Why did Disney Parks give us that "Blue Sky" segment during Josh D'Amaro's D23 Expo presentation yesterday?
Near the end of the presentation, Walt Disney Imagineering's Chris Beatty and Walt Disney Studios' Jennifer Lee joined D'Amaro on stage to tease several potential projects for Disney's Animal Kingdom and Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.
The three talked about adding "Zootopia" and "Moana"-themed areas on the current site of Dinoland in Disney's Animal Kingdom, then suggested several potential themes for an expansion of the Magic Kingdom beyond Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, including "Coco," "Encanto" and a Villains land, which thrilled fans who long have wished for Disney to build a rumors Villains theme park as Walt Disney World's fifth gate.
But if you paid close attention to what the three were saying, it's clear that they did not announce anything, however. As they said at the beginning of the segment, this was all "blue sky" talk about what Imagineering, with its animation studios partners, could, or might, do in the parks.
So why the tease? Why not just announce what the company intends to do in these spaces?
Before the presentation, another website publisher and I joked about what we thought would be this yeras "Mary Poppins" announcement. At the previous D23 Expo, Disney announced a Mary Poppins attraction for the United Kingdom pavilion that seems to have blown away like a tattered kite in a raging wind.
Many of us suspected at the time that the Mary Poppins announcement was little more than blue sky (in the tech world, the term would be "vaporware"), since no one had seen any substantial plans for the project and no one from Disney had put out any requests for proposals to contractors.
By explicitly labeling yesterday's D23 Expo Disney World ideas as blue sky, D'Amaro and company at least were being honest. Disney can walk away from any of these ideas at any time, and there should be no talk of Disney canceling or being "too cheap" to go ahead with them - they never actually existed as formally announced plans in the first place.
So why "announce" them at the Expo? Why not limit the Disney Parks presentation to projects that the company is committed to and has begun the process of developing?
Two reasons, and they are not exclusive. First, Disney executives might have thought that the presentation did not have enough surprises to "wow" the 7,000 dedicated Disney fans in attendance, plus the countless fans following along online and through news coverage of the event. Pretty much everything else that D'Amaro announced was known, with the Disney Parks chairman providing no substantial news yesterday about several of the major developments at the company's theme parks around the world.
And while we are mentioning omissions, where was the news about Disneyland's treehouse? Or a return date for Fantasmic! or opening date for the Toy Story BBQ restaurant at Disney's Hollywood Studios?
Adding the Blue Sky segment padded the show and gave fans some of their biggest "stand up and cheer" moments of the presentation. If Disney wanted to use the D23 Expo as a focus group test of its ideas, the Villains and Zootopia concepts crushed those tests.
Second, perhaps Disney wants to take more control of the rumors that will always surround its theme parks. Theme park fans always want to know what is coming next, and if Disney does not tell them, outside forces - from contractors to journalists to influencers to other fans with especially active imaginations - will step in to fill that information vacuum and create narratives for them.
By becoming the formal source for theme park development rumors, Disney can shape and direct fan expectations. The company also can better track fan reactions to its potential plans, helping the company to make better informed decisions about what will - or won't - hit with guests when introduced.
I do not know the specific motivation behind the decision to tease these concepts yesterday. But I do know - and Disney officials privately have confirmed - that there is no way that all five are going to happen. It could be one, or two, or none.
Replacing Dinoland at DAK is pretty straightforward, but having worked at Thunder and the Rivers of America at the Magic Kingdom, developing that as the entry to an expansion of Disney's most-visited theme park would be tricky, logistically. There's just not enough room back there unless Disney builds a bridge over the waterway that connects the Rivers of America with the Seven Seas Lagoon.
Ultimately, Disney can solve that problem by throwing money at it. But Disney's got going to throw money after solutions that won't deliver a return on its investment. Perhaps the fan reactions at the D23 Expo were the return on the investment of throwing out some rumors to see how they would fly.
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