Be Our Guest… and the Iger Sanction

Fantasyland is in full-time previews now: passholders, DVC, cast members, D23–pretty much every slice of the population. In general I like this approach, but I wish they had let the CMs see it before the regular public. It should be a perk of working there. If they need to let test audiences see it for a super-soft opening, then spread the word that CMs alone can get in. The news will spread soon enough.

I’d seen everything in the new land on previous soft openings, before the ‘regular’ previews began (and access was controlled), but this weekend on my D23 preview I got to experience Be Our Guest, the sit down restaurant. They spared no expense in making this look expensive. The food is good, though you should expect Disney-sized prices.

The area photographs well day OR night.

The restaurant is set into the stone under the Beast’s castle, and the archway entrance reminds many folks (including me) of the Harry Potter attraction from Universal. Inside are gargoyles, suits of armor, tapestries, and other such authentic-looking trappings.

The main ballroom is visually stunning. Elegant chandeliers (I hope those stay cobweb-free!) are suspended next to apparent frescoes. Those cherubs look more diverse (multi-racial) than you usually see in European castles and palaces, and their faces/hairdos look aged enough that I wonder if they are meant to represent the Imagineering team that worked on this. Someone email me if you know!

Orchestrated versions of the film’s songs play on a loop discreetly.
Are those Imagineers’ faces?

The far end of the ballroom ends on big windows; and a look outside shows it’s nighttime, and snowing (courtesy of projections). The snow drifts down, but every so often the wind will blow it sideways — a nice touch. Awesome, in fact. Perhaps more than anything else, this makes it feel not only like a Disney eatery, but a particularly magical one. I’d say “enchanting,” but that has special meaning for the movie that provides the source material, and there aren’t any animatronics like that.

That particular lack did disappoint me slightly. I seem to recall that some very early concepts made it look like a live-action version of the song in Philharmagic, with a table coming alive. Like the Tiki Room was originally meant to be: food AND an attraction. I stopped following the news and spoilers – I don’t like spoilers – so my guess is that this was shelved a long time ago?

The West Wing room’s darker and foreboding, so I was kind of glad I ate in the main ballroom. The projection of a rose shedding pedals was neat. Did the Beast’s (technically, Prince Adam’s) portrait light up or do anything? If so, I missed it.

There’s apparently a Hidden Mickey in one of the tapestries here somewhere.

There’s a lunch room off to the side. It felt a lot like the hotel dining rooms we saw in Paris, only more  detailed. The paintings and tapestries were more cheerful–a good word to describe the vibe in this room in general (versus stately for the ballroom and rather foreboding for the West Wing). The spinning sculpture of a dancing Beast and Belle was carved from a single piece of wood, an amazing effort.

We visited at dinner-time, so I don’t know yet how lunch works, but I do see a drink cell. Does that mean you can get free refills here? If so, it will be the first place in the Magic Kingdom to offer that.

I suspect I will eat lunch here often.

We agreed that dinner was tasty and elegant. I particularly liked the $15 cured meats platter appetizer-for-two. My entree was the shrimp and scallops in lobster cream sauce (heavy, tasty, a bit seafood-y) and my wife had the pork chop (a touch dry and unflavored, but the nearby beans were good and the macaroni was great).

Shrimp and scallops. Filling!

If you haven’t heard yet, there is a “Grey Stuff” dessert (you know, — Lumiere sings about it in the song?). It’s free and not on the menu, so keep in mind that they will only bring it if you ask for it AND you are celebrating something (like a birthday, etc). Adds new urgency to picking up a button from City Hall on the way in, eh? This oreo-tasting mousse is really good.

Don’t believe me? Ask the dishes!

As always, I’ve created more complete photo tour on my other blog–be sure to have a glance!


So much has been said online already about Disney’s purchase of LucasFilm (including LucasArts video games and ILM special effects studio) for $4 billion, that in some ways it’s hard to say anything new. Then again, the sheer volume of fan interest has itself become the story. For the merger of Disney and Star Wars is surely the biggest nerdgasm of the century. I count myself among the number of folks who dearly love both brands, and think this latest development is amazingly positive on pretty much every level.

It occurs to me that Douglas Adams was right. This author of the famous Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books once wrote in the lesser-known Dirk Gently books that invention looks easy in hindsight. He used the humorous example of the catflap (doggie door)—it looks amazingly simple in retrospect, but SOMEONE had to have that initial idea, and that person had “vision.” This Disney-Star Wars merger falls into this category. In hindsight, it looks obvious, so obvious that one wonders why it wasn’t done before. Is Iger just that person with vision?

Maybe. Certainly he didn’t inspire when he was new, and very much in Michael Eisner’s shadow. But then acquisition after acquisition, Bob has proved he played to win. Pixar, Avengers, Lucasfilm—those are big names. As big as Eisner’s ABC, ESPN, Power Rangers (oops)? Eisner played with networks, Iger plays with brands (movie-based brands). For what it’s worth, it appears that Iger’s vision is closer to Walt’s, who used movie-based brands as the basis of the theme park attractions. (Though if we’re being honest, we need to remember television played a big role Disneyland’s acceptance by the public, and some of the material was popularized by TV rather than feature films).

One thing I like about Iger: he knows how to keep a secret. In this hyper-connected world, it seems improbable that a mega-deal can stay under wraps. One single twitter leak would doom it. Yet here was Iger, not once but three times (four if you count the Avatar announcement for DAK) showing up out of nowhere with a megadeal. It kind of reminds me of the ending of the Godfather films, when sudden action rips across the screen in rapid-fire order, also seemingly coming from nowhere. Iger even looks a bit like Michael Corleone, right?!

Or maybe it’s not Iger’s vision. Maybe his timing was just right. Lucasfilm joins Disney for $4 billion, which sounds like a lot of scratch until you consider how much money Lucas makes each year (let alone in a year when a Star Wars movie opens in theaters). The merchandising alone is amazing. In many, many ways, so the consensus seems to be that Disney got the property for cheap. Why is that? One answer is that Lucas trusts the Disney Company and management and wants to leave his legacy with someone he has worked with. Undoubtedly true. It’s also true that there are only so many companies that can write a check (and stock deal) for $4 billion, so Lucas’s options were limited.

But beyond all that, I suspect Lucas was just ready to quit. He got beaten up pretty badly in the press and in the popular consciousness by reaction to the prequel trilogy, and that can’t be fun for anyone. Why not cash out now while he can? I respect that. I also respect that he was the man who created the mythos to begin with. Complain as we might about Jar Jar (and even Ewoks, if you’re as old as I am), the fact remains that George dreamed up the whole shebang, and it seems obvious only in retrospect. Catflap, indeed. Let’s all pause for a moment to give the man a debt of gratitude.

Hopefully this is only the beginning!

No one knows yet whether George will be involved in the future films. Episode 7 is due in 2015. Count me among those who would love to see Lucas confined to an advisory role, neither writing nor directing the next movies. Like many, I was blown away by the Avengers movie. If they do to Star Wars what Avengers did to Marvel characters… I can’t even finish the sentence. It’s too much to contemplate. My bank account would not survive such a temptation. (Disclosure: I saw Star Wars seven times in theaters in 1977, and have not come close to such devotion since—but I quake in fear that Episode 7 might do it to me. Are my expectations already too high?)

Closer to my usual topic, the theme parks stand to benefit as well. It must be stated that the movies certainly make more money than theme park attractions do (and merchandise still more), but there still seems to be call for some kind of theme park expansion. Apparently nothing is in the works now (remember: all of this came out of the blue!) Imagineers were caught off guard as much as you or I. But rest assured, they are frantically dreaming away now, and pitching ideas left and right for theme park implementations. Might we see a full revamp of DHS to make significant portions (up to half?) of the park turn to the Star Wars universe? Could we someday visit the rebel base on Hoth, or the Mos Eisley Cantina? I can’t even finish speculating. I’m enjoying the anticipation again.

The other question coming to mind is “Could Disney build a fifth theme park in Orlando just for Star Wars?” Well, sure, from a land perspective. There are expansion pads of theme park size between MK and Epcot (near the STOLport) and north of DAK. But would Disney do that? The financials seem to suggest that a fifth park wouldn’t extend vacations by extra days, and may in fact cannibalize visits to other existing Disney parks.

Obviously, that’s not desired. What they want is something that will get people to spend more money. Maybe a “boutique” park might work? Imagine something that costs extra – maybe a LOT extra – and not included with the parkhopper option. A comparable example would be SeaWorld’s Discovery Cove, and its limited daily attendance. Would you pay $150/day to visit all the Star Wars themed environments (Dagobah, Geonosis, Hoth, Coruscant, Mustafar, Naboo, Tatooine) in a single day? I might. The allure is that strong.

Star Tours logo

Yes, dear friends, THIS is the Potter-Swatter. Just when Universal is nearing its crescendo with Transformers and the second Potter phase, Disney swoops in with possibly the one and only thing that might make Universal look second-fiddle again. It will be a few years until we see Star Wars in the theme parks, but rest assured that we will.

Big caveat here: there’s an 8-million pound elephant in the room, and that’s Disney’s traditional penny-pinching with theme park budgets. A *small* rollout of Star Wars themed environments would have all the charm of the International Drive version of the Titanic walkthrough (in other words, not much). If Disney elects to do the “bare minimum” for Star Wars, it will be no Potter-Swatter.

But if Disney swings for the fences? When they reach, they can achieve things no other company can rival. The Cars Land expansion in DCA is proof positive that even the most toxic of Disney park experiences can become transcendent. I fervently hope that when it comes, it will sweep all of us off our feet with its breathtaking audacity and pure awesomeness.

Michael Corleone, eat your heart out.

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