The BLOG FLUME - Disney Edition

A whole bunch of Disney news: Another lawsuit, another opportunity to kiss Eisner's butt, another way to turn your daughter into an insufferable teen and another online fight! Oh, and Disneyland is going to close next year...

Written by Kevin Baxter
Published: May 25, 2004 at 1:43 AM

Orlando Sentinel - May 22

An ex-Disney employee is suing the company in a civil rights lawsuit over her religious beliefs. The Muslim woman returned from maternity leave wearing her hijab, a religious head scarf, and was subsequently fired from her Walt Disney World job in the Caribbean Beach Resort for not removing it. Disney does not allow any headware for its Cast Members unless it is part of the costume. The plaintiff's part-time job was a bellhop in the hotel, while her part-time job was as a salesperson at a Pearl Factory there.

I have a few problems with the lawsuit. Disney offered her a job behind the scenes so she could continue to wear the hijab, but she refused. So the loss of the bellhop job is on her. The Pearl Factory transferred her to another store in Kissimmee, where her commissions dropped dramatically, so she quit. I can understand not spoiling the Caribbean Beach theme by demanding bellhops wear appropriate costumes, but I can't see the need for some crappyass pearl store - which agrees to adhere to Disney's costume policy - to disallow it. Still, both Disney and the Pearl Factory tried to accommodate her, but just not to her liking, apparently.

I don't think the case has a chance, anyhow. Disney calls their employees "Cast Members" for a reason. They are not only required to dress the part they are playing, but to play along too. A Jewish actor couldn't force a Broadway director to allow him to wear his yarmulke onstage, after all. Being religious is all well and good, if it works for you, but it shouldn't affect your income. If the only way you can be religious is to be religious in public, then you need to find a job that will allow it, and not sue the ones who won't.

Orlando Sentinel - May 22

A group of representatives from the nation's largest pension funds met recently with the Disney board and actually finagled a few concessions. The board will allow the group to suggest nominees for an independent director's seat this year. It also said it will consider creating an ad hoc advisory panel to serve as a liaison between the board and investors.

Still, the triumphant feeling the group had when they left soon began evaporating. Board chairman Mitchell still had his lips planted firmly on Michael Eisner's ass, and refused to set a deadline for Eisner's replacement. Later on, Mitchell talked smack about the investors, commenting how little clout they held, and saying such lack of clout is why Eisner didn't even return the meeting. Mitchell's foot wasn't in his mouth enough, apparently, since he also said that directors had also met with other larger shareholders who are behind Eisner, implying the opinions of the pension funds aren't really that important. Mitchell should keep it up, and he will find himself on the street next year, right alongside Eisner, his bestest friend in the whole wide world.

MousePlanet - May 24

In a surprising move, at least from a company obsessed with money-grubbing, Disney has decided to close Disneyland on May 4 next year. May 5 is the kickoff date for DL's 50th Anniversary, and Disney apparently is trying to make the date special, since its 50th offerings certainly won't be. It'd be nice to think the park will use the day off to really make the park shine for the 5th, but at this point, that's too much to hope for.

MousePlanet - May 24

Apparently, the hideously pricey Princess Tea event at WDW was a major success, since it will now occur five times a week at the Grand Floridian. What you get? Tea and cakes for two, a personal meeting with Princess Aurora, storytelling, singalongs, a princess parade (?), a tiara, a Princess link bracelet (?), a rose (!), a special princess scrapbook page (?), a "Best Friend" certificate, a “My Disney Girl” collectible doll dressed in a matching Princess Aurora gown plus accessories. My guesses as to what some of these things are: I think the princess parade will be all the little princesses since it appears as if Aurora will be the only "real" princess here. The tiara and bracelet will be pretty cheap. (I think the bracelet may actually end up being one of those Italian things that are popular right now, since Disney conveniently sells a whole bunch of links for them at about 30 bucks apiece. Most places that sell these things will throw in a bracelet full of blank links free if you buy one or two links for it. So they aren't cheap cheap, just inexpensive.) I have no clue what the scrapbook page could entail, because without pictures it ain't much of a scrapbook.

While the My Disney Girl doll might be worth something, the $200 they are charging for this event - the price for one child and one adult - is insane. The Princess Tea I attended after a showing of Freaky Friday at Hollywood's El Capitan had FIVE princesses, all of whom held meet-and-greets for the guests. There were other activities and the whole thing cost a whopping $25. And we were appalled at the high number of spoiled rotten little girls at that event. I can't imagine what the girls taken to this thing will turn into when they become teenagers.

MiceAge - May 18

Disney spent more than $100M on Mission: Space and got middling reviews, pukefests and hospitalizations, Team Disney Anaheim was hoping for more from their $75M (or so) Tower of Terror in California Adventure. Well, the ride is certainly the most popular in the park, which isn't the case for Space, but it isn't increasing traffic TO the park, which Space is doing for Epcot. Attendance barely rose over its usual in the two weekends following ToT's opening, and most of those were APs. Non-AP locals, who may only attend the park once a year, but pay full-price, haven't materialized.

Of course, Al brings back the hoary cliche of how it's the California theme keeping these locals away. I still say that is total crap. If Disney had bothered to do the theme RIGHT, it wouldn't matter. Honestly, how many people have been to the Redwood National Forest? I live in Northern California and I haven't even been there! And I know the vast majority of Southern Californians haven't either. How many have been to Monterey? San Francisco? Having lived in SoCal, I bet more have been to Universal's Hollywood than to the real thing. Add to that the other lands, which are based not on real places but IDEAS of places, and you have an excuse that is no better than Disney's excuses as to why the park is vacant. Look at the little fact that the park has TWO whole attractions that anybody wants to do more than once - California Screamin' and Tower of Terror (Soarin' is almost always a walkon now, Millionaire is popular only on weekends and Grizzly is only popular on hot days) - and you have a REASON instead of an EXCUSE.

Screamscape - Disneyland
Jim Hill Media - May 25

Jim Hill is at it again. This time isn't against Al Lutz, who tends to paint a target on himself on occasion (see last story), but Lance Hart over at Screamscape. Now most of us know that Screamscape is a rumor site - NOT a news site - and that not all rumors come to fruition. Especially those involving Disney. And Lance doesn't seek out forty Imagineers every time he hears something. He doesn't have the damn time! Look how many parks the guy is covering! He's even covered rumors that were born on TPI, and we certainly aren't verifying everything that comes over the transom.

So why is Jim making such a federal case about it? Like Screamscape has never offered blue sky rumors before? When I read the thing - prior to reading JHM's rebuttal - I questioned its validity. Even Lance doesn't seem to think to much of the rumor on his site, and only published it because this source has been very reliable in the past. In fact, I think Lance's response to Jim's column was extremely professional, especially when he pointed out a major error in that column. Personally, I would've run that one into the ground! But then, I don't claim to be professional!

Readers' Opinions

From Tim Hillman on May 25, 2004 at 6:50 AM
Hey, Kevin, you did borrow a kid for the Princess Tea didn't you? You don't have any kids, and Disney probably doesn't have a tiara in your size. (Now, that's a scary picture.) Just wondering. ;)
From Matthew Armstrong on May 25, 2004 at 2:40 PM
In regard to Disney's inability to garner interest in its parks and attractions, when was the last time Disney did something truly interesting? I don'tmean original, Mission: Space is definately original, or even novel. But interesting? Let's face it Mission: Space is about as interesting as the Kennedy Space Center sans the fascinating history, actual space memorabilia, and functioning space center.

Disney used to hire artists and creative folk, now they just hire engineers. Which is to say, they can do the work, but so what? Now don't think I'm dogging on engineers, my brother is an engineer. I'm just saying that, inspite of their ability to do their work, they generally have the imaginative capacity of your average squirrel.

Where are the Marc Davis's who used to paint the broad stroke images of attractions that the engineers built from? When is Disney going to start hiring story-tellers and artists again instead of just animators and engineers?

From Chuck Campbell on May 25, 2004 at 3:01 PM
Al Lutz does hammer the Califoria theme constantly; Kevin Yee does the same to Fast Pass, too. As I recall, Lutz was pretty high on turing DCA into Disney's America, which sounds a bit hare-brained to me. (Replacing one "flawed" concept with another doesn't sound smart.) I agree that the problem with DCA isn't the theme--it's the lack of attractions. I'm dubious about the "Western River Expedition" rumor, too, but I would like to see it happen.
From Robert Niles on May 25, 2004 at 3:19 PM
I've found Disney's foray into musical theater interesting. The Festival of the Lion King, Aladdin and Snow White have demonstrated a storyteller's touch, and each production has shown improvement upon the previous in the originality of its staging.

Granted, none of these productions shows complete originality. But I doubt a theme park audience would receive anything too radical. Still, I don't think it is fair to say that Disney's done nothing interesting over the past decade. Yes, the company could show more confidence in itself by spending more on creative efforts. But rays of hope do shine through from time to time.

From patrick sayre on May 25, 2004 at 3:29 PM
I have a question and a comment.

First, do Disney Cast Members get paid scale? If not do they at least offer counseling to the "princesses" that have to do the tea party? Those brats will destroy a persons self worth I'm sure.

And now the comment is reguards to your question about the girls.

2 words. Gold Digger

From Kevin Baxter on May 26, 2004 at 1:26 AM
Paris Hiltons in the making, I'm sure.

Yeah, that America retheme is atrocious. I live in California and wouldn't go near the place if they went all jingoistic with it. I like Al a lot, but I don't like him trying to play both sides of the fence. He knows TDA listens to him, so he evidently thinks if he hammers on the theme enough, Disney will go with the wretched America concept. Do we need millions upon millions of dollars spent retheming the park, or do we need that money put into interesting attractions (and the Western River Expedition does NOT qualify)? A new theme will not get people pouring into the parks if all they want to do is ride Screamin' and ToT. Two or three more QUALITY attractions will.

From Matthew Armstrong on May 26, 2004 at 8:46 AM
Robert, sorry if I came across as too degrading. Disney has done some interesting things, in regard to their theme parks and attraction in the past decade, but I think the point still has merit. However, the less historical context you use (5 yerars, 3 years, etc.), the less interest you see.

For example, the Tower of Terror is interesting, fun, and worth riding more than once. However, to simply do it again at DCA shows no creativity. Soarin' is a great attraction, interesting and original. Yet again, it's being photocopied in Florida. Even if they changed the film, it will still be the same attraction. The new Expedition Everest is just an upscaled version of the Matterhorn. Mickey's Philharmagic is no different than all the other 3D, shoot-things-in-your-face attractions. And worse, it's the same music and scenes from the movie. The ultimate creative-less attraction.

Yes, I'll admit that it saves money to simply rehash old ideas, but what about reinventing old ideas or taking a new spin on them. Although I haven't ridden it yet, I'm told that The Mummy ride is, from a technical perspecitive, just a rehash of the same technologies that have been around for years. But, from all reports, it's a fun and interesting attraction that uses the techinical elements in a new way to tell an engaging story.

My point is the difference between "creativity" and "originality." In an era of ever-increasing technological innovation, originality isn't too tough to come by. It's the creativity that is holding Disney back (movies, theme parks, attraction, etc.)

To draw a parallel: It's like the unveiling of a new rollercoaster. It's the same concept that has been around for years, what makes it interesting is the creative way it is used.

From Robert Niles on May 26, 2004 at 9:34 AM
Excellent points, all, Matthew.

What so frustrates me about the DCA ToT is that it reflects precisely what ought to be the theme of DCA -- the California of history, legend and fantasy. The ToT theme fits perfectly. Unfortunately, Disney didn't do anything to develop it beyond the first act we witnessed a decade ago in Florida.

I would hate for ToT's lackluster performance to put Disney off this theme, and turn them toward jingoism. California's history and mythology offer so many interesting stories to tell.

From Kevin Baxter on May 28, 2004 at 2:39 AM
I know! Or how about just some stylized stuff, like the Golden Gate Bridge? That is clever. Unlike the pathetic mini-Palace of Fine Arts rotunda. Boo. How about some big fakeass trees in the Redwood section? Pretty sad that there is a section of Magic Mountain - a Six Flags park! - that is way more redwoody (and shady) than DCA's version. And I think the Paradise Pier section is well-done, if you don't look over at the hideous Mulholland Madness/Golden Zephyr/Jumpin' Jellyfish section. The Hollywood section is cool too. I posted a whole bunch of theme ideas on here a ways back, so if I can come up with cool ideas that would work, can't the Imagineers?
From alex morehouse on June 8, 2004 at 10:23 AM
If Disney was to create a third theme park for the DL resort, they should give a theme that they have never tried before : Heroes. I've noticed a lot of Disney's movies and shows have heroes like legends, superheroes, and spies. They could use some of thier own like Robin Hood, Hercules, Tarzan, and Spy Kids, then use modern ones they've purchased from Saban like Power Rangers, Digimon,and Beyblade to create a hero themed- park. The attraction ideas I came up with ( I will name just a few), include The Digimon Adventure, a multi-sensory gondola ride with special effects and animatronics, and The Incredibles Super Coaster, that should be like Rock N Roller Coaster. Snappy, ain't it?
From Kevin Baxter on June 9, 2004 at 3:35 AM
Gawd, don't give them any ideas about a third park! They need to fix DCA and put a little more work into DL before they should think about ANY US park.
From alex morehouse on June 26, 2004 at 1:44 PM
If I were in charge of Disney, I would be working on this park for a few years. The thing is to reinvent the Tower Of Terror. Why doesn't Disney tell the story from the 5th Dimension point of view? In other words, why don't they take the best part from the Florida version and make the entire storyline center around The 5th Dimension. I have many ways on how I can improve the California Version. First thing is to make the building more menacing. Guests could see the dome tops blown up and half-destroyed. The building itself could be covered in dust, webs, and paint rotting from the hotel. All the windows could be rusted and some broken. The pipes that are exposed can have water leaking from the openings. Secondly, the building could get a more menacing color- grey, to make it look more realistic. What could make this attraction better is that at night, special effects projectors can show the hotel all in tact. Then, every three minutes, a flashing light can give people the idea that lightning has struck the tower, and the projector disappears on queue with the flashing light to reveal what is left of the tower. It's expensive, but they have all this technology that can help improve their rides, and they don't use it!

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