Is Disney Imagineering Facing a Humiliating, Public Relations Nightmare?

April 17, 2014, 2:56 PM

I have never been one to accept the premise that Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando "compete" in the classic sense. The whole "which is better" debate has become a tired discussion board cliche. But there are whispers in the air. Rumors about a scenario that must make execs at WDI and WDW ill at ease. Casual chatter is claiming that Harry Potter Diagon Alley is slated to have a soft opening some time in the next five weeks. That could create a situation where the new addition to Universal could welcome its first guests BEFORE the Dwarf Mine Train coaster in Fantasyland. The likelihood of this scenario gets credibility from additional rumors that the new Magic Kingdom attraction is suffering from technical problems. Can you say, "Disco Dopey?" Should this scenario play out the echo chamber of the worldwide web would magnify the situation by chatting up rumors of a new Kong attraction that could be up and running before Disney Animal Kingdom's Pandora, expansion of the Star Wars footprint at Disney Hollywood Studios or any much needed improvements at EPCOT's woeful Future World. If Diagon Alley opens first ... the historic reputation of Walt Disney Imagineering will certainly be fairly bruised.

Replies (11)

April 17, 2014, 3:31 PM

I love what the folks at WDI have done over the years, THC, but in the Disney-controlled parks throughout the world Disney ride development has far underperformed Universal ride development since the second half of the Eisner regime. A soft opening for Harry Potter - Diagon Alley happening before a soft opening for the Seven Dwarves Mine Train is just one more chapter in this sorry saga, and it doesn't surprise me in the least.

Nothing will change in this situation until Universal finally puts a dent in the Disney parks attendance figures in both CA and FL, and I don't see that happening for a long time if at all. Disney has too much goodwill with the general public (much less goodwill in the enthusiast community), and they know it.

April 17, 2014, 5:44 PM

Is the Mine Train really in trouble? Not too long ago there was the video showing off the animatronics and just recently, I saw on websites that people were on the ride (presumably Imagineers and their families). Ultimately, if it does get up and running by summer 2014 (let's say July), I think the public won't really get too upset.

April 17, 2014, 5:53 PM

Mr.Trexen writes: "Is the Mine Train really in trouble? Not too long ago there was the video showing off the animatronics and just recently..."

I Respond: I've seen animation working as well. But they have to work more than once. They need to cycle every few seconds.

Mr.Trexen writes: "Ultimately, if it does get up and running by summer 2014 (let's say July), I think the public won't really get too upset."

I Respond: I am not referring to the public being "upset." I'm talking about the establishment of a public perception that could be intransigent. If Dobby beats the Dwarfs, any publicity about Mine Train will be decidedly muted compared to what's going on down the road.

April 17, 2014, 7:19 PM

Interesting. I think Disney's always been between a rock and a hard place when it's come to opening this ride. Sure, they want attract people who will come down to see Diagon Alley, but it probably would have taken more than just a coaster. If they do open far later than DA, could it be possible that they don't need a huge headliner as people are ready for the next new thing?

April 17, 2014, 8:40 PM

They need as many headliners as they can get. It's time to get out the big guns.

Edited: April 18, 2014, 2:10 PM

I don't agree with the premise. The public can care less about Imagineering. The fight over the Dwarf's coaster over Dragon Alley can be overstated. I'm more surprised that TH Creative wrote this. Really!!! You didn't seem panicked before. Didn't you say the Dwarf's coaster is on time as expected in Spring 2014? Summer is not expected until mid-June 2014. There's still two months left. They slow walked the completion of the New Fantasyland for so long that frankly I moved on. My radar is not on this and I don't think the public cares either. 2014 is Universal's year and Disney will still end up with more cash.

Edited: May 12, 2014, 6:40 AM

It almost seems that Universal has been delaying their Diagon opening date announcement so they could trump Disney immediately after the 7 Dwarfs coaster opened. But the Dwarf coaster has probably been delayed this spring longer than anyone in the business envisioned. But hard core Disney fans probably won't care unless the Dwarf attraction does not live up to it's hype. It sure is a beautiful attraction, but the attraction's merits will have to live up to the long wait and the high expectations. I guess we'll know more once people have experienced the ride,plus when & if Disney solves it's rumored technical problems.....But on a business level Universal is looking much better than WDW on these expansions, in my humble opinion.

April 18, 2014, 11:02 PM

Really, I'd be surprised if the general public ever caught wind of any of these issues and even more surprised if they cared. I'd venture to guess that outside of the IFC (Internet Fan Community), there's probably almost nobody who knows this ride is even under construction unless they've been to the park in the last 3 years. In the end, Imagineering will continue to be the benchmark, Universal Creative will continue to innovate but remain largely unknown outside of the IFC, and regardless of the outcome and fallout of the Dwarves Coaster, Magic Kingdom will once again report record attendance and profits at the end of the year.

If Disney had any sense of gusto and urgency left in their Rides and Attractions division, they would get moving on creating a Frozen attraction immediately.

April 29, 2014, 6:43 AM

I do not think the public will associate any problems with the Seven Dwarf's coaster with WDI as much as they would The Walt Disney Company. WDI is more or less regarded for their work that they did when Disneyland and Walt Disney World was built back in the 1950s and 60s. It is my best guess they will blame the executives at The Walt Disney Company. I do not know if Universal will ever be able to scare Disney to think that they might overthrow Disney as the most visited Orlando parks.

April 29, 2014, 8:48 AM

I think that the real public relations diaster for WDI is the fact that they named it "The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train" when it should have been named "The Seven Vertically Challenged Persons Mine Train." So un-PC.

Disney has finally ended their war on mothers (Bambi, Dumbo, Cinderella, Snow White, etc.) by now killing off both parents (Frozen)(war on parents now?), but their lack of sensitivity is appalling. Time to get with the new millenium, Disney. This is not the bad old 1980s anymore.

Why, the next thing you know, Disney will be building attractions where the main character has an intimate relationship with an extraterrestrial or an android or both. ;^)

May 11, 2014, 12:14 PM

Honetsly, does it matter that Diagon Alley opens around the same time as the Mine Train. These two new attractions can not even compare because they aren't similar. The SDMT is a single ride that completes a two year expansion project, while Diagon Alley is a new area to Universal. I don't see a big fuss over them, as both will attract thousands of visitors each day.

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