Written by Kevin Baxter
Published: September 17, 2004 at 3:12 AM
Think I am overstating things? People absolutely LOVED Eisner in the mid90s. They didn't even own ABC at that point. And, apart from their animated hits, the film division wasn't much to crow about. People loved Michael Eisner because he was behind the massive expansion of Walt Disney World.
Think about it. Disney/MGM was FINALLY coming into its own after completing the original Tower of Terror, a ride many believe to be Disney's greatest. Disneyland opened Indiana Jones, the ride others would argue as the greatest. Another ride vying for that title - Splash Mountain - was still fairly shiny and new when those opened. Also appearing in this timeframe were the it's-about-time budget All-Star Hotels, the magificent Wilderness Lodge (which would be the model for the Animal Kingdom Lodge and Disneyland's Grand Californian), the more-than-just-a-hotel Boardwalk and the convention-focused Coronado Springs.
This golden age of expansion seems positively platinum when seen in hindsight of later events. The half-sized Animal Kingdom, the over-saturation of hotel rooms and timeshares, Dino-rama, Magic Carpets of Aladdin, the over-sponsoring of the once-interesting Innoventions, two poor Imagination rehabs, the Test Track delay debacle, the new Tiki Room, the not-up-to-standards Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, what have you. And this is just in WDW. Paul Pressler tore up Disneyland all over the place, with "highlights" being New Tomorrowland and California Adventure. Anaheim's troubles have been so bad since the platinum age that WDW's problems have mostly been ignored.
So, clearly, the only way for people to not curse the Eisner name is to make people forget about the last five years or so at the parks. The parks are getting started - with the upcoming 50th Anniversary additions - but a bunch of clones aren't going to make people say Eisner's name without a lip twitch. And AK and DCA sure aren't going to be wowing guests by 2006, when Eisner promises to leave.
My proposal is for you to spend money on the parks NOW, Eisner. Not a ton. Say about a half-billion. The company is making more money, thanks to those endless cuts, so this wouldn't hurt the company at all. Just think of it as spending the money you haven't been spending the past half-decade.
So what to spend it on? We, the TPI experts, will help you out. We apparently know more about the parks than you do. So try some of these out:
DISNEYLAND - I'll start with the easy one. NOTHING! There simply isn't enough money for ALL the parks, and Buzz Lightyear and the new Space Mountain will keep DL hot for years. The Finding Nemo overlay of the submarine lagoon looks certain at this point, so the park basically won't need anything until at least 2008, and that should be an E-Ticket. (I say resurrect Geyser Mountain, but build it on the site of Big Thunder Mountain Deathtrap, which needs to close. More on that later...)
CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE - Now on to the hard one. ToT wasn't the savior everyone expected. Well, everyone at Team Disney Anaheim. Sure, ToT helped out Disney/MGM when it opened, but that park had other attractions of interest. DCA has little to interest the locals. Soarin' is closer to Borin' now, and that was one of the biggies when the park opened. Millionaire is already closed and Aladdin may be close behind. In fact, California Screamin' may be the only attraction that has had any legs whatsoever. So really, ToT is probably now the second ride that will have any staying power.
Matt Ouimet, Disneyland's head - reportedly wants to make the 21st Century Pirates of the Caribbean. It's a good plan, at least regarding wanting a quality family ride that can entertain for decades. But what is that ride?
Rumors abound for DCA but one of the bigger ones was to build a two-story building in Paradise Pier with a dark ride on each floor. Great idea! Except for the ride ideas. One with Woody, one with Ariel. Not exactly skewing for the WHOLE fammily, are they? Furthermore, the rides break up what is one of the decent themed areas in the park. How Pierish are these rides?
DCA Idea Number One - How about dark rides that are actual staples of carnivals? Namely Haunted Houses and Tunnels of Love? The themes fit and can be met easily. Haunted House? Monsters, Inc! The Tunnel of Love is a little harder, but this is where Ouimet's idea can come into play. Say a flume, naturally, but with romantic scenes from famous Disney films. Like the ballroom scene from Beauty & the Beast, the Kiss the Girl scene from Little Mermaid, the Jolly Holiday chalk drawing scene from Mary Poppins, and so on. Kind of like the animatronics of Disney/MGM's Great Movie Ride mixed with the detail and hidden jokes of Pirates of the Caribbean with the memorable soundtrack of It's a Small World (notice how each example I mentioned revolved around a major Disney song?). Make it MINNIE'S Tunnel of Love - to make up for them ignoring her so long - and add in a Mickey/Minnie finale with all the gang and this could be HUGE. Estimated cost: $100M.
That's two rides, but we all know DCA needs more. The Hollywood area is completely empty on the one side now, so something has to go here. We've got two slow family rides across the park, so how about another thrill ride? Something major would cost too much at this point, so let's go with a clone. But NOT a US clone. If ToT didn't bring in the masses, Rock 'n' Roller Coaster CERTAINLY won't. Let's try Tokyo DisneySea, which has two choices: StormRider or Journey to the Center of the Earth. Obviously the themes don't work, and I can't think of a Hollywood theme that would make StormRider work, so let's go with JttCotE.
That ride actually uses the Test Track ride system, which failed so miserably as the Rocket Rods in Disneyland. But it seems to be doing better in Orlando and pretty well in Tokyo. In fact, there is actually already a theme that this ride system would work perfectly for: Superstar Limo! Not the horrid ride that opened when DCA opened. The ORIGINAL idea, which was supposed to be fast and featured lots of scenes which were funny when not viewed for too long. Ten or so scenes, followed by the speedy finale, and this could be a winner. (If there is space, of course. There might be a need to cover parts of Hollywood with an overhead "freeway" for the cars to speed around. This adds cost, but funny freeway signs could add loads to the ride and the freeway would add much-needed shade.) Estimated cost: $100M (for the elaborate version) for a total of $200M spent at DCA.
DCA Idea Number Two - Okay, we've already spent a big chunk of the half-bil in DCA. Let's spend it a different way, while still focusing on the fun-for-the-WHOLE-family idea. While I am quite fond of the previous three ideas, there are other ideas floating around out there. There is a rumor that won't go away - the Western River Expedition - that takes the 21st Century PotC desire way too literally. PLEASE, don't go through with this. Wretched idea!
Instead, how about resurrecting an idea that originated for Disney/MGM? You are desperate to make the Muppets big again, so increase your Muppet presence in DCA by building the Great Muppet Movie Ride next to MuppetVision. This ride, like the name suggests, was a humorous Muppet-filled takeoff on the once-popular Great Movie Ride in that park. This ride would also force the land's side avenue to become more cohesive thematically. Add in a Muppet-themed restaurant (with characters!) and this section of Hollywood would become more than the ghost town it has been for years. Estimated cost: $100M (including intensive theming and money-making restaurant)
Now where to spend that other $100M? Remember me destroying Big Thunder Deathtrap? Remember how they brought over the Electrical Parade? Well, just bring Big Thunder over too! Moving it - and changing the rock formations to the skyscrapers of San Francisco - will not only remove most of the ride's infamous history, but it would be a SURE way of adding that insanely popular family ride Ouimet has his heart set on.
The only problem with this idea - and I don't see moving it as a problem as the ride will still exist - is placing it in DCA. The ride takes up a huge amount of land, but I believe it would fit in the area between Golden Dreams and California Screamin'. Yes, that would mean dumping the flat rides in the area. Yes, everyone hates them, but this would reduce the number of rides. Still, I think most people would prefer two GOOD rides to three crappy ones and a mediocre kiddie area that could be moved. Then we have walkways. Could one be built THROUGH the ride? Would walking around it be as irritating as walking around the Grizzly Mountain in the middle of the park? These problems would push a fairly inexpensive rehab into an Estimated cost: $100M with the overall DCA total at about $200M. But it would be worth it.
So let's head over to Walt Disney World...
MAGIC KINGDOM - Ehhh. This park chugs right along without help, and it hasn't been ignored as badly as DL. They're getting the Stitch makeover of the Alien Encounter, so with that and PhilharMagic, they should be fine for a few years. After that, a Space Mountain redo would probably thrill for a few years after that.
DISNEY/MGM STUDIOS - This park should become a major problem very quickly. Not that it already isn't having problems, but MGM's upcoming sale to Sony should make the MGM disappear from the title forever. Which means, barring a sudden license agreement, the Great Movie ride will cease to exist soon. SOMETHING needs to cover for it, and the Auto Stunt show, no matter how good, will not suffice. The GMR will be reworked, but not by 2006.
Certainly, one solution is to kiss George Lucas's ass and get a new Star Tours film! This would be super cheap and would make lots of guests happy. This is a MUST!
Disney/MGM Idea Number One - There is a rumor involving renovating the Animation building to be like its sister in DCA, but I say forget that noise. That building is already being ignored in Anaheim, so why chance it happening twice? Instead, find something else to go into this building. This park has been doing well as the Disney "thrill" park, so keep that going. How about building a new & improved Alien Encounter??? Say what you want, but that attraction was ADORED by many. It was just in the wrong park. It can now be in the PERFECT park. Not only would this be fairly cheap, but it could allow the Animation Courtyard (which would need a new name) to connect to the courtyard in front of Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. An improved layout could only improve the guest experiences here.
Only problem is Alien Encounter isn't exactly Hollywoodish. Here's a thought... how about making this the ACTION Courtyard? Build Alien Encounter in the old Animation building and build TDS's StormRider behind it and RnRC with the queue in another part of the Animation building. Two thrills, pretty cheap. Estimated cost: No clue! The StormRider buildings would be behind two others, so it could be a simple box. I'll just guess $150M, which would include a new Star Tours.
Disney/MGM Idea Number Two - Let's go back to that Muppet Movie Ride idea. If it doesn't go into DCA, it should go here. The Muppets need to be focused on if they are to become popular to future generations. Hell, even if that ride did get built in DCA, I'm sure there are plenty of ideas that could fill a second ride without any crossover. Two rides with the same name but different experiences. Imagine that!
There's still a need though, especially for a thrill ride now. There are just so many options, I could go on for 50 more paragraphs. But let's stick to things that could happen in two years' time. Like the Alien Encounter idea, which could still go into the problematic Animation building, or maybe even into the long-dormant Doug Live theater. Or you could add a couple Catastrophe Canyonlike bits to the Backlot Tour. Just no more shows!!! Estimated cost: I didn't get specific, but let's just say $150M to match the last idea.
ANIMAL KINGDOM - Ay ay ay! Like DCA, this park needs major help. Expedition Everest is finally a good idea for this park, but it isn't enough. Two rumors for a Beastly Kingdomish land are making rounds, one a Narnia theme, the other revolving around... wait for it... Journey to the Center of the Earth! Only this one would actually be more of a clone. I say hold off on both for now. The Narnia films could tank at the box office, and I'm not sure JttCotE has enough of a theme for a whole land.
AK Idea Number One - If anyone remembers, I covered two cheap(ish) ways to improve AK in my The OTHER Disney Failure column. (Read it. It's great. Just like all my columns!) To summarize: one idea had them closing down the ignored Living Seas pavilion in Epcot and moving everybody (and some newbies) to a new Oceania land. Add in two water-themed rides - my choices were the Ariel ride I mentioned earlier and StormRider (if it doesn't go into Disney/MGM) - and you got more than just a 30-minute extension to your day. Estimated cost: $150M, maybe.
AK Idea Number Two - My other idea is for an Australia land, which I like a little more than the Oceania idea, but I would dearly love to see both happen in time. Australia could fit between Asia and Africa and feature a Jungle Cruiselike river ride overlooking the animals of Australia, as well as a drop into a tunnel to view the creatures of the Great Barrier Reef (and maybe some Nemo and Dory action). Naturally a walkthrough would be on the other side to view the animals - and fishies - at a more leisurely pace. I would build right up to the ignored Conservation Station, and redo the facade as the Sidney Opera House, which might get guests inside it. Add in a severely-needed sit-down restaurant (say a Barrier Reef seafood restaurant surrounded by more of that faux reef) and this land could make people forget about Beastly Kingdom. At least for a few years. Estimated cost: $150M just to be intractable.
EPCOT - Okay, we've already spent our $500M. Should we spend more at Epcot? Naw. Soarin' is already going in, and with recent additions of Mission: Space, the second Imagination rehab and Test Track, Future World is okay for the next couple years.
World Showcase is another story. Little has changed here for over a decade. That needs to change. The Brother Bear rapids ride is a strong rumor for Canada (mainly to hide the huge Soarin' building), but that would take us past our $500M mark. Clearly, the answer is to add more country pavilions. Spain had a temporary pavilion a while back, so they are clearly interested. South Korea has been interested for years. Others are rumored to be interested also, including Russia, Brazil and Switzerland. Considering the host countries foot most, if not all, of the bill, then why isn't Disney doing more of this? The Millenium Celebration proved that E-Tickets weren't really necessary to make Epcot popular again. So add TWO new countries (to maintain some crowd control) and think about adding rides to both. Nothing major, but SOMETHING. Especially if you can get them to pony up cash for those also. Do what you gotta do - even if it costs you up to $100M beyond my half-bil - just get it done!
So, then what? Certainly that won't be all you need to polish up the old image. Spend your last two years selling Disney instead of selling yourself! Get your monkey face back on the Wonderful World of Disney every week! Stand in front of the construction area for one of your exciting new rides (that I came up with) and tell us a little bit about it. Hold a koala or a kangaroo for your upcoming Australia land. Let someone throw water on you for the upcoming StormRider. Chat with the friggin' Muppets you proclaim to love so much. Get people excited about the parks again, and maybe - MAYBE - people will remember you for the good you did and forget about all the bad.
Most of all, just do it for me. Because if you don't, you know I will write bad things about you until the day I die. (YOUR death won't stop me!)
My two pennies... Gimme yours!
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Disney's Animal Kingdom
Disney's Hollywood Studios
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Universal Studios Hollywood