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Vote of the week: Who are the biggest villains in the theme park industry?

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Published: December 5, 2008 at 11:33 AM

"The most arresting narratives revolve around a well-defined hero and villain fighting it out over something uniquely important to the time and place," political activist and online entrepreneur Markos Moulitsas wrote in a book I recently reviewed over at OJR.

His words echoed in my mind as I read this week through a bunch of old TPI posts. We used to have some great villains on the site: Paul Pressler and his inept management team for cutting the magic out of Disneyland, the post-Frank Wells Michael Eisner for promoting Pressler and driving away Pixar, former Vivendi chief Jean-Marie Messier for his ego-driven reign of terror absurdity over Universal, the Premier Parks management team for taking over Six Flags and saddling it with enough debt to nearly drown the chain, and CBS for its negligence of the Paramount Parks chain.

But who are our villains now? Who are the managers, bosses and bumblers standing in the way of our enjoying great, creative, immersive theme parks?

So much has improved over the past few years. Roy Disney (citing ThemeParkInsider, BTW) helped lead a revolt that ousted Eisner and led to Pixar's John Lasseter (a former Jungle skipper!) assuming creative control over theme parks and animation at Disney. NBC bought Universal and kept the parks. Dan Snyder ousted the OKC bumpkins (okay, that one's still in progress). Cedar Fair's brought some stability to the former Paramount Parks, though not many new coasters. At least a Kings Island pass works at Cedar Point now, though, and vice versa.

So whom do we complain about now?

Moaning about the "global economy" just doesn't provide the sharp focus and emotional satisfaction that railing against J6M (gag) did. InBev, maybe? For not embracing the Busch theme parks and their management the way so many fans have?

C'mon. Every great theme park story needs a bad guy. Think Zurg in Buzz Lightyear. Doc Ock et al in Spider-Man. The singing dolls in Small World. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

In the comments, please nominate your picks for current theme park villains, the folks that you think TPI needs to rail against to help make theme parks a better, more entertaining value for us all.

And for the vote, let's pick baddest of the bad guys from our past.

Readers' Opinions

From Robert Niles on December 5, 2008 at 12:42 PM
I'm looking at that question again, and I wished that I'd phrased it "best villain" instead, because I am trying to get at which "villain" provided the most juicy material for us to tear into over the years.
From Larry Zimmerman on December 5, 2008 at 2:25 PM
I vote for InBev. Because of them, we lose the great sponsorship Anheuser-Busch provided over the Busch Entertainment network of parks. They had deep enough pockets to carry the parks through the current "unpleasantness." I doubt anyone else will.
From Derek Potter on December 5, 2008 at 4:38 PM
My vote would have to go to Premier Parks. I can't say that I blame the company as a whole for buying Six Flags as much as I blame the executives for mismanaging it into the ground. Six Flags used to be a highly reputable brand when it started in the 60's and on through the 70's and 80's. Premier was wise to buy the company, however were not wise in choosing their leadership, and were the antithesis of wise by letting it go on as long as they did.

Disney execs did steer the company in the wrong direction, but management at Six Flags wreaked havoc on a national scale over dozens of parks...leaving a mess that will take years to fix, if it ever gets fixed anyway.

Cedar Fair's great sin in recent times is reducing the 125 year old Geauga Lake from a nice regional park into a mediocre water park. Paramount parks have gotten new rides alright...from the corpse of Geauga Lake. Firehawk (KI), Dominator (KD), Carolina Cobra (Carowinds), Voodoo (Dorney), Thunderhawk (Michigans Adventure), Firefall (Great America). All are additions in the last few years, all former rides from Geauga Lake. At least they are out of those now, and are bringing out new coasters in the next couple of years.

From James Rao on December 5, 2008 at 4:49 PM
Michael Eisner. Why? Three words: "Disney's California Adventure."

Thankfully, John Lasseter is now in charge and working hard to save this park. I (heart) Lasseter.

From Jason Jackson on December 5, 2008 at 8:06 PM
Is is fair to name InBev (yet)? So far nothing has changed with Busch Entertainment. Give it a little while and see if they unload the parks or start to cut.
From mister johnson on December 5, 2008 at 8:17 PM
My vote: Cedar Fair. The reason: Geauga Lake. IDIOTS.
From Anthony Murphy on December 5, 2008 at 10:56 PM
They really messed up Six Flags. The stock has plumitted way down! Four Words: The Dark Knight Coaster. It takes the terrible cake on TPI. Its rated worst that Stitch
From David Sutter on December 6, 2008 at 5:25 AM
Thaks for ths chnace to vent..But the real problem with the Industry that has eveloved outta this is..The destruction of once was Great parks that were well themed...to Parks that relied on teens to make a buck...So much of what made them great is gone ..And those that tried to remain true to there branding have closed and are long gone..Even the mouse dare I say has just about removed all the magic..Let see Main gate Prices up from an average of 35-45 bucks to the over $75.00..parking fees 12 dollors...food pricing outta line with thee rest of the world...and 85% of the time over cooked and cold..And thats accross the board...SF to wonderful parks and ruined them..NBC works hard to make work and isnt always taking the cheap way out, InBev lets wait on that I belive theres something major there...But what was once a place for faimlies...To take the little ones for a day of fun ...now needs major amounts of money..And please lets stick with a one day trip not multi park passes and package deals..lets stick with a one day mini vacation to a faimly theme park...A place of family friendly rides, shows, characters..and fun memories!!!!!!!!!!
From Derek Potter on December 6, 2008 at 10:47 AM
The thing is David, there are still parks out there that can deliver a great family experience without donating a kidney. Everybody focuses on Disney, Universal, Disney, Universal, Busch. Many of the regional amusement parks out there are really good. Not superthemed, but they are happy places. If you are tired of giving your left arm at high priced theme parks, try these off the radar places.

Kennywood- Pittsburgh, PA
Hersheypark- Hershey, PA
Holiday World- Santa Claus, IN
Silver Dollar City- Branson, MO
Dollywood- Pigeon Forge, TN
Morey's Piers- Wildwood, NJ
Rye Playland- Rye NY

Affordability, family atmosphere, and charm still exists at these places. Most are either independent or owned by small companies who can't afford to dazzle you with eye candy, but also can't afford to not be competitive by charging high prices or cutting corners on genuine customer service, quality, and atmosphere. We are talking about villians in this thread, these parks are some of the good guys.

From Sylvain Comeau on December 6, 2008 at 3:27 PM
My vote goes to Pressler, for doing his best to drive the world's greatest theme park, Disneyland, right into the ground. Of course, Eisner thought it was a great idea to hire a guy who had never even visited Disneyland once in his life (!!!) Nauseating.
From rick stevens on December 6, 2008 at 7:45 PM
I had to go with Eisner. Not only did he hurt the theme parks, he also had a major hand in ABC and the Mighty Ducks. Not to mention the problems with other sections of Disney.
From Robert Niles on December 7, 2008 at 1:03 AM
Hey, next to Anschutz, Eisner looked like a great NHL owner. The Ducks brought a Stanley Cup to SoCal, something that the Kings to date still haven't done. And under Disney, the Angels won a World Series, something the Dodgers haven't done in a generation. While I can knock the post-Wells Eisner for a lot of stuff, sports ain't one of them.
From Joshua Counsil on December 7, 2008 at 5:58 AM
I gotta give it to Eisner, both for obvious reasons and because he's got that charismatic face you love to hate - just like a true Disney villain.

There are other theme park villains, too:

Who?
Southern Baptist Convention (and similar religious sects)
Why?
Trying to boycott Orlando theme parks and theme park-owned companies for their open celebrations of "Gay Days"

Who?
Evil Tourists
Why?
Too many reasons to count - whining, disobeying rules, general idiocy, etc.

I'm too tired to think of others at the moment.

From Ted Heumann on December 8, 2008 at 12:40 AM
I vote for Cedar Fair for RUINING Knotts Berry Farm. Knotts USED to be a well themed, fun theme park. Cedar Fair has turned it into a poor version of Magic Mountain. We used to go to Knotts to enjoy the fun, unusual attractions, but Cedar Fair took most of them out to put in up-charge attractions or unthemed metal coasters.
Everyone WORSHIPS Cedar Fair, but I LOATHE them!!
I hate CBS for selling the Paramount parks to them. I had high hopes for the Paramount parks while they owned them. But now I suspect that Knotts' fate will be their's too.
From Rob P on December 8, 2008 at 4:26 AM
I voted for Mike Eisner. He was a businessman. Of that there can be no question.The thing is that he took the whole Disney ethic and turned it upside down and inside out and made himself the villain of the piece.

He was there purely to generate a profit for the shareholders and , while that's no bad thing in itself, it was being done at the expense of very people Walt and Roy set out to entertain.

Family entertainment are not two dirty words. Walt perceived his patrons as guests and his staff as cast members.
It's not naive to want this ethic to continue in the new millenium. It's what set Disney apart from the other runners in the field.It's what made Disney such a magical experience in whatever medium it happened to be.

Sure you have to be competetive and show a profit. But there are better ways of going about it. Just ask Roy Disney.

From Anthony Murphy on December 8, 2008 at 3:15 PM
While Eisner did go a little mad at the end of his term at Disney, he did save the company and put out such hits as Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and the Lion King.
From Robert Niles on December 8, 2008 at 8:23 PM
I tried to make clear that we're voting on the post-Frank Wells Michael Eisner, the one who tried to run the whole company, instead of focusing just on those tasks he once did well.

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