Theme Park Insider

Walt Disney World Wish List: A New Home for the Animation Academy

August 10, 2015, 11:43 AM · As we await the start of the D23 Expo in Anaheim this weekend, let's take a look at some improvements Disney could make to the Walt Disney World Resort. These aren't the big announcements that many fans are hoping to hear — such as Star Wars Land, a new Pixar-themed land, or even a new name for Disney's Hollywood Studios. And they're not necessarily even things that we're looking for Disney to announce from the stage at D23. But they are improvements that would go a long way toward reassuring Disney fans that the company is working on reinvesting its relationship with its most loyal fans.

First up? Finding a new home — and some new love — for the Animation Academy.

Animation Academy at Disney California Adventure
Animation Academy at Disney California Adventure

We've long been fans of the Animation Academy, a hands-on demonstration where a Disney cast member leads visitors in drawing a Disney character. It's a unique theme park attraction in that every visitor becomes an active participant in the show... and those visitors get to create a free souvenir to take home.

In doing so, Animation Academy pays the most appropriate possible tribute to the art form upon which the entire Walt Disney Company was built — animation. Animation Academy makes the art of animation relevant and engaging to each visitor, creating a physical, pencil-on-paper connection between fans and beloved Disney characters. Want to see Disney Magic? Look around the room at the reactions on first-time visitors' faces as they see a Disney character emerge from the pencils in their hands, simply by following the cast member's instructions.

Walt Disney World's Animation Academy closed with the Magic of Disney Animation this summer. The attraction continues to operate at other Disney resorts around the world, including the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, but ought to have a home at Disney's largest resort, as well. Frankly, Animation Academy not only deserves a new home in Florida, it deserves a more prominent home, too. At Disney California Adventure and other Disney resorts, Animation Academy is tucked away inside an animation tribute pavilion that just doesn't offer much curb appeal to attract passing guests.

Animation Academy's intimate nature ensures that it will never be a high-capacity show, serving several hundred guests an hour at full capacity, instead of the 1,000+ per hour that Disney's bigger theater shows can handle. But this is the heart of the company. With some tweaks to the theater-style room used in Anaheim, instead of the classroom-style room once used in Florida, Disney could create a higher-capacity Animation Academy that could take a more prominent position in a reimagined animation pavilion at whatever Hollywood Studios becomes or... even better, taking over the space now used by the Captain EO theater in a redesigned Imagination pavilion in Epcot's Future World.

Wherever Disney puts it, the Animation Academy is a great attraction that deserves a new home at the Walt Disney World Resort. What do you think?

Replies (21)

August 10, 2015 at 12:17 PM · Could not agree with you more, Robert. To me, the Animation Academy represents more "old school" Disney World - where interactive experiences could broaden one's horizons. This is an attraction that brought a light to my daughter's eyes anytime we went. While she has great memories about the various rides throughout WDW, the tangible Goofy drawing she has in her room is an actual source of pride and has spurred her interest in art that much further. I may be naive, but I truly believe this is the kind of experience upon which WDW was intended to be built - an experience that not only entertains, but opens up possibilities of the future especially to children.

The only downside to the attraction was, as you mentioned, the limited capacity. Our family would have loved to have spent more time learning to draw characters, but the reality of opportunity cost (e.g. missing Fastpass times) was a bit too great to overcome. Would love to see this in an expanded theater!

August 10, 2015 at 2:31 PM · I did see the one in Disney MGM studio. I never saw one at Disneyland Resort in California. I would like to spend all day long enjoying drawing characters.
Brian AN AP HOLDER.
August 10, 2015 at 3:12 PM · Valid opinion, but even during DHS peak attendance... LOW pass through. That said, my grandmother loved it!
August 10, 2015 at 4:10 PM · It's a pretty good show. I couldn't agree with Robert more when he said that it's tucked away at DCA. When I first discovered the Animation Pavillion, I thought it was a shop. Disney really does a poor job promoting the animation studios. I really enjoy this show, and I hope it can find a new home at DHS.
August 10, 2015 at 4:22 PM · When Disney decided for us that we didn't care for hand drawn animation movies anymore (wrongly, we didn't care for their generic stories anymore, the hand drawing wasn't the problem) the Animation Academy got redundant.
I think the technique and the story of the hart of Disney should be preserved but in a Disney museum setting like One Man's Dream but I would rather see that for a small fee as a real museum at (for instance) Disney Springs then in a theme park. Disney theme parks already push the museum level a bit too far for my tast and we don't need more. No a classy museum at Disney Springs would be awesome.
August 10, 2015 at 4:53 PM · Robert,

I couldn't agree more. The Animation Academy is one of my favorite attractions at DLR and one that I think is invaluable for all the reasons you mentioned. One idea I think could take the academy to the next level is adding or supplementing the academy to include a Pixar-led computer animation course, which would teach guests how to create computer animated characters in real time. Of course,the technical aspects of an attraction like this would limit the appeal and probably call for a longer presentation time than the current hand-drawn classes that the Academy offers. But the idea of learning to create 3-d character models in a short time is something that would be really enjoyable and enticing. Perhaps they could even have the option to upload their creation to an app or e-mail it to themselves or even have the option to have it 3-d printed for a nominal fee. Just a few thoughts.

August 10, 2015 at 5:46 PM · A new home at Epcot: How about Wonders of Life Pavilion and have a simulator ride through the History of Animation also.
August 10, 2015 at 5:53 PM · The animation academy was my favorite thing to do. I was sad that it closed the day after our trip this year and that I didn't get to go. The lines were over a 2 hour wait. I would love a longer drawing class. Like one of the backstage tours for a price. The comment above about a Pixar class is a great idea!
August 10, 2015 at 7:15 PM · The Animation Academy is a good activity for kids. I found it dull and mind numbing. Funny that it was initially sold as a top attraction when California Adventure opened 15 years ago. I went there a lot with not much else to do in other parts of the park. There are four areas to learn animation. Plenty of chances to draw pictures and use your voice talents. Now, I bypass it on every recent trip. No time to do the activities.

I imagine DHS will face the same dilemma. Is it even worth the effort with Star Wars coming soon? Mickeys Philharmagic already has the animation covered. Animation was similarly explored in other attractions like Turtle Talk, Nemo, and Laugh Factory.

August 10, 2015 at 7:21 PM · I don't see the need for an animation pavilion when Disney doesn't even make non CG cartoons anymore. Even Mickey mouse has been reduced to CG baby cartoons. The only decent animation that exists these days is Japanese anime
August 11, 2015 at 4:46 AM · I can't possibly imagine Disney without the Animation Academy...I miss it already.
August 11, 2015 at 4:52 AM · I agree!

Actually, Animation Academy is still in one other place Disney Quest...oh wait....

August 11, 2015 at 7:58 AM · Anon,

I would politely disagree that philharmagic, turtle talk and laugh floor got "animation covered." Philharmagic focuses more on music and the other two are interactive meet-and-greets. Yes, the characters are animated, but how are those characters animated? How were they brought to life? That's where Animation Academy comes in.

Daniel,

Yes, Disney doesn't make hand-drawn animation anymore, but that's how they got started, what they stuck to for decades, and what they're still most famous for. To completely ignore hand-drawn animation just because Disney doesn't make them anymore would be the equivalent of ignoring hand-written literature classics such as The Odyssey and Romeo And Juliet just because no one writes them anymore.

OT,

We actually did kinda decided for ourselves that we prefer cg over hand-drawn animation. Look at how many people saw Princess And The Frog and the 2011 Winnie the Pooh reboot compared to Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen or Big Hero 6.

And before you say anything about Winnie the Pooh not being relevant I would like to point out that Big Hero 6 started as an obscure Marvel comic.

August 12, 2015 at 12:13 AM · "Yes, Disney doesn't make hand-drawn animation anymore, but that's how they got started, what they stuck to for decades, and what they're still most famous for"

Exactly why they should still do it.

"To completely ignore hand-drawn animation just because Disney doesn't make them anymore would be the equivalent of ignoring hand-written literature classics such as The Odyssey and Romeo And Juliet just because no one writes them anymore."

Not only is this analogy irrelevant since you are comparing personal works of literature to a modern giant media corporation, but it is also incorrect since there are still many writers who put pen to paper and create stories. Ever heard of JK Rowling?

"We actually did kinda decided for ourselves that we prefer cg over hand-drawn animation"

Maybe CG movies makes a lot of money, but lets not forget that Walt Disney was an artist and storyteller first, and capitalist 2nd. Actually his 2 greatest creations were warned against by his advisors as financially dangerous: Snow white and the seven Dwarves, and Disneyland. Animation is an art and I don't think there is an artist who got into it to get rich.

August 12, 2015 at 9:16 AM · Daniel,

I think you're missing the point about literature. Yes people write, but the point is more on the understanding, comprehension, and respect for literary history. Harry Potter may be a best-selling series, but its not The Odyssey or The Divine Comedy or Moby-Dick. The point is that exposing people to the history and process of animation gives people a historic and cultural framework of the Disney company and brand as a whole (just like exposing people to classic literature prepares them for an understanding of literary history, criticism, and appreciation).

August 12, 2015 at 10:39 AM · Thank you, Blake.

Also, I know that artists care about more than just money. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if there are some within the Disney Company who would love to make a return to hand-drawn animation. Unfortunately, they're not the ones who have the control. That would be the studio executives, the ones who really pull all the strings. And they're definitely in it for the money. And if you want to bring Walt into the equation, then I should just come out and say that I don't think he would mind the the transition to cg all that much. Yes, he was an artist and a storyteller, like you said, but even more so, he was an innovator. His favorite part of his job was that he always got to push the boundaries of what was possible. This was the same guy who pretty much rid us of silent cartoons and created the first amusement park that wasn't just another midway experience. So why not transcend to an entirely new form of animation? I still really miss the old hand-drawn cartoons, and think they should always be considered as an important part of both cinematic and television history, but I think there's still some new possibilities with cg that have yet to be explored.

I'll give you this, Daniel, I didn't know that JK Rowling hand-wrote her books. As if I didn't have enough respect and admiration for that woman already!

August 12, 2015 at 12:11 PM · Disney's animated movies are based on classics, but we don't refer to the original classic stories any more. "Tangled" is the title of the movie, not "Rapunzel", which removes the reference to the classic story. The analogy doesn't quite work.

The debate is all wrong. CG is a tool, just like the original cells. The artist can and do hand drawn sketches that are later translated to CG or hand drawn cells in the original method. Therefore, an Animation Academy should be updated to discuss how animated hand drawn sketches are translated to story boards and then to CGI. It would be an amazing exhibition. Nonetheless, I still don't think much people will care.

August 12, 2015 at 6:05 PM · Why not move it to a hotel? Disney Art of Animation for instance.
August 12, 2015 at 9:12 PM · "Harry Potter may be a best-selling series, but its not The Odyssey or The Divine Comedy or Moby-Rick"

To be fair, you can't make that judgement for another 2700 years.

August 12, 2015 at 9:27 PM · Harry Potter is of course not Moby Dick. People actually finish reading Harry Potter without grabbing Cliff Notes.

Granted the mention of Moby Dick does make me think that SW should build a Dark Ride themed after that book and dedicate it to PETA and what doesn't happen to whales at SW.

August 13, 2015 at 10:55 AM · I agree that Animation Academy would be great to expand and publicize. Most rides have one fast moving line which feeds into more than one ride. They could have multiple classrooms, and time the start of these drawing classes every 5 minutes. The session could be about 15-20 minutes. I never actually saw a line for the drawing class in DHS. My wife and I went there a few times, and loved the experience.

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