Think Disney didn't announce anything significant at D23? Think again
Published: August 23, 2011 at 11:28 AM
Disney Parks Chairman Tom Staggs all but apologized to fans for the lack of fresh news at the Expo, in an update to his blog post on the Disney website. In that update, Staggs hinted at upcoming announcements from Disney, including news about the future of Downtown Disney in Orlando.
But what Disney did announce at the Expo - and what the company's been developing over the past few years - marks a very significant development for the company, one that fans shouldn't overlook in their zeal to hear about the next big land or ride.
Let's review what we did see or learn about at this year's D23:
- A live, public showing of Talking Mickey
- A Lumiere Audio Animatronic at the Magic Kingdom, using what sounds like microtechnology
- An interactive queue for The Little Mermaid in Florida
- New "special experiences" at Disneyland, including dinners with Imagineers and other special events themed to now-closed attractions
- Confirmation of either a new club or expansion of Club 33 at the Disneyland Resort
- Fantasy Faire, a new meet and greet area in the old Carnation Gardens at Disneyland
- Details on several new experiences in Shanghai Disneyland's upcoming Enchanted Storybook Castle, including restaurants, shops and attractions
We also heard more details about Cars Land, the New Fantasyland and the Buena Vista Street entry plaza for Disney California Adventure. But look at the other news in the Disney Parks' D23 Expo presentation, and a pattern emerges: Disney is working on a variety of projects to make the theme park experience more interactive, more personal and more intimate than theme park attractions traditionally have been in the past.
As fans, we're almost programmed to be impressed by announcements of The Next Big Thing. But let's not overlook very important announcements of the next little things, too. When executed well, details often become the factors that distinguish great vacations.
One of the reasons why Universal Orlando's Harry Potter has been so wildly successful is that it provides a tangible place for fans to feel the emotional connection that they have with the Harry Potter universe. But it is Universal's faithful attention to recreating detail in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter that makes those connections flow.
Disney's pouring a billion dollars into its "NextGen" project, for which Disney - again - has been reticent on providing details, to the great frustration of its most dedicated fans. But whatever its forms turns out to be, NextGen is about the use of technology to create detail that forges connections.
The projects that Disney announced at D23 reflect that spirit. Even a character meet and greet - which many of us have derided as a cheap alternative to fixed attractions - can become much more emotionally engaging for the guests involved when its taken from a random pathway into am initimate themed setting, appropriate for the character being met.
Obviously, Disney needs big blockbuster attractions, too. But let's not forget that a generation of fans raised on video games looks for interactivity and individuated experiences in entertainment. Disney's turning a battleship in moving from traditional mass-experience theme park attractions to attractions that better support those individual, interactive experiences.
That's a significant change. Again, we'll have to see how well Disney pulls it off. But I don't want fans to overlook the significance of what Disney is doing, either.