Good-bye Tom Sawyer? Will Disney abandon book lovers for 'Pirates 2.0'?2006-10-03
By Robert Niles: Al Lutz today dropped the bomb that Disney's considering dropping the Tom Sawyer theme from the the Rivers of America island in favor of making the Disneyland playground yet another Pirates of the Caribbean themed attraction.
First, let me make clear that we're talking about my two favorite attractions here. And not just Disneyland attractions. These are my two favorite attractions on the face of the Earth. (Universal fans, flame away!) I worked both attractions in Florida, studied Twain extensively in college and read my daughter "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" when she was five.
Not some abridged kiddie version. The real thing. Which she loved, by the way. (We'll back to that in a moment.)
Lutz lays out the rationale for the switch, which he reports is not yet a done deal. The island's play areas can't compete with more modern playgrounds. The bathrooms are terrible, there's no place to eat, and the fort's in such lousy shape that Disney shuttered it.
And, most damning, kids today have little idea who Tom Sawyer is.
Again, I love Pirates of the Caribbean. The Disneyland version is the greatest dark ride ever built. The movie's a gas. But expanding the "Pirates" theme into every attraction on the Magic Kingdom's west side reminds me of what Disney did to "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" a few years back. That should have taught Disney not to dupe a great thing to the point where everyone grows sick of it.
But as much as I love Pirates, it is entertainment, not art. In Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain created the most compelling, debated and beloved characters in all of American culture. If today's kids do not know of them, why, that's a pretty damning indictment of the rest of us, as parents, educators and artists. That Disney's failed these characters, and their story, by allowing Tom Sawyer's Island to fall into decay does not speak to an inherent lack of appeal in the characters, but to a lack of foresight by Disney.
Not every corner of a theme park must be devoted to the hottest flavor from the cineplex. Great theme parks find a place to appeal to the kids, and parents, who find their inspiration from books, not just movies and video games. That's why I, and my kids, adore Seuss Landing at Universal's Islands of Adventure. And the Fairy Tale Brook at Legoland. And Tom Sawyer's Island.
Yeah, I'm a freak. We don't have cable or satellite TV in our home. And my kids are not allowed to watch any TV or DVDs on a school night. (Looks like that was a good call, BTW.) So my kids read a look of books, and don't much care about the newest characters on Nick or the Disney channel. They love Tom Sawyer. And "Treasure Island." And Heidi. And Dr. Seuss.
If Disney wants to reinvigorate Disneyland by purging it of literary influences in favor of pop culture, well, that's Disney's right. But I hope someone else in theme park industry remembers that there are families out there who find joy and inspiration in the pages of great books. Even in elementary school. And that they make an effort to build a great new, interactive and imaginative attraction for them.
Because if Disney closes TSI, this family likely won't be visiting Disneyland as often anymore.
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