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Saturday
Mar122011

Decades in Review [Part 2]

A while back I ruffled some feathers when I posted some of my opinions in graphical form (below). Today, I have a similar piece (above) demonstrating my opinions of each domestic Disney park over the years.

Consider the reality that opinions don't always translate into hard data. Here I simply demonstrate some high points and some low points in Disney park history. I've done it in a way that compares 6 parks at once. High peaks in the above graphic represent what I consider to be better times, lower peaks equal lower moments... as I'm sure you have already deduced.

Disneyland in 1955 may appear to be a little high on the chart compared to, say, Epcot of today. In reality, opening-year Disneyland was probably far less developed than any other park in Disney's history (minus maybe Honk Kong in its first year?) but I regard it higher than might be expected simply because such a place had never existed up to that point. The guest experience in that time period was perhaps greater/more impactful than that of some parks today.

The best years.
For me, 1959-1969 was the best ten-year span for Imagineering (or W.E.D. as it was called) ever. Out of this era we were given Subs, Matterhorn, Tomorrowland '67, Tiki Room, 64-65 Worlds Fair contributions, advancements in animatronics, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and more.

I revere the 80s as the next high point. Horizons and a great EPCOT Center Future World blew my young mind. Later in the decade, Splash Mountain appeared to be an almost perfect attraction and still holds that same status. Sadly, for me, Splash was really the last truely great Disney-style almost perfect ride. Indiana Jones, Tower of Terror, and Expedition Everest are great too, but since '89, for me, Splash Mountain has been the best thing created.

The worst years.
The Eisner era (1984-2005) is often regarded as purely horrible. I consider only the latter 12 years to be filled with awful decisions. Mid 90's were the beginning of bad Tomorrowland makeovers (sorry to the '94 lovers) then the downfall of Epcot's Future World, the need to be "hip and cool", price-gouging, quality-lowering, the introduction of hideous value resorts, and the closure of beloved E-ticket attractions. Since '05 it's been uphill battle to know which paths to stay on and which paths to never set foot on again.

Three parks on far lower levels than the other three??
Well, you see, these parks aren't without merit. I visit all of them on a semi-regular basis because I do enjoy them. I ain't here to be hatin' on "the new-school". Here's the thing:

The first three parks- Disneyland opens and it changes family entertainment forever. The park layout still stands 5+ decades later as the most successful park layout ever designed (the only one repeated multiple times). Magic Kingdom opens as the epic sequel on an amazing scale surrounded by an entire "Vacation Kingdom". EPCOT Center was all the more epic.

The next three- Studios, built on-the-cheap, not grand by comparison, Disney's (or Eisner's) copy-cat version of Universal. Animal Kingdom, pretty grand but lacking things to do.

 

You might want to buckle up for the rest of this ride. Or simply choose to read no further. Unless, of course, you'd like to humor me while I jump on a soap box and share some no-nonsense thoughts that have been goin' through my head. Don't worry too too much, they're not all bad!

Change.
I've been pondering this topic for some time now. The never-ending battle between different types of fans always includes the opposing "change is needed, therefore it's always good vs. change is bad because the old ways are better" views. Do we always have to be so stubborn in our views??? Like I'm one to talk. For what it's worth, here's my take on "change".

Change can be good... if it's good change. Enhancements in the Haunted Mansion (floating crystal ball, blinking wall paper, etc.), Disneyland's enhanced 1983 Fantasyland, enhanced Dumbo ride, "New" Tomorrowland 1967, I like the change to the Jungle Cruise canopies, additions to Rivers of America, etc. are all great change.

There are far too many changes that are bad changes though. When something exhibits a certain high quality and it's changed to a much lower quality, it's no good in my book, no matter how you spin it. Kitchen Cabaret had "run its course" and "showcased outdated food theories" and "lost its sponsor" but the change we were given was the far weaker Food Rocks. It was far weaker in design, presentation, experience, etc. Let's not even get into the by-almost-all-accounts amazing Journey into Imagination that was changed twice. Both iterations were far worse than the first. Tiki Room Under New Management, Country Bear Vacation Hoedown, El Rio de Tiempo, Horizons to Mission:Space, World of Motion to Test Track, Disneyland's Tomorrowland '98, and the list goes on. Taste is definitely a factor with all of these things. But putting far less effort, imagination, time, detail, etc. into a new version of an old attraction is extremely noticeable. Sadly, within a short time, most guests don't remember what was changed and are complacent with current offerings.

Excuses for bad change.
There is no shortage of half-baked excuses for bad changes. Possibly the most common of all is a Walt quote that was surely never intended to be used as an excuse for sub-par creation: "Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world." I used this in Part 1. I mention it again because I was recently in a couple of large group discussions led by an Imagineer. As soon as any part of the discussion appeared to question anything ever done in the parks, the gentleman pulled this quote out as his only defense.

Another favorite excuse: "Well the kids enjoy it". Yes, there is huge value in high kid-approval ratings. However, it seemed like the first three and a half decades of Disney parks EVERYTHING was designed with kids AND everyone else in mind. The innocence and imagination of a child were catered to while the maturity and sophistication of an adult was also considered. Tiki Room Under new Management and Stitch's Great Escape, for example, were clearly created in an effort to be more "hip" to the young crowd. But not only are they not all that "hip" to all that many young'ns, they insult the intelligence of any guest with two digits in their age.

Wait, "intelligence and maturity shouldn't play a factor when going to Disney", you say? Well let's clear that misconception. Since the beginning of Walt Disney's genius existed (like a hundred years ago) it's been all about sophisticated, self-respecting, intelligent fun from what I can tell. Fun, very fun, but it reached all ages. This is a brilliant brilliant brilliant achievement. Take Mary Poppins. Elderly grandparents and toddlers cherished the film the same in 1964 as they do today. Artists, critics, writers, peasants, royalty, all found in that film something to enjoy. This was accomplished with that amazing Disney touch that combined quality entertainment with outstanding artistry.

To say that everyone should unconditionally have fun with anything and everything Disney puts into their parks (and films) these days is ridiculous. This is especially true if you look at Disney's long-ago legacy of quality, timelessness, and integrity. So when Jafar is jumping around like an idiot in some parade trying to get me to do the chicken dance with Timon while Jack Sparrow and and Piglet dance to Ricky Martin music, don't tell me that "being a moron is part of the fun". Dancing around in a silly fashion with characters can be a ton of fun. But I propose something even more fun: Characters who stay in character. How about rides that uphold the stories on which they are built? Trust me, a "hip" gangsta rapping Mickey might be fun for a moment, but is that the right path on which the beloved mouse has been placed? Do multiple fart/butt/poop/booger jokes take us to where we want to be in five more decades? Let's not under-value the principle of "timelessness". And I promise this can be done while still having plennnty of fun.

The last and most depressing excuse is.......... money. We all understand that things are expensive to build/maintain. But don't raise admission prices 700+% since the mid-80s and raise merchandise prices by 400+% in some cases, and the price of parking, food, hotels, etc. and say that it would cost too much to extend the monorail or keep our favorite animatronic figures working. We know it's a business but don't give us pathetic excuses every time you announce another "take-away".

In conclusion.
I'm a huge jerk, no?? That or a broken record. Or both. Really, the more you and I understand what made this legacy great, the higher we will hold our standards and expectations. That said, we must applaud when things are done well and not be too too cynical, right? Here's to the future. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Little Mermaid rides, Westcot (just kidding), Shanghai Disneyland, huge California Adventure changes, the new Pleasure Island Hyperion Wharf thing.... they all look great. We just may be entering into a large upward spike on a future graph.

 

Related posts:

Decades in Review [Part 1]
I Love it When They Get Things Right
The Makings of a Good Sequel

 

Reader Comments (20)

Bravo - couldn't have said it better!!!

March 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrian W

PS - Don't forget that, along with the hideous value resorts, Eisner also added the unconscionable decision to build the monolithic Swan and Dolphin, which can be seen from inside the parks...

March 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrian W

I have always found the rational "Walt _said_ Disneyland will never be finished..." horribly overused and corrupted to justify any change anybody wants to make for any reason. I believe Walt also said something to the tune of "we're not in this business to make money," as well, but everyone conveniently seems to forget that one.

March 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJeanine

Jeanine's remark about money really resonates with me and what I think went wrong in so many ways. Walt Disney plowed everything back into his Park and never saw it simply as (or only as) a cash cow and means to produce dividends to shareholders. That's what Eisner and his ilk did......use the Park to squeeze every last dime out of the public. The entire philosophy expalins just about everything that has gone bad. How about another gift shop on Main Street? Sure, just eliminate the Penny Arcade so more Buzz Lightyear flashlights can be sold,,,,bast*rds!.

March 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEduardo

Here’s another all-but-forgotten Walt Disney quote:
“We try in everything we do here, you know . . . for the family. We don’t actually make films for children. But we make films that children can enjoy along with their parents. “

I take two things away from this…
FIRST, that adults (or in Walt’s terms- parents) are the primary focus of the kind of family entertainment that makes Disney unique and most importantly successful. From the many biographies of Walt that have been over the past 40+ years that Walt made movies and created a theme park for one person only= Himself (an adult). This was not selfish in the least it’s where all great things come from. (JRR Tolkien expressly and openly stated that he created Middle Earth for himself.)
SECOND, and to paraphrase the quote “Adults are Family Too!” Family-style entertainment is not Children’s entertainment. And too often in the past 10 years these two concepts have been used incorrectly for just about everything inside and outside of the Walt Disney Company.

Retorts:
The Excuse of Money
Believe it or not Executives, but making a substandard product does actually cost MORE in the long run. A perfect example is Disney’s California Adventure and Tokyo DisneySea both parks were opened within months of each other. DCA’s ticket sales were so bad that at one point that the only way they could get people to go in was to create a two park ticket bringing the gate price of DCA to around $14. That’s a less than billion dollar investment for a gate price ¼ the cost of comparable theme park.
TDS with its final cost a little under $2 billion had guests lining-up to enter the park at full ticket price during a typhoon!
And for those who would defend DCA? I have several reasons to prove my theory. OK, I actually have about 1.2 billion reasons! And they’re all tied-up behind several construction walls right now. I can’t help but think how this “fix” could have been avoided if they only built for quality FIRST. (Wescot anyone?) Because of inflation, The Fix will end-up costing more than it would in 2001.
Wouldn’t it be nice if that $1.2Billion could have been used to enhance an already awesome park(s)?

Reasons VS Excuses
Excuses are examples to cover-up the truth. Reasons are real answers to hard questions.
The one thing you didn’t mention is that quality IS Harder to produce. It’s a lot easier to buy an off-the-shelf ride paint it a cool color and give it the themed name, than it is to create a Tower of Terror. I’m by nature very optimistic and the last decade of product has made that extremely difficult. My hope is that the "Disney’s Great California Make-Over" and the New Fantasyland (2012 Edition) are overtures to a new era of stateside Imagineering. Let’s hope that when we visit the Magic Kingdom in record numbers and Mermaids & Cars reign supreme, that the current administration re-learns what Walt said all along that “Quality Will Out!”

March 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua L Harris

Very well spoken!! I find myself yearning for those times in the 70's and 80's more then now! Not just because i'm growing older, but because Disney seemed BETTER in those times then now. More personable. More family oriented....not just a corporation out to over-charge it's public at every possible chance they can! Many of us are getting disenchanted more and more by the minute. It's very sad.

March 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEric Ross

You mentioned how Walt Disney is often quoted in order to defend poor decisions . . . that really bothers me too. Not only are they dragging down the legacy of the company they represent, but they're also dragging down the legacy of a truly fantastic man. If they want to quote Walt, how about they dust this one off: "Disneyland is a work of love. We didn't go into Disneyland just with the idea of making money."

March 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJustin

I totally agree. It's like all the imagination and quality left with Walt. Why can't they do something on par with Haunted Mansion or Pirates now? Those attractions are over 40 years old and really the pinaccle of imagineering. Disney studios could be so much better. The quality of Animal Kingdom is impressive, but like you said, not much to do. The expansion at Fantasyland is a start, but the Magic Kingdom needs some new E-ticket attractions or they will continue to lose business to Universal.

March 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLambo

Oh me, oh my! Thanks for all the great comments.

March 14, 2011 | Registered CommenterMitch

Lambo - They DID do something on par with Haunted Mansion and Pirates. It's called the Western River Expedition.
Oh, wait a second...

But seriously, great article. I enjoyed it a lot, and, for the most part, agree with your charts!

March 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Heimbuch

" . . .don't raise admission prices 700+% since the mid-80s and raise merchandise prices by 400+% in some cases, and the price of parking, food, hotels, etc. and say that it would cost too much to extend the monorail or keep our favorite animatronic figures working. We know it's a business but don't give us pathetic excuses every time you announce another "take-away"."

AMEN!

March 14, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterfutureprobe1982

Along with the "Disneyland will never be complete excuse," I also can't stand when they use the, "Disneyland is not a museum," quote as a means to justify the notion that newer is inherently better. Those two quotations are so overused by the Disney propaganda department, that just hearing them now sounds to me roughly the same as nails on a chalkboard.

It's not that I don't like change. I'd be happy to see some good ones. It's just been so long since we've had one that I'm shell shocked to the point where my brain goes into disaster management mode whenever something new is announced.

March 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDan

Eduardo here again.

Mitch, you've nailed it with your charts and high water marks and noted declines, with which I agree. So thanks very much for this article.

Random observation that speaks to the overall experience of being in the Parks: I first visited Disneyland in 1963 and the tone was complete immersion - when you went into Frontierland, you honest to God could believe you were in an Old West town - especially true when you're only 7 years old. Now it seems they are getting away from the immersion and not trying because the clientele is way too hip to buy into it....so why bother. Has anyone else sensed this?

One thing I will cut management some slack on and something they cannot really control (or control very well) is the issue of crowds. The sheer number of people now in the parks (especially Disneyland) have become so overwhelming that the tone and rhythm has changed, perhaps forever. I guess there will be no going back, and my fear is that the Parks will be loved to death. I remember waiting in lines in 1963, 1967, 1970, 1989, and 1991. But once 2006 rolled around, it was MADNESS. And I don't think there is an answer. Considering what it now costs to get into the Parlk, eat, etc., no wonder people get stressed when they have a less than perfect day due to waits in line and so forth. Some of the angriest people I have ever seen have been in the Happiest Place on Earth!

March 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEduardo

All valid points and well said Mitch. There has been a depreciation of value and focus (and Eduardo makes a good point about the changes in tone and rhythm). Something I would add to the discussion: It seems that John Lasseter - talented though he may be - has gained far too much influence in the company. That isn't a bad thing in and of itself, but does, in my view, speak to the dangers of too much "synergy." I'm talking about the distinction between the Film Studios and the Disney Parks. Expanding the Disney Company's movie offerings is one thing, but having those same 'trendy and hip' films flooding the parks [with reckless abandon] is another thing entirely.

March 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJ.G.

I'm whole-heartely agreeing with you on all this...including your recent tweets. It's not whining when you're informing the like-minded, from experience. Disney is a place where they should only be allowed to make changes if there's going to be some sort of improvement. Change just for changes sake is never a good thing, and Imagineers should be allowed the contol of a government. It absolutely amazes me when they shelve ideas from those who make it their specialty. The owner in the box seat shouldn't be telling the pit crew how to run a race.

March 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWDWFanBoy Brett

Compared to most visitors here, my knowledge and experience of things Disney is pretty minimal. I've never been to Disneyland, and my first ever visit to Disney World was 2008, at age 26, so my first exposure to the parks was after the "Wrath of Eisner". It was a great time despite the huge crowds, the lines, and the hour long waits at the bus stops. I had fun at the "thumbs down" areas such as Tomorrowland, Test Track, etc.

I've gone to Disney World twice more since and decided to research into the history of Disney, its lesser known details of Disney and how things were back in the day, which is coincidentally how I stumbled upon this site. It was an eye-opener on the things I will neither see nor will I experience the simpler, less integrated parks.

Anyway, my point is these "blasphemous" attractions are what have become the first impression for new visitors. So when there is no reference point, things like Stitch being everywhere, and second-grade CGI Monsters making the same jokes over and over are what will be perceived as good, or at least not bad. This leads to adding more characters to other rides, and the cycle continues.

Thankfully, a lot of people do know better and things are looking up in the near future. If only they would stop raising prices significantly not really offering more for it.

March 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterM.C.G.

Although I've never been to any of the Disney parks, I would have to disagree with Eisner years were bad. Not everything was bad during those times, like the Animal Kingdom rides, which you gave most of them thumbs up for each one, especially Expedition Everest, the Pop Century and All Stars Resort hotels actually look nice from pictures I've seen on the Internet.

In my opinion, I think Innoventions, Monster Inc. Laugh Floor, Food Rocks, Mission: SPACE, and Disney Quest aren't bad ideas for attractions at Disney. The Sun Wheel at the ill-fated California Adventure looked like a nice centerpiece before becoming a monstrosity of giant Mickey Head. On the other hand, I have to agree with you giving The Seas with Nemo, Submarine Voyage with Nemo, Rocket Rods, Gran Fiesta Tour, Under New Management, and nearly every attraction at California Adventure a thumbs down. I am angered that Nemo destroyed The Living Seas. I am angered that El Rio de Tempo became Gran Fiesta Tour. I am angered by the loss of the Wonders of Life pavilion. Those are some bad changes Disney has made. REAL BAD ones.

I think of Disney California Adventure as a tragedy-even from day 1. It is still is "The Unhappiest Place on Earth". The Paradise Pier area is the most disastrous, even with its Extreme Makeover, it's still bad. Nothing can save this Tragic Kingdom. Mulholland Madness, the Orange Stinger, Maliboomer...what were they thinking? This was supposed to be a "turn-of-the century" theme, not a class of 21st century jumble. Orange Stinger becoming Silly Swings Symphony and Mulholland Madness become Goofy's Sky School will NOT SAVE DCA. The damage has been done. It will still be a terrible Disney park, and Disney has nothing, nothing to save it. Because of this, Sky School and Silly Symphony Swings should deserve a thumbs down too.

On the bright side, I am happy that you gave Mission to Mars, Horizons, Spaceship Earth, Kitchen Kaberet, Snow White's Scary Adventures, Adventure Thru Inner Space, Communicore (with the exception of Backstage Magic with Julie and I/O), Cranium Command (AKA Best Wonders of Life attraction ever), Living Seas, Maelstrom, Universe of Energy, Splash Mountain, El Rio de Tempo and Imagination a thumbs up. Those are all good attractions Disney has made over the years.

On last thing, thanks for making this article. It was great!

April 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPurple Fish

I stand corrected; Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor is a bad attraction, since it's out of place being in the Tomorrow section at WDW's Magic Kingdom! It should've been at Disney's Hollywood Studios' Pixar Place section.

July 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPurple Fish

Disney California Adventure should never have been built!

July 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

In my opinion, Imagineers these days, plain and simple, have no respect for what came before.

April 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJay

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