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Dear Michael Eisner, Before You Go....

Theme Park Insider's editor suggests Disney's departing CEO leave his own legacy by greenlighting a theme park land based on a project from Eisner's past: Schoolhouse Rock.

Written by
Published: May 2, 2005 at 11:01 PM

Dear Michael Eisner,

As thousands of reporters and media personalities gather in Anaheim for the kickoff of Disneyland's Golden Anniversary, I'm sure you've noted that this is the last major event you'll oversee as Disney's CEO. Many of my colleagues online are rejoicing over your imminent departure from the Walt Disney Company. Too bad for them.

Look, I've heard through the grapevine that you're familiar with how publicly I ripped Disneyland's newest attractions over the past few years. “A Bug's Land” and Frontierland's Pooh ride were not up to Disney's high standards, and privately, I suspect that your new team at Disneyland agrees. But a failures over the past decade should not obscure the fact that you were the best executive the Walt Disney Company ever had. Yes, even better than Walt. (Sure, no one can approach Walt's vision or pop culture impact, but you, I and everyone else who actually paid attention during Traditions class at Disney University knows that the company would have failed had Roy O. not been there to save Walt's behind on the business side.)

So as your PR staff instructs the world's press to look back upon 50 years of Disneyland history, let's talk about your legacy. Surely, you do not deserve to slip away quietly, your departure marked only by the cackling of fanatics on a few Internet message boards. Nor does your insight and savvy running the company over the past quarter century call for something as ham-handed as putting up a statute of you in a Magic Kingdom, or slapping your name on Disney's Burbank campus.

You see, across the esplanade from Disneyland stands a theme park that marks the turning point in the public's perception of your success in running the Walt Disney Company. Disney's California Adventure still needs an “E-Ticket” land that will elevate the park from an industry punch-line to an unqualified business and artistic success.

The park needs a great new, innovate attraction. You need a compelling swan song to illustrate your legacy. Perhaps one might provide the other?

A clone from Orlando, or a concept from Steven Jobs' Pixar crew will not do. Not when there is a concept from your past that so richly affirms your vision and that would work so well on the Disney's California Adventure stage.

In the early 1970s, a man named Tom Yohe met with you when you were ABC's Vice President of Children's Programming. He pitched you on an idea developed with three other men to set basic education lessons to music and animate them. You bought the idea on the spot and “Schoolhouse Rock” went on to define my generation.

Thanks to the series you bought, I learned that I could love grammar, math, American politics and a slew of other topics that I didn't always understand in class. Heck, I sat through hours of lousy Saturday morning TV just for the chance to watch a few more songs. By the time I went to college, in the late 1980s, “Schoolhouse Rock” was off the air, but any club D.J. in the country could rescue a slow night by spinning “Conjunction Junction.”

We loved, and continue to love, that show. And today, when my daughter struggles with her second-grade grammar homework, I drop “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly” into the DVD player and she gets it.

We Generation Xers who grew up with “Schoolhouse Rock” have kids of our own, and money to spend on family vacations. The series retains its appeal among we who watched it, and has not lost its power to entertain and instruct today' children. Why not leverage that appeal with a theme park attraction that will draw those parents and kids to Anaheim?

Don't just whip up some easy show, plowing through a few songs with forgettable costumes and choreography. Make this your legacy. Couple the most powerful and influential example of children's educational entertainment of the past 30 years with the latest in interactive theme park attractions. Make this the summary of all you have done.

Take what Disney's learned from building video game-inspired short-'em-ups like Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters and build a “Schoolhouse Rock” dark ride, blending the familiar tunes with interactivity inspired by educational games from Disney Interactive. Send some Imagineers down to Legoland California, with instructions to devise a cooperative family competition like “Fun Town Fire Academy” while incorporating “Schoolhouse Rock” themes. Build the theme park playground to out-do all theme park playgrounds, but one that requires kids to respond to “Schoolhouse Rock” challenges to proceed through the play area. Give us a “Schoolhouse Rock” musical show, but demand that the audience be made an active participant in the show.

A “Schoolhouse Rock” land could take Disney's commitment to family entertainment to an unprecedented level of interactive excellence. No theme park has ever built a land with this level of family interactivity. No theme park has built that so explicitly would challenge kids to learn while entertaining them in a way no video game, movie or existing theme park attraction has. And no other project would better summarize and illustrate the long career of Michael Eisner than this.

Please, Mr. Eisner. Make this your curtain call. Greenlight it, then tell Bob Iger to put you in charge of assembling the design team – for one last hurrah. Put this land in Disney's California Adventure, and you will have given that park a unique identity that will draw two generations of fans to it, and entice new generations of fans for years to come.

“Schoolhouse Rock,” Mr. Eisner. What better way to finish your career than with the beloved and enduring property that helped launch it?

Best wishes,
Robert Niles

P.S. I hereby cede ownership of all theme park attraction concepts and ideas expressed in this letter to the Walt Disney Company. They are yours to build upon. Please, please do.

Readers' Opinions

From Arthur Cashin on May 3, 2005 at 8:34 AM
AMEN. Why on earth are they not running Schoolhouse Rock on the Disney Channel anyway! It is a completely underutilized asset. How about going on a ride at Conjunction Junction or visiting Lolly's to get your adverbs. You could see Mr Twelve Toes or the 4 legged zoo.

They just don't give a hoot anymore. $100 Million for Everest but not a dime for education!

From Jason Moore on May 3, 2005 at 8:38 AM
As a fellow member of the generation who so dearly shares your love of Schoolhouse Rock, i would absolutely love to see something like this. Unfortunately, i have to call into question it's multigenerational appeal. A few years back there was some sort of stage version performed locally. Several of my collegues were able to take their students on a feild trip to see it (if I remember correctly these children would have been middle school age). The teachers, who represented a generation older than you and I, just didn't get the appeal. the students, who represent a generation or two younger, didn't care for it either. there were those few exceptions that happened to be into a retro love phase at the time, but I fear that Schoolhouse Rock, like many other elements of the 70s/80s pop culture are limited in their appeal to those of us who grew up loving them. Mind you, I could be slightly off on this. If they can pull off successfully relaunching the Muppets in a way that appeals to multiple generations, then I might be willing to see them give this a shot also.
From J. Dana on May 3, 2005 at 5:06 PM
Robert, there are very few times when I read something and a light just clicks on...Reading your open letter to Eisner was one of those times. When I read it, I just said to myself, "Egads! I think he's got it." I was actually excited to read it. Robert, in my humble opinion, this is one of the ABSOLUTE BEST ideas I've heard for a Disney attraction in A VERY, VERY long time. Although the thought never crossed my mind, I'm sitting here thinking, "It's an obvious choice!" There's got to be some reason it's not been done before, but whatever that reason is, I'm signing my signature to your petition here....Mr. Eisner, Let's Rock!
From Robert OGrosky on May 3, 2005 at 7:41 PM
Yes i agree that DCA needs a e-ticket attraction!!! But imho the one mentioned by Robert N isnt it and is a example of one letting nostaglia get in the way of a good idea.
And i also agree that Roy doesnt get the credit he deserves. And you do need the moneymen to make a company successful. But without the creativity and dreaming of a person like Walt there woul have been no Walt Disney company and no valuable vaults of movies/characters/vast amounts of land for eisner to have used. He did do a great job for awhile with the help of many like Wells/katzenberg etc, but that was over a decade ago and sadly he stayed in charge way past his prime abd things like DCA and other half day parks are a big part his legacy.
From Jason Lester on May 6, 2005 at 6:48 PM
After reading Disney War I can't agree with you stating that Eisner tops Walt Disney. Without Walt there would be no Disney company and Eisner's apparently threatning techniques and rash decisions don't reflect positively on him. He has also made some huge mistakes (cough*DCA*cough), but I can agree with you that when he first started he was good. Very good. He did, however, decline greatly.

I also agree that DCA needs an E Ticket land to save it, but I have grown up in the mid 90s and now so I was never exposed to SR.

With regards,
Jason Lester

From David Eggert on May 13, 2005 at 5:37 PM
I grew up in the mid 80's and loved seeing SR on ABC on saturday mornings. I think that there is potential for a SR land to be a great sucess, but Disney would have to relaunch the SR brand first. Older generations know and love SR, but if you introduce it to a teen, they won't be interested. Disney needs to start airing episodes on ABC on Saturday mornings, Disney Chanel, Toon Disney, and (in Canada) Family Chanel. Hit the kids with it while they're young and then, a few years down the road, move forward on a SR land. If it were to open tomorrow, it would be a meager sucess at best, and an outright failure at worst. I would love to see this land created, but it would have to be introduced properly.
From Kevin Baxter on May 27, 2005 at 5:15 AM
Great idea! Especially when I had it a few years ago!!!! Remember my Fixing DCA thread (that I can't find) where I proposed a bunch of Epcot-like pavilions to fill out the current parking lot? (There was one like the Land pavilion, but focusing on the deserts, the mountains, and the current agri part already in DCA... there was a Winter Olympics one with a coaster... a Western one... etc.) Anyhow, I proposed they tear up the wretched Wharf area and put in a Capitol building which would hold SEVERAL Schoolhouse Rock dark rides. I stand by ANY Schoolhouse rock ride, but give me more than one in a distinctive building like this and I'd be even happier!
From Valerie Orris on June 24, 2005 at 10:17 PM
Ditch the hundreds of parking spaces and OPEN THE LAND!!!!!!!

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