Saturday, April 12, 2008

Small World Reflections

I have sound, and what I consider well-thought opinions concerning the controversy that has emerged surrounding proposed changes coming to the Disneyland incarnation of it's a small world. But I will not share them in this venue. Call me coward if you will, but vultures circle on both sides of the argument and even a rational, polite and well-intentioned discourse on the subject would likely not be immune from the often uncivil and contentious dialogs that have become the hallmark of this particular debate.

But I would like to make a number of observations about the debate/discussion itself--

  • When was Disney history rewritten to reflect that Mary Blair was the single creative force behind it's a small world? She has become the poster child for this anti-revisionist argument. While I have nothing but admiration and respect for Blair's artistic contributions to Disney entertainment, making her the centerpiece of this debate overstates her contributions to it's a small world and serves to diminish the efforts of the numerous other individuals also responsible for the creation and execution of the attraction. It is also important to note that Mary Blair did not conceive of the overall theme of the attraction--world unification via the spirit and voices of children--but simply the designs and visual dynamic. It can certainly be argued that character placement would run counter to the theme of the attraction, but that is an argument that doesn't really require the component of Mary Blair and her designs. Victimizing Blair and her artistry really only served to sensationalize the story.

  • Creating a contemporary social and political relevance to the rain forest scene to support the anti-revisionist stance is baffling to me. There was no inherent message of conservation intended when the scene was introduced with the attraction in 1964. "Save the Rainforest" is really disingenuous. Saying it should be preserved because of its current political and social relevance, and then in the same breath saying an America scene should not be included because of its political and social dynamic, is a bit absurd.

  • It's not about selling merchandise. That notion is becoming an overstated and worn out battle cry of the anti-revisionist soldiers. I'm not sure what kind of viable merchandise could be conceived from small world-themed renditions of Alice in Wonderland or Aladdin. Most children would probably reject that type of non-traditional representation of their favorite characters. As for the notion that seeing characters presented in the attraction will somehow then subliminally entice both parents and children into wanting more character-based souvenirs, well it's a pretty ludicrous supposition at best. I can't quite imagine a preschooler, after navigating through Disneyland all the way back to the small world location at the rear of the park, passing visual stimuli of characters at almost every turn, suddenly being compelled to desire plush by a blink-or-you'll-miss-it representation of Stitch or Cinderella. And let's face it, Disney doesn't discriminate when it comes to theme park merchandise. It exploits non-character based attractions every bit as much as those populated by the Disney canon. There has been small world merchandise since 1964. Alice in Wonderland, Aladdin and Cinderella are not exactly brands characteristic of high profile theme park souvenir revenue streams.

  • I recently heard the argument made that characters of "fantasy" should not be included in it's a small world because it would present a thematic contradiction. Yet the attraction is located in Fantasyland in every Magic Kingdom in which it has been presented. it's a small world became a thematic contradiction the very moment it was relocated to Disneyland. But one that has been unanimously forgiven in the years since. At its heart, it is still true to its pedigree; it is a World's Fair attraction. Ironic to the argument at hand, inclusion of characters would create a link to the geography that surrounds it. Realize that that is not a personal endorsement on my part. I'm only pointing out that Disney parks have a history of thematic contradictions that date all the way back to 1955. It's a convenient card to play in this discussion but it comes with a bit of baggage.

  • The proposed changes were conceived by professional artists and designers. Regardless of what your opinion is of their ideas and conceptions, they deserve, as does everyone, to be treated with courtesy and respect. Language such as idiotic, insane, crazy and even stronger euphemisms that I wish not to repeat here should not play a part in the discussion. Opinions are subjective. Provocation and name-calling only undermine the suppositions being presented and diminish the fan community as a whole.

  • More than anything, I am simply dumbfounded at the treatment given to both Marty Sklar and Dave Smith, who have attempted to diplomatically address fan concerns via statements that discuss the philosophy and reasoning behind changes to Disney theme park entertainment. Again, people have allowed their passions to overcome the very simple tenants of courtesy and respect. I have seen comments directed at these two individuals that are nothing but shameful in both their tone and language.

All this being said, does it mean that the argument against changes to it's a small world is wrong and invalid? Of course not. In the end, it is a simple matter of taste and opinion. Very subjective views on a subject worthy of discussion and debate. No doubt many will perceive from these statements that I am pro-change and pro-character, a perception some will likely spin against me in comments both here and elsewhere. But please take note--I have not at any point discounted the very basic view of alterations to it's a small world being in fact problematic. At its core, it is a valid and worthy subject for debate. But I do object very strongly and passionately to the merit-less rhetoric and mean spirited and often malicious punditry that has emerged to support it.

When we as Disney fans express our dissatisfaction in such impolite and provocative ways, it only serves to diminish the very message we are attempting to communicate. When individuals such as Mary Sklar and Dave Smith unnecessarily become the objects of sarcasm and scorn, our voices of concern will be quickly dismissed despite whatever merits our views possess.

52 comments:

Biblioadonis aka George said...

Jeff,

I agree with your post. There is a lot more at stake than just flag waving--at least on the part of the Disney online community. Disney is looking at all of us and we aren't providing the most pleasant tones or arguments.

Thanks for bringing some sense to this debacle. Hopefully people will listen to your points and take something away with them.

Dan said...

Well said, Jeff. There's no need for threatening behavior and name-calling in any such case. Diplomacy is key, and can easily work with passion as it can against it.

I don't think angry or ignorant reactions represents the fan community well, and makes it more likely for the people in charge of such decisions to avoid us or dismiss us as zealots. Just play it cool... be like the "Fonz". Small World? AAAAAAYYYY!!!!!!

Drew said...

The importance of Mary Blair to the success of "it's a small world" has been made many times. There are even a couple of pages in Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making the Magic Real that discuss her importance. Rolly Crump even stated how important he work was to the attraction. What's more it is a very clear example of Walt Disney allowing another artists vision to shine.

Pins et was already sold in 2006 at Walt Disney World based on this very premise. The interviews for Hong Kong Disneyland also make the merchandising angle very clear. The attraction there is to serve as an introduction to the largely untapped Chinese market. Yes, this isn't a clone, but that is hardly descriptive.

Neither Marty Sklar or Dave Smith have address anything. All they said is that "Disneyland will never be complete, it will continue to grow so logn as their is imagination in the world." That isn't an answer. Sklar's letter also took the tone of "How dare you question us?". Smith's response to Laughing Place just proves that this change is Disney repeating itself, and not innovating.

Maybe if these changes are so good and well thought out you could be the first to actually explain how these changes work. Actually explain how "it's a small world" is no longer relevant or works, and do not just say "Disneyland is not a museum".

Nic Kramer said...

I heard that the rain forset being removed thing was just a rumor, but characters might appear acording to Marty himself.

Mr. La said...

A very good analysis of the problems with the arguments, Jeff. Disney is using its talent pool to try and keep things relevant. Sometimes this fails (A certain Florida Tiki Room comes to mind) and sometimes is succeeds - the Pirates rehab, for example. But, at least they are trying hard to freshen rides and concepts.

Nic Kramer said...

Rereading your article, people have been pointing figures to Dave Smith? Boy, that's both cold and silly. What does Mr. Smith have to with anything? He's just the company's historian and is not all that involved with the park. Besideds, he's one of my idols.

Jeff Pepper said...

Drew--

I never at any point implied that Mary Blair was not important to the creation of IASW. Only that her contributions are being overemphasized so to exploit her for the purposes of this debate.

Merchandise is created for everything and anything. Characters also appear on pins for TOT, Rock n Rollercoaster, HM,Pirates, etc. Merchandise is constantly being created that ties characters into non-character attractions. A WDW 2006 IASW pin set does not support in any way a Disneyland-related ride refurb. Merchandise will always be created to tie into attractions. My opinion is that it is a stretch to suggest that a creative decision of that magnitude was initiated by merchandise considerations. Your pin set example demonstrates that they don't need to change the ride to facilitate the creation of character related merchandise.

My point about Marty Sklar and Dave Smith wasn't so much about the content of their statements but the sheer lack of courtesy and respect they were subsequently shown in many circles. Polite comments such as your were not the norm in many places.

Anonymous said...

I'm totally against these changes and I'd don't feel I need to back up my opinion. I will say though that the Rainforest scene has always been my favorite, so conservationists don't affect my opinion, and I'd be very disappointed to see it go.

Disney could care less what I think, they changed PoC after all these years, and it's really about what makes a marketable attraction.

It doesn't matter if an attraction is just as popular as it was 50 years ago, its really about what they can market and get people into the parks in the first place, with the least amount of money spent.

Adding Jack to Pirates, Three Caballeros to Mexico, Nemo to Seas, Iago to Tiki, Stitch to Alien Encounter, or characters to Small World is cheap and gives them something they can market like a new attraction.

Do these additions plus the attraction? No. Do they in any way make the ride any more enjoyable? No. Do they make the attraction highly marketable with minimum money spent? Yes.

People just need to learn that this kind of thing is what pleases the stock holders and thats Disney's primary objective. Whether it gives the guests more enjoyment they could care less.

Its all about money and those stock holders, not us!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, this is the type of comment that Jeff was refering to. Please give him respect and not post anymore of these comments.

Drew said...

>>I heard that the rain forset being removed thing was just a rumor, but characters might appear acording to Marty himself.<<
Apparently the Rainforest is not being removed so much as it is being cut down and moved. The America scene was never flat out denied, just said not to be overly patriotic.

>>But, at least they are trying hard to freshen rides and concepts.<
I have a hard time saying they are working hard. I'm working on the rest of the list started by Smith, and I'm at over 30 attractions where this has been done. That doesn't even include restaurants or the sheer percentage of new attractions that are also pure synergy. The occasional Expedition Everest doesn't cut it for me. When all laid out it starts to look far too much like a process and not enough like creativity.

The direct-to-video sequels were huge cash cows. The problem was that they were hurting Disney's image as a creative enterprise. These changes may be great for business now, but I doubt it has much longevity.

>>Rereading your article, people have been pointing figures to Dave Smith? Boy, that's both cold and silly. What does Mr. Smith have to with anything? He's just the company's historian and is not all that involved with the park. Besideds, he's one of my idols.<<
It seems rather clear that Disney is trying to use big names to try and calm the storm. Smith openly acknowledged to Laughing Place he really has no role in the design process or is really aware of what is going on. A big complaint though is the tone of the letters. The change quotes are well known. We know the role and history of Marty Sklar (which is also hurting his credibility), Tony Baxter, and Kim Irvine (who, according an insider I trust, are not really behind it all). Smith's letter was at least sent to the Los Angeles Times and the need to explain to the public at large is there.

>>My opinion is that it is a stretch to suggest that a creative decision of that magnitude was initiated by merchandise considerations.<<
The pin set is a bit of a stretch, I will admit that. But look at what was said about Hong Kong Disneyland's attraction. It is being touted as a game of hide and seek and an introduction to the characters. Nobody else has explained any alternate reasoning. It is all "relevance" and "Disneyland is not a museum". If "it's a small world" no longer works then just get rid of it and put something new and amazing in its place!


Also, would anybody consider the big refurbishment of "it's a small world" at the Magic Kingdom a few years ago a disappointment? Any disappointment that the Disney characters did not take up resident there like was proposed? Seems odd to me that in a few short years the attraction at the Magic Kingdom looked to the past for inspiration, but now it is all irrelevant.

BJ said...

Here's the biggest problem I have with the whole debate: The exploitation of Mary Blair to try and force Disney's hand is absolutely out of line.

BJ

-- Ryan P. Wilson said...

There have been a lot of things written and stated over the it’s a small world refurbishment at Disneyland, the Main Street Gazette included, and the topic has almost boiled over this week. There are those for the change, those opposed to the change, and those who do not have an opinion either way. Within these disparate camps, there are factions upon factions, from ‘characters are okay, but leave the rainforest,’ to ‘they ride can change, in fact, they can just take it away entirely,’ and even the occasional ‘can they change the song too.’ To try and sum up the arguments on all sides would take more time than anyone should be dedicating to this one topic. But here’s the rub, we are still approximately seven and a half months from the current re-opening date.

If conversations can already be at such a heated level, with vocabulary like ‘stupid’ and ‘shut up,’ what do we have to look forward to in the months to follow? One of the things I have always encouraged is discussion among the Disney community. Discussing the merits of a letter, an artist’s place in the chronicles of history, and what does, and does not, constitute best show is one thing, but there will not be a single point that can be made, or heard, in the face of accusations, tempers, biased opinions, and half-truths.

In the end, there is going to be a refurbishment with an updated attraction and, in the end, there will be a division of the Disney community that is not happy with the result. That will be the time to begin discussions about what was rumored, what actually happened, and what the general consensus is on the finished product. To have your voice heard about a topic is a freedom no one should relinquish, but to be able to stop and think about how your words affect your fellow man and woman is much more powerful. And the great part is that this power lies inside each and every one of us, as we were taught long ago by a message of togetherness brought to us by childlike dolls from around the world.

Mr Banks said...

Thanks for your thoughts. Some things come to mind:

I have utmost respect for Marty and Dave. But both statements didn't clarify the 'why' of the issue. They were spin and deflection and ultimately dismissed the fan community with a simple 'change is inevitable' maxim.

Small World seems a perfect fit for Fantasyland. It's fantasy architecture, a caricatured world and a child-like perspective. If that's not ripe for Fantasyland I don't know what is.

Though you downplay Mary Blair's work, it is her audacious design sensibility that rules the roost here. Her design choices are all pervasive. Alice Davis and Rolly Crump would agree.

Finally, you don't really believe this WASN'T a marketing choice do you?. Pure and simple, it was. Really and truly. Period.

And Marketing doesn't necessarily mean, "sell Mary Blair Disney-kin toys and plush". It means saturating as much of Disneyland with the 'brand' to influence sales throughout the property, indeed throughout the world.

That Walt Disney's classic 'it's a small world' has been targeted as yet another place in the park to tote the brand is truly sad.

Mary, Rolly, Alice, Richard, Robert, Walt. We're so sorry.

KINGCRAB said...

I knew this topic would be brought up here eventually...

I give a thunderous round of applause once again for writing another great article and being a refreshing "voice of reason" in the Disney internet fan community

The comments made by Drew, Mr. Banks and all the other naysayers about this article clearly miss the point of it and continue to b*tch and moan and give us Disney fans a bad name!

Adding Jack to Pirates, Three Caballeros to Mexico, Nemo to Seas, Iago to Tiki, Stitch to Alien Encounter, or characters to Small World is cheap and gives them something they can market like a new attraction.

I totally disagree with that assumption as well, because it's totally wrong and because those changes are actually great and are enjoyed by the majority of the guests (a.k.a. non-fanboys) that visit the parks. And they helped breathe new life into those attractions and were created for entertainment purporses and NOT to push merchandise sales.

Please address these issues, Jeff...and fast, before those heartless nutcases can continue to ruin the Disney fandom even further. ;(

un mec bien said...

Thanx for finally saying what I tough about that case!

Guillaume from Belgium.

Jeff Pepper said...

Mr. Banks--

Thanks for jumping in. I was hoping you would share your thoughts.

We are not necessarily in disagreement about many of the issues dealing with IASW. I just feel that the tone of the discussion has deteriorated to the point where it becomes easy to attack the credibility of the arguments being made.

Your opinions of Sklar's and Smith's statements were well said and made politely; that has not been the case everywhere.

I am not in any way diminishing Blair's contributions to IASW. I just feel they are being unnecessarily exploited for the sake of this argument.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, did you ignore the more stupid things that Mr. Banks said, such as...

And Marketing doesn't necessarily mean, "sell Mary Blair Disney-kin toys and plush". It means saturating as much of Disneyland with the 'brand' to influence sales throughout the property, indeed throughout the world.

IMO, NOBODY should associate themselves with such illogical individuals as Mr. Banks, Merlin Jones, Captain Schneemo, etc.

-- Ryan P. Wilson said...

anonymous - these are precisely the types of statements Jeff's article was warning against. If the Disney community is to find a dialogue to weigh the merits of the changes for it's a small world, then both sides must stop slinging mud and begin the discussion with a respect for one another, which includes carefully choosing our vocabulary.

Davelandweb said...

Jeff - I saw your column today and cringed...then I read it. Fantastic post, and you so eloquently wrote exactly how I felt. Mary Blair was definitely a force in the creativity of iasw, but as I have stated in other posts, it was my understanding that Walt was not entirely happy with what she was creating, and that he had tasked Rolly Crump to make it work. On the TV show promoting iasw for the World's Fair, it is Rolly that is the spokesperson, not Mary Blair. Walt is overjoyed with Rolly's creation of the Tower of the Four Winds and it shows.

One other thing that needs to be mentioned: many of the angry fans out there continually talk about how Disney has ignored them, doesn’t listen to what they want, and how they have screwed up so many of their favorite attractions. I think it is extremely important not to lump all the parks together. Since the 50th, Disneyland in Anaheim has done a terrific job of honoring its past and attempting to be very respectful of its heritage. The majority of changes that people gripe about are in Orlando and the other parks. Comparing Disneyland to WDW is like apples and oranges, as they are managed by different crews. Attractions may have the same name, but they are even different at each park. All should keep this in mind.

One other important thing to keep in mind is that many of us Disney admirers who are passionate about the history, well...sad to say, but when you go to the parks and look around, we are probably a small percentage of what keeps these places going. Times are different, and to keep places like Disneyland growing and being successful, there are times that they are going to have to bow to the masses. I’d say on the balance score card, Disneyland in Anaheim has done an excellent job of catering to both camps.

Sorry for such a long one, but again Jeff - kudos on your column!

Tommaso Giusto said...

Thanks for this very well-thought out post, Jeff. And I agree, there needs to be respect for opinions and people on both sides of the discussion. A couple of comments on your observations:

>>Creating a contemporary social and political relevance to the rain forest scene to support the anti-revisionist stance is baffling to me.<< Whether or not it makes sense, the symbolism of this will not be missed by the public at large. With the importance that is given to protecting the environment these days, I'm surprised that the possibility of somewhat truthfully stating that "Disney destroyed the rain forest" doesn't have the Disney PR people shaking in their shoes.

>>It's not about selling merchandise. ... I'm not sure what kind of viable merchandise could be conceived from small world-themed renditions of Alice in Wonderland or Aladdin.<< I can't believe this isn't about selling merchandise and making money. If not, why would they bother changing it at all? As I have walked through the WDW shops, I have seen a lot of the same characters in all sorts of styles - Million Dreams, Winter-White, World Showcase countries, Japanese anime, police uniforms, fireman gear, soft & fluffy, round & fat... With all these varieties, is it such a hard stretch to imagine them making this change for a tie-in to selling Small World-stylized characters as well?

drew said...

>>I totally disagree with that assumption as well, because it's totally wrong and because those changes are actually great and are enjoyed by the majority of the guests (a.k.a. non-fanboys) that visit the parks. And they helped breathe new life into those attractions and were created for entertainment purporses and NOT to push merchandise sales.<<
Is that why Mendenhall got so much say as to what proposals got to continue and which did not?

>>Mary Blair was definitely a force in the creativity of iasw, but as I have stated in other posts, it was my understanding that Walt was not entirely happy with what she was creating, and that he had tasked Rolly Crump to make it work. On the TV show promoting iasw for the World's Fair, it is Rolly that is the spokesperson, not Mary Blair. Walt is overjoyed with Rolly's creation of the Tower of the Four Winds and it shows.<<
Rolly said that Mary's work was incredibly flat. But he also states that if he did not stay absolutely true to it, the whole thing never would have worked.

Interesting that you bring up "Disneyland Goes to the World's Fair". It shows that Uncle Walt obviously used the Disney characters, his ambassadors from Disneyland, for promotion but knew when to stop.

>>The majority of changes that people gripe about are in Orlando and the other parks. Comparing Disneyland to WDW is like apples and oranges, as they are managed by different crews.<<
Over the years, especially under Rasulo, the operations of the two resorts have been pulled closer and closer. That is what the whole "DisneyParks" thing was about. Also, in recent years the difference between attractions has become less and less. The whole thing has probable peaked with Toy Story [Midway] Mania!.

>>sad to say, but when you go to the parks and look around, we are probably a small percentage of what keeps these places going. Times are different, and to keep places like Disneyland growing and being successful, there are times that they are going to have to bow to the masses.<<
This is why I mentioned the direct-to-video sequels. In stopping them Disney completely turned its back on the masses who were handing over gobs of cash for them. In the end the repetition and clear desire to make a quick buck was deemed to be damaging to the company's image. This project is the latest in a line of over thirty similar changes , with a lot more than I realized at Disneyland, and I fear risks making the parks far too homogenized.



As an aside, this proposal should have been seen to never really fix anything. People who dislike "it's a small world" will have every reason to still dislike "it's a small world". The pacing, styling, and song will all still be there. All these changes have done is divide those who already like the attraction, a move that only risks dropping attendance.

KINGCRAB said...

Drew, could you please stop it?

The statements you made are the kind of thing that's Jeff Pepper is against. Saying things like what you've said are further preventing the rest of us from stopping our feuding and trying to listen to reason rather than emotion.

Jeff Pepper said...

KINGCRAB--

With all due respect and courtesy, please do not take it upon yourself to moderate the comments here.

I have no problem with Drew's contributions to this discussion. They have been civil and polite. If he chooses to challenge my perceptions and conclusions, I welcome that level of engagement with the hope that in the end I might rethink a position or learn something new.

However, your comments are disturbing at best. Here, and on other posts, you repeatedly call for censorship of specified individuals and resort to the very harsh name-calling I described in this post ("heartless nutcases" for example). It is also my suspicion that you make anonymous comments to somehow bolster your positions and create false perceptions of consensus.

If you continue in this manner, I will be forced to delete your comments.

Jeff Kurtti said...

One of the reasons I always read Jeff Pepper's work is because of his balance, awareness, curiosity, and intellectual ability to separate the wheat from the chaff.

While I'm not sure about anything to do with the rehab, and will wait and see what is done, it is refreshing to find a Disney site that gives the benefit of the doubt to Tony Baxter and his group at Walt Disney Imagineering.

Well done, as usual, Jeff.

kinjar said...

My interest in IASW is purely based on the fact that my 3 1/2 year old son still talks about the "boat ride with puppets" that he rode a year ago and can't wait to ride it again when we go back so he can take his baby sister on it.

All the "passion" in this debate seems to forget the fact that no matter what Disney does now, it won't affect the memories one obtains when they take their toddler on the ride for the first time.

We still enjoy watching the video of our son at 16 mo., eyes wide open in amazement at what he was seeing (note - video of child, not of Blair-designed dolls). And we enjoy our random dinner conversations as he remarks on his favorite parts from when he rode it at 2 1/2 years old.

Heck, stick a bunch of high school musical stuff in there, I don't care because it won't impact my daughter's reaction and memories from the ride when she rides it.

And if it does, I'm not that worried because WDW will offer us some other amazing memory.

Just don't mess with the Turkey Legs!

Mr Banks said...

Thanks, Jeff, for keeping the discussion respectful! I know I struggle with mean-spirited comments on Re-Imagineering as well. Unfortunately I do let some slip through, if only because it's rather fun to watch the more reasoned bloggers eat them alive.

At the end of the day I really don't understand why the argument to leave Disney characters out of Small World is such a challenging issue for some.

Echoing 'Bravoman', may cooler heads prevail.

But I won't keep my hopes up.

Paul said...

The thing that amazes me the most here is that NO ONE knows what the change is going to be. If the characters aren't overly obtrusive and don't become the focus of the attraction (which is what I've been perceiving, though I still want to emphasize that none of us know for sure yet), this might all be over nothing.

Tuckenie said...

Hey Jeff Pepper,

Just wanted to say you made a fan with this post and that I shout a big harty AMEN in response to this post.

Mr Banks said...

Hey Paul!

If the characters are unobtrusive then that becomes problematic as well. It's a Catch-22. If they're up-front and in your face then the deliberately homgenous 'children of the world' become second tier players. If they're hidden, then the ride becomes a hunt for 'hidden Mickeys' and takes focus away from the central theme; a 'children's prayer for peace'.

The shows pedigree is of a serious nature. Disney characters trivialize the core message.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps this attraction does need a rehab. It's theme is peace, love and harmony but from reading these comments, the attraction has failed its mission. Most of the points have validity but the tone of many need to be altered. Let's put it all into some kind of perspective - it's an attraction at one of the happiest places on earth. It's not a country having a civil war - it's an ATTRACTION dedicated to HARMONY. Apparantly many have missed the intended mission of small world. Have a Magical Day!

TikiTwinsDad said...

Jeff,

I check your blog every weekday morning. As others have said, at first I cringed when I saw you were going to comment on the small world "debate." I try to purposefully steer clear of these types of issues, for many reasons. I'm not afraid to admit some of them stem from cowardice on my part.

I don't want to be in a queue for POTC and have my jumbled brain thinking "Oh, Mr. X hated when they took those three hairs off that pirate's leg because he thought Walt Disney wanted it that way." I'd rather marvel at the magic and the fact that there are any hairs there at all.

With that said, I did eventually read your post because I thought it would be well thought out. I won't say I agree with everything, but I agree with most things. I'm not knowledgeable enough to know (or presume to know) what Mary Blair would think or to judge her relative importance. Suffice it to say, I think she was extremely important and would have had an idea on the topic. However, I don't think you diminished her role whatsoever.

I am genuinely impressed that Dave Smith and Marty Sklar felt compelled to reply at all. While many feel that "disney world is never finished" is not an answer, it is both a truism and true. I disagree that the tone was "how dare you question us." If that were the thoughts (and I don't think it is), I think no response would be much more telling.

Finally, for my own thoughts on the topic, I have yet to hear someone explain why marketing is an inherently BAD thing? We all recognize that this supposed to be a moneymaking venture. I have no problem with marketing. Walt Disney was a wizard at it. I will reserve judgment to see how the characters fit in, but the fact of the matter is Disney is so large and plays such a role (symbolic and real) in out culture and others, I think including them (if done well and appropriately themed), can only enhance it.

Again, Jeff, thanks for the great post.

TikiTwinsDad said...

By the way, I can tell it's Monday morning. I realize this is a discussion of DL not WDW, so forgive my references above. Thanks.

John said...

Finally a voice of reason! Thanks Jeff for giving voice to my thoughts. It's like you read my mind.!!

I for one am willing to give the professionals the benefit of the doubt and I know that in the end they'll make choices that best serve the attraction and it's legacy. How anyone could possibly criticize the work being done when nobody has seen it yet, is simply beyond me.

Ron Schneider said...

First intelligent thing I've read on the subject. My congratulations.

Anonymous said...

They say opinions are like anuses; everyone has one. And with the advent of the internet and blogging, most folks seem to have confused farting with conversation.
See, here's my angle. When I stop liking what Disney chooses to do at their parks or in their films or to their merchandise with their own money, then I'll stop spending mine on it. It's really that simple.
The folks at Laughing Place or Re-Imagineering or Jim Hill Media are always welcome to do what Walt and Roy did, or they can just admit they're mere sideline critics, at best...fired cast members at worst. They could turn off their Disney websites and go do something more productive with their lives than complain...but then they'd have to get real jobs.
I like Jeff Pepper's column; even when I disagree (rarely) he states his points with style and grace.
Personally, I'll wait for the refurbished attraction, then I'll make up my mind. And if my sensibilities are somehow offended by an amusement park attraction, I'll sell all my Disney stock (1 share) and commit hari kari. Or just get on with my life. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this eloquent response to some of the insanity around this debate. I must admit I am surprised by the venom of the attacks on these changes. While I can happily acknowledge IASW's place in history and Disney History, it's still simply an attraction. And it's an attraction that features a breezy and borderline representation of cultures. Certainly fantasy is a part of the existing depictions - children on magic carpets already fly. Why not in an Aladdin costume? Is there really such a difference? I just don't see these die hard Disney fans, most of whom are probably season pass holders, ignoring the park or even the ride for that matter in protest. Letter writing may be their only weapon. Also, if just as much of this emotion, passion and effort went to actually help the children of the world, rather than a ride that represents it, wouldn't that be great? Certainly a better use of time.

drew said...

>>The folks at Laughing Place or Re-Imagineering or Jim Hill Media are always welcome to do what Walt and Roy did, or they can just admit they're mere sideline critics, at best...fired cast members at worst.<<
You may want to go and double check Re-Imagineering. There are people against this proposal who are part of a creative enterprise that Disney wanted so badly they paid billions.

>>How anyone could possibly criticize the work being done when nobody has seen it yet, is simply beyond me.<<
The work need not be seen because the criticism is not about visuals and the aesthetic of the alterations. The criticism goes to implementation of recognizable individual characters who all come complete with their own backgrounds, stories, and contexts. The message presented is not one about what makes Stacey or Bobby or Lilo unique, but about what everybody, regardless of background, has in common. To add individual characters is in direct opposition to the collectivist spirit of the attraction.

LittletonMomof3 said...

Your points are valid and should give pause to most who read it. :) Me for one am interested to see the changes.

Anonymous said...

Drew,
Get a life.
Seriously.

Craig Wheeler said...

I won't weigh all my thoughts...but just a couple that came to mind as I read the existing comments here. Also, as Jeff said of his own comments, please don't construe anything related to my opinion from these comments...these are just general observations.

- I find it odd that no one has made comments referring to the pictures released from Hong Kong IASW. Those should give a good idea of what the characters in the DL version will look like. Find some pictures and see if they change your opinion.

- We in the Disney community are aware of these changes, but the general Disneyland-going public is not. Will the average person know that Disney just put characters in IASW? The argument was made that riders will go through the attraction hunting for characters rather than paying attention to the theme. But how many people will know to look for them? And in that same vein...aren't some people already looking for Hidden Mickey's when they go through? The argument doesn't seem to consider it. If that is the argument, then we should also demand that no more Hidden Mickeys be added to attractions because they draw attention away from the intended theming.

- And a point-of-view from the MBA in me, which I don't recall seeing addressed here...What does the average shareholder think? Disney is a public corporation that needs to make money for the shareholders. I can't foresee any major negative consequences on operations, profits, or general public opinion by the addition of the characters or changes to the rainforest. If they really do sell more plush, then the shareholders should be happy.

Anonymous said...

Well said Jeff. I know I'm in the minority but I say "let them update it's a small world". I rarely ride it as it is and I would guess that's typical of multiple visitors. I trust Marty Sklar and the rest of the Imagineers.

Rich Koster said...

I trust the Imaginears to do just as well with "it's a small world" at Disneyland as they did with the Tiki room at Magic Kingdom... and that's why I'm worried.

Anonymous said...

Well, Rich, stop worrying and start being more respectful of the Imagineers.

drew said...

>>I find it odd that no one has made comments referring to the pictures released from Hong Kong IASW. Those should give a good idea of what the characters in the DL version will look like. Find some pictures and see if they change your opinion.<<
The Hong Kong Disneyland attraction has been discussed. Check out Of Cabbages and Kings at the Save the Small World site. The change in theme and intention is blatantly stated on the Hong Kong Disneyland website. The reasoning for characters at Hong Kong Disneyland, irrelevance, is the exact opposite of the changes are supposedly coming to Disneyland. Then tie all that in with the marketing of the characters in the untapped Chinese market. Disney though has been quick to point out that the changes coming to Disneyland will "not be a clone", as Hong Kong Disneyland demonstrates so much as to why people are against these changes.

>>- We in the Disney community are aware of these changes, but the general Disneyland-going public is not. Will the average person know that Disney just put characters in IASW? The argument was made that riders will go through the attraction hunting for characters rather than paying attention to the theme. But how many people will know to look for them? And in that same vein...aren't some people already looking for Hidden Mickey's when they go through? The argument doesn't seem to consider it. If that is the argument, then we should also demand that no more Hidden Mickeys be added to attractions because they draw attention away from the intended theming.<<
Advertising of the new game that "it's a small world" is set to be.

Craig Wheeler said...

@Drew:
A few thoughts based on your comments...

1. I know that the HKDL version has been discussed...just not here. It was the lack of dicussion in these comments that made me say that.

2. The HKDL web site does not blatantly state that the theme and intention are changed. It describes the ride pretty much as it is in the US ("See the world through the eyes of a child as you delight in a colorful, vibrant, and playful view of the world. Set sail in an imaginative journey as you take an enchanted boat ride through the regions of the World featuring colorful dolls...elaborate sets and memorable music"), but it adds that there will be Asia-specific and Disney character additions to it. It does not say anything about the theme or intent changing. Please check your facts on this one.

3. I think you are trying to say that Disney will soon be heavily advertising the inclusion of the characters when the ride re-opens. If that is the case, then there may be more distraction than I anticipate as people hunt for the characters...so you may be right on this one. I'll hold judgement until the media campaign actually begins. But this is still comparable to hidden Mickey hunts. The last post on your blog talks about how Soarin' is a success even though it has no characters. But Mickey is in the video at least two times...and I know many people that look for him every time they go see that attraction.

drew said...

The Hong Kong Disneyland website, on the side, states:

"Keep your eyes open! The Hong Kong Disneyland version of 'it's a small world' is the first ever to feature Disney friends - the attraction includes 38."

It also used to, on the main body, state:

"Search for all the 38 Disney Characters that make their first appearance in this attraction, including Peter Pan, Aladdin, Pinocchio, and much more as they come to life as Small World Dolls."


Then there was all of the talk about how this attraction will serve as an introduction to Disney characters to the Chinese audience.

KINGCRAB said...

Then there was all of the talk about how this attraction will serve as an introduction to Disney characters to the Chinese audience.

That's what I've heard too...and I think it's a good thing, due to the fact that Disney never really got to enjoy a large cult following in China, compared to the fame that it's been enjoying in the United States, Japan and Europe for decades.

drew said...

>>That's what I've heard too...and I think it's a good thing, due to the fact that Disney never really got to enjoy a large cult following in China, compared to the fame that it's been enjoying in the United States, Japan and Europe for decades.<<
How then does the exact opposite hold true at DIsneyland?

Anonymous said...

Adding Jack to Pirates, Three Caballeros to Mexico, Nemo to Seas, Iago to Tiki, Stitch to Alien Encounter, or characters to Small World is cheap and gives them something they can market like a new attraction.

Wrong, wrong, WRONG!

NONE of that is cheap at all. Those kinds of changes keep those attractions fresh and save them from the wrecking ball (which is exactly what almost happened to the Tiki Room in WDW, for instance, until Iago and Zazu were flown in to save it and bring some new life into it and thus bring the crowds back).

Besides, Jeff Pepper has stated several times before (both here on his blog and at other sources such as the WDW Radio Show).

Anonymous said...

Correction on that last paragraph:


Besides, Jeff Pepper has stated several times before (both here on his blog and at other sources such as the WDW Radio Show) that he enjoys those attraction changes.

Anonymous said...

The shows pedigree is of a serious nature. Disney characters trivialize the core message.

Sorry, Mr. Banks, but that statement is very blatantly false and only further proves that you're just trying to get your way and make your opinions become law.

Putting Disney characters into IaSW will not destroy the message at all. Rather, I think that they'll help it since they're things that children the world over know and love. They make great "world peace" ambassadors and most of their stories are already a HUGE part of the cultures, histories and mythologies behind their respective nations anyway.

So, this is not a good time to be pessimistic. Things aren't going too well in the real world (the slumping economy, etc.), so let's just look at the bright side of things like this and spend all of our lives being negative, especially in regards to Disney parks and attractions.

Anonymous said...

Ooops! I meant to say to "and STOP spending all of our lives being negative, especially in regards to Disney parks and attractions."