVATAR land is really incredible, we might skip EPCOT and instead do Animal Kingdom.  The only thing we really like at EPCOT is the World Showcase...the rest of EPCOT feels rundown and dated to me (and my sons say it's boring).

    I don't know how other families do Disney, but I guess I'm pretty rigid in our plans. When I really think about it and spell it out like I did here, I wonder if Disney focus groups have shown them that this is how things shake out for most other people too. I'm not really willing or able to add any more days in Florida and Universal's Potter has guaranteed that we'll be spending a day of our trip there (when before Potter we never went to Universal at all). Incidentally, our family doesn't go to Sea World as we did that in San Diego and we all felt that once was enough in our lifetime for a Sea World park.

    I will say that if they built a Star Wars Hotel of any kind that my family would probably always stay there. BUT, if Universal was ever smart enough to build a Harry Potter hotel then all bets would be off.  We'd stay there when we were in Florida if it was a well-themed and highly detailed Potter hotel. We'd make that our home base instead of Disney, but I still don't think we'd spend more than one day in the Universal parks.

    I think Disney and Universal both are just plain stupid for not building elaborately themed hotels where guests could feel they were actually staying in a themed environment. For crying out loud, Las Vegas has been doing this since the 80s! I'm not talking Art of Animation that is "Little Mermaid" themed...but it's just a motel with tacky mermaid decorations. I'm talking about Disney building a hotel that looks like a giant star destroyer that landed and you can sleep in the rooms in that ship...or Disney building an actual castle like Snow White's castle that you could actually sleep in. Something like that would be incredible and I'd pay a premium for it. Just imagine if Universal built a Harry Potter themed hotel, like had it be the Beauxbaton or Durmstrung schools and you could sleep in rooms there...or even Pivet Drive where the Dursleys lived and have little villas like the houses on those streets. Boy, we'd love to stay in a place like that.

    Ain't no way my family will ever get excited over Artemis Fowl though. It just doesn't have that same magic.

  • Jim, you have a lot of insider contacts and insight, but what I do know (100% certain on this one as this comes from a legitimate source), is that WDI is looking at building Coruscant, (among Tatooine and others) as part of a StarWarsland.  It wouldn't be that hard with forced perspective.  One ground floor level and the facades going upwards, kinda like how a miniature beast's castle was used in NFL.  Coruscant is a pretty important place in the post-Return of the Jedi world, as well as the prequels . . . and there is a lot more to the planet that just skyscrapers, and it would look inspiring at night.

    In terms of trying to put something in a theme park that is almost "impossible", sometimes its kinda fun to do the impossible, like when WDI replicated Ornament Valley.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Look, I've already been very indulgent of you, Anonymouse. So I'm not going to open this particular can of worms again.

    But did you remember how this story actually started out? With me interviewing Mark Renfrow, the guy who actually wrote & directed the big opening number for this past weekend's "Unleash the Villains" event?

    Okay. Now let's see where you've tried to steer the conversation: Where the Walt Disney Company is supposedly going to build a full-sized fifth theme park in the Magic Kingdom's parking lot next to the TTC on a piece of sinkhole-laden property. Oh, and you've also got the Company building lands & attractions at the Parks around the characters from the Artemis Fowl book series. When it was only back in late July that Walt Disney Studios & The Weinstein Company revealed that they had just begun talking about teaming up to make a movie based on Books 1 & 2 of this young adult series.

    You get what I'm trying to say yet? My stories, my info comes from real places, real people. More often than not these days, JHM readers know the exact person that I got my info from because I actually include their name as part of the article that I publish here and/or over at HuffPost (EX: Today's interview with Stephan Franck, the director of "The Legend of Smurfy Hollow"). Whereas you get to come in here and pile up all sorts of pie-in-the-sky stuff (which you now insist that you're getting from "legitimate sources") sending this discussion thread sailing off in directions that have little or nothing to do with the way that themed entertainment companies actually do build rides, shows and attractions these days.

    I mean, for you to go and pull out that old Walt quote (i.e. "It's kind of fun to do the impossible") in the context of Ornament Valley when you & I both know that the main reason that the bells-and-whistles version of Cars Land is never gonna get built at Disney's Hollywood Studios is because the structural engineers who did all of the survey work on this proposed project late last year determined that the wetlands that DHS's tram tour now rolls through ultimately wouldn't be able to support the weight of that ginormous, heavy structure. In short, that project got its plug pulled / is now being radically downsized because it was determined that a full-sized version of DCA's Cars Land would in fact be impossible to build in Central Florida. At least on the piece of property that the Imagineers had originally picked out.

    It just makes me tired when Disney enthusiasts use the Company's own history or Walt quotes (Let's be honest here. That "It's kind of fun to do the impossible" is probably something that Walt never said spontaneously on his own. 90% of the stuff that gets quoted today from Walt's talks, speeches and openings of the old "Wonderful World of Color" TV shows of the 1960s was actually material that Marty Sklar wrote for him to say) to justify things that they expect / project will eventually get built at the Parks. When that's just not how the modern Walt Disney Company (especially in the Bob Iger era) operates.

    You want to get a sense of the way things really work at the Mouse House these days, Anonymouse? Go to the top of the Contemporary. Enter the brand-new California Grill, walk over to the Seven Seas Lagoon side of the structure and look down. What do you see being built there? Not a beautiful brand-new hotel or resort, but an expansion of the Magic Kingdom's bus station. Because A) that's what this theme park actually needs at this point. An improvement / expansion of this particular piece of this theme park's existing infrastructure and B) that's really all that this piece of land along Seven Seas Lagoon could support. Because -- again, as I keep trying to tell you -- this particular corner of WDW property is very soft & swampy and can't support the weight of a full-sized resort and/or theme park.

    But -- again -- I know. You hate it when I try to bring reality into your discussion posts about all the wonderful things that are supposedly going to get built at the Disney theme parks in the coming years. Projects that (to hear you talk) have bottomless construction budgets and are being built around IPs that have yet to prove themselves at the worldwide box office. So you go ahead and get back to that. In the meantime, I'll keep on writing about what the Walt Disney Company is really doing these days.

  • I won't say much more Jim, you do seem passionate about these rumors of DHS getting some new offerings.  But just some factual corrections:

    1. The land east of the TTC is what I'm talking about (where the 'Walt Disney Airpot', or what remains of it, is located, and land east of this), and is 100% stable in terms of supporting a range of construction projects and is OK'd for future development.  The old Seven Seas Lagoon plot where they were going to put the Mediterranean resort is another piece of land, and wouldn't necessarily be used in a fifth gate at this location.  And the Walt Disney World Airport is no longer a working airport, so it can be removed.

    2.  Secondly, the Cadillac Mountain Range doesn't weigh as much as a real mountain range, it is just a cement shell, and weighs less than a real building of that size, or even a real building 60% of its height!  DHS/WDW supports a lot of large heavy structures, and I haven't heard anything about DHS's land not being able to support a Carsland, even so, the foundation of Cadillac Mountain range could be extended downward to support the weight if this is an issue, but haven't heard this before. The problem is that this little park doesn't have the space for such a land and Lasseter and Co. don't want a half-sized Carsland, they want a 100% copy of the current Carsland, possibly with some upgrades even.  Disney ain't gonna rip out a lot of attractions to put in a Carsland there, plus there are meteorological issues with regards to Carsland in Florida and guest comfort.  It's a lot easier for Disney to say that the "swamp land" won't support a fake mountain range (this will probably be an urban legend, Hollywood Tower of Terror probably weighs more on a square foot basis than the Cadillac Mountain Range), than to admit that DHS was kinda built on a piece of land with little hope of expansion, though they could expand a Carsland into the parking lot, but the backside of the Cadillac Mountain Range is kinda an ugly this without the rockwork, oh, and this is also an ugly structure to see from World Drive.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: "Factual corrections" ? You're now saying that Disney would build a full-sized fifth theme park with a villains theme on top of the old STOLport at the corner of World Drive & Vista Boulevard. Have you actually driven through this area? Do you see how often traffic coming through the Toll Plaza gets backed up at this point? How difficult it is most days just to get to the Poly, the Contemporary or Wilderness Lodge because of all of the pinch points in this area? And you're now suggesting that the Company would drop another huge theme park on this already busy / congested corner of WDW property? Again, what a surprise. Another unrealistic idea for Anonymouse.

    And as for the Ornament Range weighing as much as a real mountain range ... Nobody said that. But the version of Cars Land that was built at DCA does feature a huge show building and an elaborate mountain-shaped facade which weighs hundreds & hundreds of tons. Trust me on this. I interviewed Zsolt Hormay, the man who supervised sculpting all of the stonework featured in this 12 acre area back in June of 2012 when this DCA expansion area first opened. And Zsolt went on & on about all of the weight & safety concerns that he had to deal with in regards to this project (EX: Due to seismic issues in Southern California, all of that "loose rockwork" that looks like it's tumbled down the mountainside all over Cars Land is actually safety chained into place).

    So -- whether you want to believe it or not -- weight really was one of the things that the survey team for the proposed DHS version of Cars Land had to take into consideration. And when they walked the length of that theme park's tram tour and saw how much of this backstage area was basically a bog with a service road built on top of it, they knew that the proposed construction site for this enormous attraction and its multi-ton show building was never going to fly.

    And you bring up Tower of Terror. Where you around when they did the initial site prep for construction of that attraction? Because I was. I remember distinctly the tons & tons of dirt which Disney had to haul in in order to stabilize that proposed construction site at the end of Sunset Boulevard. And even then the start of construction had to be pushed back by six months because it was eventually decided that this site still wasn't stable enough to support that show building. So even more fill had to be hauled in and tamped down.

    Look, I don't know who your source is in regards to DHS, but from the building-Corcuscant thing to the DHS-won't-see-any-construction-fences-for-years thing, they've been consistently steering you wrong. So maybe it's time you found yourself another source.

    And as for being passionate ... I just don't like it when people like yourself try & pass off pie-in-the-sky ideas that they've invented out of whole cloth (EX: An Artemis Fowl land) as real, realistic things when there are already so much bizarre-but-true Disney history out there that's worth discussing.

    Now if you want to stick to that stuff, Anonymouse, we're fine. But if you want to continue to fill up JHM's discussion section with nonsensical talk of the Maleficent's castle that the Imagineers are planning on building on top of WDW's old STOLport ... That stuff, I'm not going to tolerate.

  • Jim, seismic issues knocking the pre-fab "grill" upon which the special concrete mixture is sprayed is different from the dead weight on the foundation.  If Disney wanted to build Carsland in DHS, they could, though they might have to adjust the foundation . . . there is no need to walk around the backside of DHS, you can't tell much just by looking at land, the suitability studies were done decades ago, and Reedy Creek has this info on file.  So I am very skeptical anybody walked around he backside of DHS as that wouldn't provide any pertinent information.  (I've actually been backstage at DHS, and it ain't all that exciting/informative!)  From a construction standpoint, nobody walks around and just looks at the ground and walks away thinking it won't happen.

    The tower of terror is close to 200 feet, Jim, the Cadillac Mountain range, which is missing several "walls" and floors, is 125 feet tall.  Big different foundation-wise, a massive building 200 feet tall versus a facade that is 125 feet tall with a relatively thin layer of rockwork mix, *not* a load-bearing wall.  I'm talking pounds per square inch Jim, and tower of terror weighs a whole lot more than a Cadillac Mountain Range would.

    The land east of TTC is slated for future development use, not part of a convoluted conservation easement, as per Reedy Creek, TTC parking lot can be easily expanded.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: But here's the thing, Anonymouse: They're NOT going to built a full-szied 5th theme park on top of the old STOLport. You and I both know this. I have cited the appropriate info two or three posts ago (i.e., limited number of days in the average American vacation, finite amount of money in the average American vacation budget, increased competition from outside area theme parks like USF & IOA), which is why Disney is considering a niche park, one that is narrowly focused on big spenders. And yet you continue to talk as though this villains park is a done deal and is going to get built just where you say it is.

    Look, I've been writing about the themed entertainment industry for 30 years now. I've got sources at all levels of the Company. Which is why I'm relatively confident in saying that your view of what's about to happen next at the Walt Disney World Resort isn't going to happen.

    The word that I keep hearing over & over again about WDW is that this resort is mature. Meaning that the Company now looks at the Florida property as something that it has to approach in a very different way. New full-sized theme parks & hotels aren't going to bring Disney the same sorts of returns-on-investment that -- say -- new DVC resorts or things like MagicBands (which -- in spite of the continually grousing within the fan community -- are actually already getting WDW visitors to spend more) will.

    This is why Disney's big money is now being spent overseas. In places like Shanghai and (in the not-too-distant future, provided that their economy doesn't collapse) Brazil. In these places, it's 1955 all over again. You have a rising middle class that's now having children. These markets are primed for Disney theme parks.

    Whereas Central Florida ... Disney does feel that it needs to reclaim the higher ground in this market. Which is why Star Wars Land and James Cameron's World of AVATAR really are happening. Whereas Universal Orlando ... I can not begin to tell you how passionate and fired up those folks are. What they've got up their sleeve for the next 5 to 10 years is really going to change how people think when it comes to planning their next Orlando-area vacation.

    But again, that's stuff that's REALLY going on, Anonymouse. Not stuff like the villain park or Artemis Fowl Land. Just last Tuesday night, I was backstage at Universal Studios Florida and looked up at the track for the Hogwarts Express. That double tracked system was some 40 feet off the ground. And when people board that at Platform 9 & 3/4 and then get off in Hogsmeade Village, having rolled pasted a virtual Scottish countryside where they then looked out at various Harry Potter characters, vehicles & creatures en route, they are going to lose their minds.

    Which -- again -- is why Star Wars Land is actually going to happen (in spite of your earlier talk of "no-constructure-fences-at-DHS-for-years," Anonymouse). It's those worlds and those characters that George Lucas created that WDW Guests haven't ever been able to visit and/or experience in an immersive Hogmeade Village sort of way. This is one of the main reason that Magic Kingdom visitors haven't responded with all that much enthusiasm to New Fantasyland. For years now, if they wanted to see Ariel & Eric, the Beast & Belle, Snow White and the Dwarfs, if they ever wanted to experience the adventures that these Disney characters went on, visit their worlds, all they had to do was go to the "Voyage of the Little Mermaid" or "Beauty and the Beast - Live on Stage" shows or hop aboard "Snow White's Scary Adventures." Whereas with Hogsmeade Village and Hogwarts Castle, there was really one place on the planet where you could go if you wanted to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. And that was Islands of Adventure at the Universal Orlando Resort.

    This is why the Imagineers are fast-tracking Mos Eisley & the Forest of Endor (But not Corsucant. Seriously, Anonymouse, whoever is telling you that they're building a miniature version of this city planet is feeding you bad info. Stop listening to them). Disney needs something that theme park fans will respond to just as passionately to as they do now to Hogsmeade Village and how they will soon respond to Diagon Alley and all of its 4 & 5 story tall buildings.

    But again, this is stuff that's really going on, Anonymouse. Not your villain theme park at the edge of the Magic Kingdom's parking area and/or Artemis Fowl Land. So please -- I'm begging you here -- stop filling up JHM's discussion section with talk of things that are never ever going to happen.

    Niche park? Yes. Full-sized fifth Disney theme park in Florida (particularly one that would be built on top of the old STOLport)? That ain't never ever going to happen, Anonymouse. So please stop talking about it as if this project were going to be a real thing.

  • Okay, Jim Hill has given us some pretty big scoop in his last post. "Mos Eisley and the Moon of Endor" at DHS??? That's big news.

    So, if that's true (and I trust Jim's sources because he has the best track record for reporting Disney news of anyone I know of) then it looks like Disney is looking only at the first Star Wars trilogy and ignoring the stinky prequels.

    My imagination is swimming right now, trying to think of the things they could build using Mos Eisley and Endor.  I had to look Mos Eisley up to be sure, but that's that smugglers' town that Luke and Obi Wan and everyone had to go to where they met Han Solo and Chewie and the Millennium Falcon. That's where the Cantina bar is, which people have been wanting to visit and eat at for years.

    To be, the Cantina Bar with all the aliens = the thrill of eating/drinking in the Three Broomsticks/Hogshead Tavern in Harry Potter Land. People will still want to go to Harry Potter, but on another day they can then also go to the Star Wars Cantina.  I know my family will be having a meal there for sure on every visit. I just can picture animatronic aliens and a band of some kind and all the craziness from the movies.

    But...aside from that Cantina, what else is there that is from Mos Eisley that could be an attraction? Sure, there are lots of retail opportunities since Mos Eisley had lots of little shops. It reminds me kind of like Casablanca or some other Middle Eastern bazaar. So, they've got food and drink covered. In that first prequel, they did pod-racing there around Mos Eisley.  Maybe they will do a version of Autopia and the Speedway but with pod-racing vehicles. I personally would not like that, but it would fit the theme.  Only...that pod racing happened in canyons in front of mountains...and if they they could not build the Cars Land mountains then they won't be able to build the Mos Eisley mountains.  Maybe there will be no pod-racing ride.

    Do you think we could get a life-size model of the Millennium Falcon?  That could be amazing, with the queue of a ride wrapping through that famous ship. And then the ride could be some kind of adventure through space fighting those TIE fighters and the death star.  That could take off from Mos Eisley.  

    I wonder what the appeal of Endor is...aside from the fact that the exterior of Star Tours is already themed to Endor.  If what Jim says is true and Disney is aware of how amazing the Hogwarts Express is going to be, I doubt the cheap executives will be allowed to do Endor "just because we don't want to waste the minimal stuff we already have with it". Is there a demand for lots of Ewok stuff? Maybe they want to build a speeder-bike ride that would race through the forest of Endor. I guess the retail and dining options could be the Ewok village int he trees.

    How much do fans today love Ewoks though? My sons think they are cute but Return of the Jedi came out so long ago that my kids really never mentioned Ewoks much.  They've only seen Jedi a few times.  They weren't even born when that movie was new. I don't know if suddenly the world would experience another Ewok craze like back in 1983 or whenever Jedi came out.

    I really wish that Disney would have approached Star Wars like EPCOT's World Showcase...and built a little area that looked like a space port and then they could have had pavilions for the different planets in Star Wars like the pavilions for the countries at EPCOT.  Then we could have had lots of different planets.

    Star Wars Land will be a big hit no matter what they do.  People will go nuts being able to walk around and encounter Storm Troopers and Princess Leia and everyone on a regular basis.  But, I wonder if Disney really will be pulling all its inspiration from the first trilogy of films that was more than 30 years ago.

    Maybe the new movies coming out will be set at Mos Eisley and Endor somehow too. That would make more sense for Disney to be planning on building those attractions in real life.

    It's going to be interesting to see how they make that desert planet in the Floria humidity. It rains a lot in Florida so that Ewok forest makes sense...but the desert location seems an odd choice to be out in the Florida elements.

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