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!
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".
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.