Monday, November 13, 2006

Cranky Mouseketeers: Chill Out and Enjoy the Ride

There are quite a few cranky mouseketeers out there who continue to lament what they consider the sorry output of Walt Disney Imagineering over the past few years. There definitely seems to be a “good old days” mentality being embraced by many folks, and while not totally unjustified, it can often become bitter and mean-spirited.

Much of this I feel can be traced directly back to Disney’s California Adventure. Its creation was clearly a reflection of corporate arrogance and a lack of respect for the audience they so greatly covet. The basic strategy seemed to be the recycling of abandoned concepts from Disney’s America and the duplication of popular attractions from Disney World. The result is a mish-mash of unrelated ideas very loosely themed to the state of California. It was done on the cheap, and it shows.

Unfortunately, and sadly, the frustration over DCA and the legacy of Michael Eisner’s final years have of late been channeled by many into attacks on just about everything that Imagineering produces. It is criticism that is often unfair and increasingly malicious.

A few weeks back, an anonymous comment was made in response to one of my posts that opinioned:

“I think what most people whine about nowadays is the general lack of thought and "magic" put into today's attractions . . .”

It’s an interesting statement. But a very blatant overgeneralization.

First off, all attractions are not created equal. By Disney’s own standards, there is an A-E ratings system that is still informally used by fans and Imagineers alike. But so many have the expectations of an E Ticket for everything that Imagineering produces. Sure, Pooh’s Playful Spot is lacking in thought and imagination when compared to Splash Mountain. But so is Dumbo the Flying Elephant or Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride for that matter. But they all have a place in the A-E hierarchy. Even those attractions much maligned by the Internet minority deserved to be viewed more fairly in this context. Stitch’s Great Escape, Magic Carpets of Aladdin, Chester and Hester’s Dinorama--they all attract and serve their target audiences.

Second, I can provide a number of examples where the assertion of “lack of thought and magic” is just fundamentally wrong:

Mickey’s PhilharMagic - a truly amazing and entertaining experience. In my opinion, it is the best of all the 3-D movies produced for the parks. It pays homage to both the original character driven shorts and the Disney animation renaissance of the early 1990s. It’s clever, fast and funny, with brilliant 3-D effects, and has generated enthusiastic applause at nearly every showing I’ve attended. But alas, the cranky mouseketeers can’t resist taking potshots at the attraction’s lack of a pre-show.

One Man’s Dream - an extensive and often emotional tribute (both exhibits and film) to the man responsible for it all. Not a thrill ride, but still thrilling to those who look beyond the theme parks to the very foundations of what Disney is all about.

Soarin’ - four and half minutes of pure “Wow!” And with the promise of expanding beyond the confines of California, it will be a perennial for years and years to come.

Turtle Talk with Crush - simple in both setting and execution, yet revolutionary in design and technology. It is clearly a precursor of things to come. The expressions on the faces of the kids as Crush interacts with the audience are priceless. A lack of magic? You’ve got to be kidding.

Expedition: Everest - from the minute you approach the entrance, to the moment you stumble off and attempt to regain your balance, an incredible, all encompassing experience. The attention to detail throughout is nearly without equal in all of Disney World.

Finding Nemo-The Musical - an imaginative and innovative interpretation of the Pixar hit film, using puppetry techniques similar to those employed in the Broadway production of Lion King. I was fortunate to have been able to see the first preview on November 5th.

As well-received as all these examples have been, I have seen and heard comments deeply critical of many of them at one time or another. The negativity often precedes the actual opening of the attraction in many cases. Many become so cemented in their feelings that often times their egos will not permit them to ever really enjoy or compliment these new endeavors because it would run counter to their already established preconceived notions.

Me personally? I’m just gonna sit back and enjoy the ride(s).


Joel said...

I think the main thing is that people expect each attraction to "out-do" the last of its type. Most of the examples you listed do that, but let me address them one at a time:

Philharmagic: People are comparing this not to other 3-D films (if they are true Disneyphiles), but to the Mickey Mouse Revue, an attraction that really has no parallel since.

Soarin': At WDW, the no-brainer is that this shouldn't be a carbon copy of the DCA version. And let's hope that the long-standing rumors that it will be updated will change soon. Also, it's location makes little to no sense...

Turtle Talk: People want AA's (see Philharmagic comments above). I realize that the likelihood of this being a reality in this day and age is not very high, but that's the expectation guests have. But Turtle Talk completely, unabashedly is a wonderful experience :)

Expedition Everest: This is a perfect example of what's wrong with the "Joe Rhode" mentality of Imagineering -- you don't have to shoehorn a story into these things -- let the visuals speak for themselves. That's what Pirates and Mansion were doing for years before everyone started applying "official" storylines to them. The beauty of BTM, Mansion, and Pirates was that you could always apply your own ideas as to what was happening in each scene, as they really were just a series of cool effects and atmosphere tied together! I think EE is a beautiful attraction and realize that it attracts LOTS AND LOTS of guests, but I was greatly disappointed with its "story." It stinks. And I was really letdown by the 5-second (tops) view of the monster-matronic at the end. I wish I could have seen so much more for so much longer! And the way it builds up and builds up and builds up only to end immediately at the climax is awful! There needs to be a cool down period a la the last 2-3 minutes of Splash. Now THAT would have made EE an unparalleled experience.

I really like all of these attractions, but when you realize the things that "Could have been," these seem like so much less than what we're used to. And don't forget "upgrades" and replacements such as Mission:Space and Test Track. Remember the wonderful music, animatronics, and scenes that are now forever gone in the name of quick, senseless thrills... :(

Jeffrey Pepper said...

Thanks for commenting and presenting some different points of view.

To a couple of your points--

I have fond memories of Mickey Mouse Revue and was very disappointed when it was exported to Tokyo. However, I have found that very few people these days remember it, or are even aware that it ever exisited. It was a D-ticket and never even close to being a headliner.

Your arguements for animatronics are interesting, but I think you overstate people's passion for them. I don't think people walk out of PhilharMagic saying "Dang! Why weren't there any AAs?"

As much as I love and hold dear the Future World of the 1980s, I believe it was too animatronic-heavy, and that is why even outstanding attractions like World of Motion and Horizons began to fade from popularity after the park's first decade. Five of the seven 1980s pavilions (didn't count WOL) were all animatronic-heavy, slow-moving ride-throughs. (Even Listen to the Land had its brief AA segment.) That FW ultimately didn't exactly provide a wide variety of different experiences for guests and lead to the pretty ho-hum perception of EPCOT that many folks had by the 1990s.

Anonymous said...

I agree with all this, except for your opinions on Disney's California Adventure.

I think that DCA is a very nice park with some great attractions...and I don't see it as a rehash of Disney's America and it's NOT all just copies of WDW-origin attractions. The only attractions there that were cloned from WDW were Muppet-Vision 3D and It's Tough to Be a Bug.

Anonymous said...

It's a shame that a lot of those Disney "purists" can be so selfish and self-centered.

I don't even think they're real Disney fans--they act rather "anti-Disney", if you ask me.