There have been whispers for some time now that Disney’s Hollywood Studios (DHS) at Disney World would get its own Cars Land, and rumors erupted anew last week. There was a different intensity this time, with known insiders on message boards saying it would happen. Lights, Motors, Action (LMA) and presumably the Backlot Tour are on the chopping block if everything really does go forward, but remember that we are very much in the preliminary phase of explorations.

Even if these rumors are true (and I’ve heard nothing directly one way or another myself from inside sources), then we’re dealing with the “blue sky” phase of development, when ideas are freely kicked around and proposed, but no project has been fully greenlit and no budget apart from seed money for explorations will have been approved.

Let’s say that plans do proceed and some version of Radiator Springs Racers (RSR) comes to Florida. Will it be the entire Cars Land, or just RSR? No one knows, but the available acreage at DHS apparently is enough to handle the entire Cars Land as built in DCA (perhaps configuring the main street a bit differently).

Would Team Disney Orlando (TDO) “cheap out” like they often do, and only include a part of the experience? Could that mean just RSR but no Cars Land? Or maybe it will mean RSR but without the entire mountain range. I certainly hope they don’t go that route. That way lies madness. The awesomeness of the ride derives at least in part, maybe even in large part, from the fact that you are driving in front of, around, and through a freaking mountain range that they built by hand. Take that away and the ride is highly neutralized. Not completely, but it would lose something.

Cars Land mountain range
Yes, that's a man-made mountain range in the background. Yes, it's what makes it awesome.

What about the fact that RSR uses the same technology as Test Track? You can’t have two slot car rides in the same resort, right? This argument is used sometimes to explain why Indiana Jones Adventure from Disneyland has never been added to DHS–there is already an attraction at WDW that uses the same ride vehicle system (Dinosaur). But I don’t really buy this argument, for Indy or for RSR. It’s a Small World and Pirates of the Caribbean use the same ride design, and there are a whole lot of busbar-type dark rides along the lines of Winnie the Pooh at Disneyland.

More pressing is the issue of Florida weather. I’m sure they can build a mountain range to withstand a hurricane (although maybe not, if the Tree of Life is still falling apart). It’s the rain and lightning I’m thinking about. Test Track closes often in the summers due to lightning, and RSR would have the same problem. Would they enclose the whole ride to avoid this problem? Could be a good solution, but then you won’t see those awesome mountains and the ride becomes more run of the mill than it would have otherwise.

Doc Hudson in RSR
The animatronic cars are admittedly a big draw for the ride.

The show producer for Cars Land in DCA was moved over to WDW about a month ago. There was no announcement about what Kathy Mangum would do at WDW, but the timing certainly seems right if they are exploring a Cars Land or RSR expansion to DHS.

Here’s a hiccup: if they do demolish Lights Motors Action (LMA) for this new ride/land, that would likely mean a bunch of tangled red tape with the LMA sponsor, Brawny. Would they have to pay back the sponsorship money?

And some folks are saying (who knows how accurate this is) that John Lasseter and Disneyland Resort executives are all very much against RSR and Cars Land being cloned at WDW. They feel that the uniqueness of the area is a big draw, and DCA needs a big draw that the other parks can’t replicate. I have to say, I do agree with this logic. Poor DCA can’t catch a break. It finally gets a bona fide breakthrough hit, the sort of thing that makes people want to make the cross-country trek just to see it, and now there is talk about removing that uniqueness.

queue of RSR
It's not Calico ghost town, but it's the next best thing

You can see why WDW and TDO might be very interested in replicating Cars Land. It’s minting money over there in DCA, and it’s driving attendance like never before–reportedly exceeding even very optimistic expectations. And TDO is getting increasingly nervous about Universal. Not only is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter setting records, but there is a Potter expansion happening in the other park, basically doubling the size of the Potter theme park universe. Universal is also building Transformers at the same park, ratcheting this park up to a Magic Kingdom-style level of E-ticket rides.

Disney looks like it’s standing still in comparison. Its Fantasyland expansion looks anemic by comparison, and that vaunted Pandora expansion to DAK is both years away and so quiet that some people wonder if it will ever be built at all. Disney needs a Potter-swatter, and Fantasyland ain’t it.

Use the Farce

One idea often touted as the only real possible Potter swatter is a Star Wars land. If done right, it could put us Star Wars geeks on cloud nine… of Bespin. We’d be over the Endor moon! Imagine visiting the Mos Eisley cantina for real and drinking bubbling blue alcoholic drinks–who could resist? Every biosphere imaginable (forest, desert, ice, cloud, water, city) has its own planet in the Star Wars universe–could anything be MORE perfect for a theme park?

For the longest time, I assumed the problem was money. I figured that Lucas wanted more than Disney was willing to pay (who to blame in that equation would be hard to ascertain, though, absent actually being a fly on the wall during those negotiations).

But I realized this month that I’ve been wrong all this time. I have a new answer. Namely, George Lucas has turned to the dark side. By that, I don’t mean he’s become greedy. Ironically, greed would be good, since at least there’s a magic number that would satisfy such a person. Instead, what I mean is that Lucas has turned to satire.

Satire has long been a part of the Star Wars universe, but it’s always been on the periphery. Troops, the knockoff of the Cops TV show, was made without Lucas’s blessing (he apparently loved it). Robot Chicken, the pre-eminent satire of all things culture (especially science fiction and especially Star Wars), has been around since 2005, and its stop-motion gags captured the zeitgeist of the country. People seemed to like their Star Wars with a helping of irony.

Or maybe with a helping of cheese. Witness the increasing success of Star Wars Weekends at DHS in general, and the cheesy Hyperspace Hoopla in particular. The show doesn’t take Star Wars seriously; it lampoons it (lovingly, carefully, and always with reverence and fun). Disney has been doing this for some time. Did you see the hilarious ads showing an impatient Darth Vader waiting out his day at Disneyland until Star Tours was open? Because it’s FUNNY to see iconic Star Wars characters do anything mundane and everyday.

That’s all fine and good, but none of it was canon. The satirists often said plainly and visibly that they hoped George Lucas wouldn’t sue them. Well, they can rest easy. Lucas has joined them. The new show coming this fall called Star Wars Detours was previewed at the recent Celebration VI convention, and it’s very much like Robot Chicken, even made by the same people. It’s not stop-motion, but CGI animation, but otherwise the tone and irreverence is the same. And this time, it’s sanctioned by Lucas.

If you looked around the Orlando convention hall that weekend, you would have seen lots and lots of people dressed up as their favorite Star Wars character. But you’d also have seen oodles of people dressed up in some kind of mashup: Star Wars plus Muppets, Star Wars plus Ghostbusters, Star Wars plus disco. It’s irony they’re after, obviously, and the post-modern mentality means by necessity that they aren’t taking the real thing that seriously anymore.

I never heard this stormtrooper exclaim "WOMAN!" ... but I kept expecting it
Staying alive!
Themed to local university, UCF
Inspired by the Disney-Star Wars mashup advertising used for Star Wars Weekends
Ghostbusters? Look at what he's carrying: It's a trap!
"I see your Schwarz is as big as mine"
It's the Burger King! Sort of.

Here’s an irony: the most “pure” Star Wars stuff is now coming out of the fans, such as the famous 501st Legion of costume-players. If you put the 501st in charge of making a Star Wars land in DHS, you’d have something immersive, awesome, and realistic looking. But to judge by Detours (if not the various cosplay at the convention), Lucas himself would deliver a Star Wars land that lampoons the series rather than celebrates (let alone expand) it. That would spell trouble indeed for DHS. That would be no Potter-swatter.

Air Cooling?

Cousin Orville rigged up a contraption in Carousel of Progress he called “air cooling” that involved a desk fan and a block of ice. We know it better as air conditioning nowadays, and it’s a real requirement here in Central Florida. The place is a sweltering swamp left to its own devices, and it’s definitely so bad that no one would come here if they had to endure its natural temperatures.

So it’s pure folly that Disney appears to be tinkering with the air conditioning. In an attempt to expend less energy (and save money?), the company has been making some indoor areas less air conditioned. I noticed this some time ago on Spaceship Earth, when it got really bad, but a few years ago it leveled off at a tolerable level. Not as cold as before, but not as hot as they experimented with.

Two weekends ago I felt another “experiment” in ImageWorks, the post-show area of Imagination. It was stuffy and almost hot in there, and definitely unpleasant. Was it a broken air conditioner? I doubt it–I checked again seven days later, and it was still largely warm there rather than pleasant (the area under the glass pyramid was even worse). A colleague with me said he had heard Cast Members discussing this trend of reduced air conditioning recently, so I think it’s a fair bet they are seeing what they can get away it.

Make no bones about it: this stinks. It reeks of executives making decisions based on REPORTS rather than experience. If they live life in a cubicle at 75 degrees, I’m sure they wonder why the thermostats at ImageWorks have to be set all the way down to 70 degrees. “Why not bring them up to 75? Why not 77?” they must be asking themselves. After all, they feel chilly after a whole day at 75, so surely we can realize cost savings and environment savings by adjusting the thermostats out in the parks, too. I have a message for such executives: GO VISIT YOUR PARK LIKE THE VISITORS! If you stumble around Epcot during September (let alone August or July) all day, the last thing you want is a room chilled to 77 degrees. You want colder. Seventy-seven might cut it when you’re sitting in a cubicle all day, but it’s not what tourists need when they are in the parks all day. The executives who actually visit the parks on their days off already know this.

I suppose if they make it unpleasant enough, I can always wait a few months and then go have a cold butterbeer while I wait in line for the Gringott’s roller coaster. Since they have so many ex-Imagineers working to design and build the rides for Universal Creative now, the quality is top-notch. And I’ve seen no attempt by Universal to ratchet down their air conditioning.

Star Wars Celebration VI

The aforementioned Star Wars Celebration VI was a great enough event on its own (disclosure: I attended  with a provided media badge, but my wife bought her own four-day pass). There’s a little bit of everything here. You can get signatures and/or photographs from the stars (headliners this time were Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher), browse the vendors’ booths, attend panels and screenings, ogle props or fan-created droids, and a million other activities in between. Costume play (cosplay) was and remains a big part of the experience. Those aren’t dressed up seem preoccupied with photographing those who are, and there is a startling lack of personal barriers on this front. Many people flash skin (surprising) and they seem to turn exhibitionist at this event, willing to let strangers photograph them (even more surprising). Slave Leia is the mother prototype here, but there are all sorts of variations on this theme. It occurred to me that to a large extent, what we’re witnessing here is a fan event, where fans dress up to impress other fans.

Disney doesn’t have an exact clone of this model, though a few celebrity podcasters do attract a fan base big enough to warrant a comparison. There’s no cosplay, of course (though it WOULD be rather droll to see which women – and men – could pull off a Slave Leia look). But there is the same practice of fans interacting with other fans – call it “inter-fandom.” At the end of the day, that’s what becomes the focus for many fans: connections and personal relationships. Like Star Wars, Disney breeds fans worthy of the name “fanatic”, and I’m glad there are D23 Expos and Destination D conventions to provide a venue for the fandom, and “inter-fandom” that inevitably arises. We may not see as much cosplay yet in the Disney universe, but the Star Wars universe is showing us the way. I suspect more is coming.

Hey, uh, there's a wampa behind you!
Will the real Artoo please stand up - please stand up - please stand up
Try as we might, GONK didn't actually accept our Premier Pass or spit out any FastPasses


We’d like to invite you to just us for a FREE fun-filled scavenger hunt game celebrating Epcot’s 30th Anniversary.  The Quest, designed by Kevin Yee, is fun for the whole family and will take place on the Mexico side of World Showcase from 3:30pm until 6:30pm on September 29th, 2012.  Create a team of 1-4 people, and compete for the title of biggest Epcot geek. Fun prizes will be awarded to the winning teams.

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