PENNIES FROM KEVIN - Seven Years, My Africa!
It's a big anniversary year for Disney. But there's a certain anniversary that is being studiously ignored. Except at TPI!
Written by Kevin Baxter
I got back from Spain in late April and discovered I missed an important Disney anniversary! No, not Disneyland's, which I haven't been able to escape. Nope. In fact, I think almost everyone missed this anniversary. On April 22, Animal Kingdom turned seven! So what? Well, remember Michael Eisner's oh-so-intelligent Seven-Year Plan? The plan that new Disney parks would open small but become "complete" in seven years. Well, it's seven years later... Is AK complete?Tweet
Pardon me while I laugh up my spleen. The opening of Expedition Everest NEXT YEAR will bring the park up to about 50% complete. Then again, Tarzan Rocks is expected to close next year and a new show to fill its shoes after enclosing the theater, so the park may not hit 50% until late 2006, if by then. (If you question the 50% number, compare the park to others in the area. Magic Kingdom, Universal Studios Florida and SeaWorld Orlando are all 100-percenters. Islands of Adventure is probably at 75%. Epcot's probably 125%! AK clearly is nowhere near as complete as IOA. Hence, 50%.)
Most of us here at TPI never believed in the Seven-Year Plan in the first place. Not the fact that it was a stupid plan. No, 99% of us know that already. Some of us questioned whether seven years was at all realistic. Especially those of us who had actually been to Disney/MGM Studios before the Seven-Year Plan ever came into being. D/MGM opened on May 1, 1989 with a whopping seven attractions: Great Movie Ride, Backstage Studio shuttle tour, Magic of Disney Animation, Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, Behind the Scenes Special Effects walking tour, Superstar Television and the Monster Sound Show. As if that meager attraction list weren't bad enough, five of them were blatant ripoffs of Universal Studios Hollywood attractions. And they weren't as good! (I was there in late May, and the Indy show still wasn't running! The place seriously sucked!) Three more - Star Tours; Honey, I Shrunk the Kids play area; and a live show in the New York area - opened the following year, bringing the total to a whopping ten two years after operation. In 1991 MuppetVision showed up, Voyage of the Little Mermaid showed up in 1992, the Tower of Terror and the Theater of the Stars in 1994, and then nothing until 1998, as WDW was apparently gearing up for Animal Kingdom. 1998 brought Fantasmic, and the following year brought Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, Bear in the Big Blue House (now Playhouse Disney) and Sounds Dangerous. Now it will take more research than I am willing to do to figure out how many attractions the park had each year, as some closed, some opened and sometimes theaters sat empty. For example, the Monster Sound Show was gone for quite some time before Sounds Dangerous filled its slot. The original Superstar Television theater operated Doug Live for quite a while but sits empty now. Behind the Scenes disappeared quickly and was replaced with the dreadful Backstage Pass, which was eventually replaced with Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. And the New York theater sat empty after Hunchback closed until the space was used for the brand-new Lights! Motors! Action! stunt show. But for all intents and purposes, the three new attractions in 1999 made the park complete. (Some might argue, but that's another column!) TEN YEARS!
Now let's go back to AK. It opened in 1998 with Kilimanjaro Safaris, the Boneyard, Countdown to Extinction (now Dinosaur), Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail (now Pangani Forest Exploration Trail), the Wildlife Express train to Conservation Station, It's Tough to be a Bug, Flights of Wonder, Festival of the Lion King, Pocahontas and her Forest Friends and Journey into Jungle Book. I'm not including the various animal exhibits as I consider those scenery, since they are there to look at and aren't attractions (the highly-themed trails DO count in my book, though). And I'm not including the boring train ride out to Conservation Station and its different areas as different attractions (which TPI does for some unknown reason.) So that's ten. Way more than D/MGM (but D/MGM was a total joke when it opened). And like D/MGM, the following year brought attractions that had been planned for the opening of the park: Kali River Rapids and Maharajah Jungle Trek. Tarzan Rocks replaced the Jungle Book show, which seems odd. (After one whole year? It must've been crappy!) So we were up to twelve, which was still two more than D/MGM after two years. Then we "got" TriceraTop Spin in 2001 and Primeval Whirl in 2002. In four years we were up to fourteen, still two more than D/MGM. And rumors of the long-delayed Beastly Kingdom were still burning up the internet.
So here we are, three years after that and we still have fourteen attractions! Sound familiar? You'd think Disney would know better. D/MGM was not a popular park until it got ToT, but it still didn't get REALLY popular until 1999. But at least D/MGM was somewhat popular at one point before that. AK has never been popular. (Yeah, yeah, it is the Number Five US park, but that's ONLY due to Park Hoppers. You know nobody would go there if it was a standalone park!) So what is the problem with AK?
It's almost like they are doing this on purpose! Camp Minnie/Mickey was built on the cheap so it could be inexpensively demolished to make room for Beastly Kingdom. So why couldn't they build another "cheap" theater for the Jungle Book show here, instead of replacing it so quickly? Or how about a permanent indoor theater in Africa, which would have been a more appropriate spot than friggin' Dinoland USA! As if that inanity isn't enough, the park often closes the unpopular Pocahontas show during slow periods, giving the park even fewer entertainment options.
Clearly Disney believes Expedition Everest will be the park's savior, but they should have learned from California Misadventure that even a proven crowd-pleaser isn't enough for a park people aren't interested in. Tower of Terror added maybe 15 minutes to a day at DCA, and Everest should do about the same. (Adding ToT to D/MGM accomplished the same, but the park was already show-heavy, so it was easy to fill a day there.) So now people will escape AK at 12:15 instead of at noon now. Whoopee! And then what?
Disney has blue sky plans to either add yet another crowd-pleasing E-Ticket - Tokyo DisneySea's Journey to the Center of the Earth - or to have a Narnia land replace Beastly Kingdom if the film does well this winter. Considering Disney cannot resist attractions with movie tie-ins, Narnia is extremely likely if the film hits $200 million. Even so, whatever Disney comes up with, it simply isn't going to appear until 2008, at the absolute earliest. Meaning that even Disney/MGM's Ten-Year Plan has been thrown out the window. A Twelve-Year Plan then? Fifteen-Year? Maybe we should all start praying for the raging success of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe so we can see at least a 75% complete park in our lifetimes!
Those are my two pennies... gimme yours!
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