The BLOG FLUME - Thumbs Down on Flik's Fun Fair

Disney kills the successor to the Magic Kingdom Club. Michael Eisner tries to buy himself some more time. And Robert weighs in on California Adventure's alleged savior for the L.A. Times.

From Kevin Baxter
Posted October 2, 2002 at 9:23 AM
LA Times - Oct 3

Robert reviews Flik's Fun Fair at Disney' California Adventure. Opening quote: "Flik's Fun Fair provides yet another example of the half-baked development that's made the rest of California Adventure so disappointing."

(Late Wednesday night The Times will post the companion video to this review, including video of Robert and his family at the park, as well as Robert's interview with WDI VP Kathy Mangum.)

LA Times - Oct 1

Disney has announced that they will be ending the frighteningly popular Disney Club discount program in favor of a Disney Visa card. The Disney Club, which was the fairly new version of the once-free Magic Kingdom Club created by Walt himself, charged almost $40 for discounts at all things Disney. Apparently that wasn't enough money for the company, which now wants part of the increasingly lucrative credit card business. Disney promises that users will earn points toward Disney merchandise, but certainly all DC members won't qualify for the credit cards. If you are having problems getting people into your parks, is it really wise to do ANYTHING to your most loyal fans, no matter how much you think it won't inconvenience them?

Yahoo News - Oct 2

Maybe last Tuesday wasn't big Tuesday after all. Not when Michael Eisner claimed responsibility for Disney's recent performance at an investors conference THIS Tuesday. Of course he softened his blame by saying that earnings were down due to Disney's "building and extending" its brand name. Furthermore, he is certain those investments will begin to pay off soon. So... California Adventure, Animal Kingdom and Walt Disney Studios will suddenly be seen as something other than inferior products? He also claims that expansion is done for now. So I guess those two parks in China won't be opening up in the near future? Why does ANYONE listen to this man?

MousePlanet - Sept 30

MousePlanet has a little history lesson on the Paul Pressler era of Disneyland. The results will shock you more than Custer was shocked at Bull Run. From 1995, when Pressler was handed the reins of Disneyland, to the present, Disneyland added 21 new attractions, parades, eateries and shops. Since that time, the park CLOSED 23 things. So Disneyland has actually two FEWER permanent fixtures than it did seven years ago and they now charge $14 more!

Even worse, the only biggies that came about during his tenure were Indiana Jones, the new Tomorrowland, the Believe fireworks shows, the holiday attraction makeovers, Honey I Shrunk the Audience, FastPass and DCA. Indy was actually testing prior to his arrival and he actually tried to cancel the project due to its cost! The new Tomorrowland is considered a disaster and we won't even mention DCA. Okay "we" will: DISASTER! Entertainment, like the Believe shows, is usually credited to the head of that division, and the wildly successful holiday makeovers have been credited to a different division also. So the high points of his resume are FastPass (and rightly so) and Honey. Pretty pathetic for seven years, no?

The BLOG FLUME - Disney Awaits Big Tuesday
Pressler Is Gone
Flik's Fun Fair Ratings

From Robert Niles
Posted October 3, 2002 at 7:45 PM
It's been interesting to browse some of the Disney boards on the Web, to see reaction to my Flik's review.

I'd like to address a few of the points made by other posters, and expand a bit on some of the thoughts I needed to cut short to conserve space in the paper.

First up: Yes, the Los Angeles Times is going to be more aggressive about reviewing local theme parks. It's my intent to review any new attraction at Disney, Universal, Magic Mountain, Knott's, Legoland or SeaWorld. True, the paper's never done that in the past. But I've not been reviewing theme parks for the paper before this year. I pitched this new emphasis to the paper's editors, and after several months, am thrilled that they've agreed to it.

A few people did make the connection that the Robert Niles writing for The Times is the same Robert Niles who started Theme Park Insider and who used to post to alt.disney.disneyland, back before it and the rest of Usenet became one big spam receptacle. However, and this is gonna drive Kevin nuts, some posters said I must be biased for rides and thrills over theming because this site rates Islands of Adventure higher than any Disney park.

If you believe that, I refer you to Kevin Baxter's excellent post, "Debunking Disney Fans' Objections to Universal." Look, "theme" does not equal "Disney." IOA's contains wonderful decoration and detail, in addition to its thrill rides. Busch Gardens Williamsburg is a lovely park, with a well-executed European theme. Disney has no monopoly on "theme" parks.

That said, I have about one three-thousandth of a vote on Theme Park Insider. Just like any other active registered user. This site has ranked some parks in positions I don't agree with. (How is Universal Studios Hollywood up so high?) I might have started this site, but I don't dictate its content anymore. The Theme Park Insider community determines that now.

I was pleased that at least one poster noted my reference to "Adventures Through Inner Space" in the review. Something for you old-school fans out there--glad to see someone appreciated it. Part of writing good criticism is putting new productions in an appropriate historical context. Times critics do that with film, music and theater. I will strive to do the same with theme parks.

Yet no one seems to have picked up on my comment about Disney management in the closing paragraph. I chose my words carefully. I did not ask Disney's ride designers to go back to Griffith Park. From what I've seen of their concept work, Disney's Imagineers are not the problem. It's Disney managers (specifically, Michael Eisner and Paul Pressler) who refuse to fund Imagineering's ideas.

As a result, Imagineering, or what's left of it, has learned in past five years to repackaging ideas from other parks, Disney or not, rather than develop new ways for individuals and families to have fun together.

Part of my problem with Flik's, in addition to the fact that it's so derivative, is that it is so passive. That's why my kids and the Hubschs liked the water area so much. They could run around, *do* stuff, and... be kids.

Queuing up for a 90-second ride around a circle isn't that much fun. The second-best part of Flik's is the bumper cars--for kids who are old enough to drive. That's because there kids have some control.

I realized that *control* is one of the reasons that my kids had a better time at Camp Snoopy, despite the fact that, next to Flik's, it is a run-down, unkempt filthy mess. But on the truck ride my two-year-old can turn a steering wheel and honk the horn. On Heimlich's, he just sits there. The Huff 'N Puff at Knott's is a great twist on a track ride--an ore car where kids can burn off energy pumping their car around the track. Knott's also has a playhouse where kids can run around and *do* stuff. Even in its dilapidated state, it provides more fun that the cleaner, better decorated attractions at Flik's.

I believe that there is a difference between decoration and detail. Flik's is well decorated. But it is missing the detail that once distinguished Disney attractions--and that would engage young kids who long for a creative place to play and imagine.

I am going to hold Southern California's theme parks to a very high standard in my future reviews, as I have to date. Theme parks are expensive ways to entertain a family. The best are worth every dime, and I intend to do what I can with the space The Times provides me to cajole and inspire our local parks to rise to that level.

Please do not hesitate to let me, or my editors at The Times, know what you think about my coverage--whether you like it and want more, or hate it and want less. I encourage you to write to The Times about any of its coverage, in fact.

Of course, as with anything, short, thoughtful, original letters with concrete examples will elicit the best response. But journalists, at any publication, need to know what their community thinks about their coverage. Don't be shy.

From Kevin Baxter
Posted October 4, 2002 at 12:42 PM
I can't agree more with what is wrong with Flik's. I won't see it in person until next Friday, but it is still just a bunch of carnival rides. Even the water area, which holds the most interest for me also, looks far too small. Call me spoiled, but Curious George Goes to Town has it all over Flik's, at least in execution. And it can't be very expensive, so why not go down the play area road? The Trails over by the rapids ride is one of the few well-reviewed attractions in DCA, so why go back to the carnival stuff that has gotten them so much grief. Oh wait! The Soap Opera Bistro is supposed to turn into a play area. Sigh...

As for the Disney Dorks, I just don't get what IOA being Number One has to do with why Robert's opinion is unimportant. One of the many reasons as to why IOA is up there is because it has done a good job on EVERYTHING. Their thrill rides are highly rated, but most of their play areas have gotten good scores also. And if they actually bothered to give IOA a chance, they would see that Camp Jurassic beats the stuffing out of any play area Disney has to offer. Especially marginal stuff like Mickey's House and Donald's Boat.

My biggest problem with the DDs is this attitude. Disney can create a big steaming pile and they will defend it. Undoubtedly Disney execs spend lots of time on those boards also, and if they see loving comments about stuff like this, then they will just whip out another steaming pile next time.

I do hope that the Times continues to allow Robert to stop the puff-piecery that goes on when a park creates something new. The Times reaches a lot of people, and if Disney wants excellent reviews for all those people, then it will have to go out and earn them. Then we can ALL benefit, including those of us without the rose-colored glasses.

From Francois Chan
Posted October 4, 2002 at 5:54 PM
Robert brings up a good IS Universal Hollywood rated so high at this site?

On a more serious note, I am curious now...I'd like to see some of these "Disney" sites and hear what you're reacting so vehemently against. Post me some websites?

From David Klawe
Posted October 4, 2002 at 11:46 PM
For those who are interested, here are a few threads talking about Robert Niles' Los Angeles Times article

From Kevin Baxter
Posted October 5, 2002 at 2:23 AM
Just check out USH's ratings. There may not be a lot at the park, but the vast majority of the attractions are getting 7s, 8s and 9s. Except for the dreadful ET ride, they all deserve the grades. If not higher. Why the tram ride only gets an 8 is beyond me. There is no attraction out there that can compare to what it offers. T2 deserves its 9. Jurassic Park deserves its 8. BTTF deserves its 7. I don't see any other outlandish grades on there. In fact, the Spidey show is seriously dragging it down now.

USH is not a bad park. It has three world-class attractions and another that still is, but is showing its age. Busch Gardens Tampa sure doesn't have that many spectacular attractions and people don't bitch about it all the time.

So USH has a bunch of shows. So do the SeaWorlds. Where's the bitching there? What about Disney/MGM? Show city! And it is Number Two!

I would be the first one to say that USH needs help. But it is leagues beyond DCA and even with Knotts' recent additions, it still beats that. Some would even say it is even better than Magic Mountain. Next year it will have Shrek. After that it will probably have Men in Black. I think those would make this a great park. Not USF, by any means, but it would definitely deserve a place in the Top 10. There are many parks out there that need far more than two attractions to become good parks.

From Robert Niles
Posted October 5, 2002 at 10:23 AM
On Francois's post, I'm not reacting vehemently against any post from another site. I did think the guy who wrote that IOA wasn't themed was wrong--as did other people on that poster's own board. But I'll leave the venom on that issue to Kevin. ;-)

Here's one other point I'd like to address, though. (Hey, here's the advantage to posting over here as opposed to one of those other sites. You can talk to the guy who wrote the original review!) And that's whether or not my review would have been so harsh had DCA been a better park.

Good question. After thinking about that for a bit, I'd say... no, it wouldn't have been.

A theme park attraction, unlike a movie or play, needs to be considered in the context of its surrounding park. After all, people pay to get into the park as a whole, and rarely do they have to pay for a single attraction.

Had DCA included several good attractions for kids, Flik's wouldn't be carrying the load for the park. (Remember that in the video, Kathy Mangum does concede that DCA before Flik's didn't have much for kids to do.) Furthermore, had DCA included several great attractions, the rather disappointing Flik's would have been an aberration, rather than the continuation of a disturbing trend.

None of this changes my opinion about Flik's Fun Fair. But if you'd dropped that attraction into Disneyland circa 1995, for example, the tone of the piece would have changed to something like "This isn't that great. Don't plan a special visit. But if you're coming to see Pirates, etc. already and there's no wait, you won't have a bad time if you try it."

And there'd have been no need to comment on Disney management, because there'd have been no trend toward cheaper, less imaginative attractions that I felt The Times needed to decry.

Keep in mind that I wasn't writing for The Times when DCA first opened, and no one ever reviewed DCA as a theme park. (The Times sent its architecture critic to file an architecture review instead.) So this was the paper's first chance to review the park.

From Kevin Baxter
Posted October 5, 2002 at 2:05 PM
I have to agree with the reasoning behind your review. It was like Pooh opening at MK. It's an okay ride. Not as good as Cat in the Hat, but not bad. Had that been put into DCA, it would have seemed worse. DCA needs bigger and better so the mid-level rides and attractions are going to be treated like unwanted stepchildren. Which is why many of us are worried what will happen with the scaled-down DCA version of ToT!

From Robert Niles
Posted October 5, 2002 at 4:30 PM
Well, I intend to review Pooh when it opens at Disneyland, and Tower of Terror when it opens at California Adventure. So I guess we'll see what happens with those.

From Anonymous
Posted October 5, 2002 at 4:35 PM
Paul Pressler made the kind of business decisions that hit the customer right between the eyes. I vividly remember an event where my 4-year-old son desperately wanted to ride on an attraction that had “been closed for the day”. The looking on his face was disconsolate. We live in Southern California—so at least he was marginally appeased with “maybe next time.” Can you imagine a family from the Midwest scrimping together enough stones to make their one-and-only lifetime trip to Disneyland only to find themselves standing in my shoes that day. I can and did imagine it—as I stood there staring blankly at the sign.

That is when I first realized that Walt’s beloved wonderland was ruined. Whatever magic was left was a slave to the bottom-line. I used to love to go to the park; we went nearly every week or two one summer. My opinion of that business has been shattered. I will never again go there expecting that they are going to do the right thing. I know that the vision that created that wonderful world has been lost—and that no one is interested in restoring my faith in the wonderment of that place.

As a consumer I am going to speak with my wallet. I am going to go there and spend with great trepidation and only in a very discretionary way. It was not so long ago that I dropped a couple hundred bucks nearly every trip. Those days are no more—I will be extremely judicious in expending funds both inside and around the park. I think I speak for a lot of my friends and fellow passholders who have expressed to me pretty much the same concerns.

We who live in California are the folks who drive the financial day-to-day influx of dollars into that operation. If you lose our trust and faith in Walt’s original vision—and some of us are old enough to remember 1955—you will lose those people who have been consistently pouring dollars onto the balance sheet for the past 50 years. The business as it stands will fail.

From Francois Chan
Posted October 5, 2002 at 9:45 PM
David Klawe,

Thanks for posting those websites--I'll admit I haven't read much from other themepark sites, but, from what I've always heard here, I expected the "Disney Dorks" to be more irrational, but they seemed fairly normal to me.


I admit "vehemently" was a stronger word choice than I wanted to use--I just meant that I wanted to see what articles you were reacting to...just out of curiousity...

From Kevin Baxter
Posted October 6, 2002 at 2:03 AM
Just because they posted on a Disney website doesn't make them Disney Dorks. I used to post on a site that was teeming with DDs but the majority were still just fans. DDs are called DDs BECAUSE they are irrational. The normal ones are Disney Fans. (The person with the pathetic "IOA has no theming" post IS a DD though.)

From Anonymous
Posted October 6, 2002 at 6:46 PM
I checked out, and some of those posters are true Disney Dorks. One went as far as to say the review of Flicks should have been good because... (sit down) "the reporter got in for free". With that kind of logic every movie in the world should get a good review. That is like saying Hitler's behavior would have been justifiable, if he had just bought everybody lunch first. Okay I'm going overboard, but the point is, she was throwing journalistic integrity out the window just to defend Disney. Even worse, nobody called her on it!They don't need to go to Fantasy Land they live there! TPI might not be that "Disney Friendly", but from what I can tell that's Disney's fault. Disney let quality slide and raised prices. Those are facts.Kevin, Robert, and the other TPI posters live in the real world.

From Mr. Pheneix
Posted October 6, 2002 at 7:53 PM
>>>I checked out, and some of those posters are true Disney Dorks<<<

MouseInfo is a very "weird" site. They even have a "columnist" there who works for Disney who claims to have inside info. Now, the columnist in question does work for Disney, I have no doubt of that, but as I understand it this person is a company shill, plain and simple.

It is kind of sad though, because this columnist, the webmaster, and several other "columnists" have degraded the reputations of countless individuals, theme parks (to include Disneyland and Islands of Adventure), and other Disney products to make excuses for DCA's complete and utter failure. It's all lies and completely off base, but if it makes the Dorks feel happy, then so be it. The rest of us will be there to laugh when the circle of dorks is crying over DCA's overhaul into a new and exciting park 10 years from now.

From Kevin Baxter
Posted October 6, 2002 at 11:49 PM
I wouldn't hold out much hope on DCA being a good park ten years from now. Look at the glacial pace that Disney is taking with it. In late 2003 the park will have been open for almost FOUR years and will have added a whopping three permanent attractions (we will clump the carny rides in Flik's together). Meanwhile they have closed Superstar Limo and countless restaurants. Worse, there is little on the horizon after ToT opens. Unless they get to work on the remaining parking lot and FILL IT ALL AT ONCE WITH E-TICKETS! Then work on the crappy remaining section while people are discovering the new stuff. Will Disney do that? Doubtful!

From Francois Chan
Posted October 7, 2002 at 2:32 AM
I've been continuing to visit and now I realize that there are, indeed, "Disney dorks" who are quite blinded by their fanatic loyalty to Disney.

It's funny how a person can ignore Robert's comments on the basis of the argument that, "Don't forget the guy who wrote this article also runs, not exactly a Disney site from what I've heard."

It's also too bad that it seems this site is perceived as being anti-Disney and not as neutral as it strives to be.

Anyway, I guess I wasn't adding anything intelligent that hasn't already been said--I just wanted to make the observations...

From Robert Niles
Posted October 7, 2002 at 9:41 AM
Neutrality lies in the eye of the judge.

Basically, people perceive something as "neutral," "fair," "impartial" or "balanced" if they agree with it. Anything else must be biased.

That's why right-wingers in the U.S. buy the fiction that the ultra-conservative Fox News is "fair and balanced," for example, while the generally pro-business and mildly conservative CNN is "liberal."

Next to and Intercot, Theme Park Insider must look pretty hostile to these Disney fans. Perhaps that could be one sign that a reader's gone too far and become, in the words of this other thread, a "Disney Dork."

From Kevin Baxter
Posted October 7, 2002 at 1:02 PM
I just don't get why so many people can't accept other people's opinions without having to get into such childish behavior. So what if someone says something bad about something you like. GET OVER IT! As long as someone isn't spreading lies, or being overly malicious, then DEAL WITH IT! Now had Robert said that Flik's has no theming whatsoever, then maybe people could claim there was an obvious anti-Disney bias there. But since they couldn't find anything like that, they have to fall back on that witless chestnut of how someone is anti-Disney. Lord, some of these people are anti-intelligence!

From Jason Herrera
Posted October 7, 2002 at 1:28 PM
Have to like that websites have taken time to comment on your article... Hey Robert, how you going to top this? :)

Not to mention this articles been mentioned on other websites, with even more cheap shots at Robert... I have a question for Robert. Have you recieved any e-mails from any of these people? Either Pro or Con, e-mails?

On the good side of things you did get to spend a day with the family, can't downplay that...

Hey Kevin Baxter, this Friday, you'll be at California Adventure? If so, um... I'll get back to you...

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