Watching some of the various panels from last weekend’s Star War Celebration, with some teases of what guests may expect when the updated theme parks open in California and Orlando, I was reminded of a few things from the past. Indulge me for a moment and then let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

First, as neat as all of the promised gadgets, area theming and guest interactions in these promotional extravaganzas may be, enjoy them while they last. Odds are pretty good that they won’t last as Imagineering intended much beyond the initial summer push for the area. One need look no further than a problematic Yeti or even something as simple as the “streetmosphere” characters to see that once these areas are turned over to operations, the ugliness of practical budgets will eventually be the rule of the day. “No bucks, no Buck Rogers.”

Image Disney

One example? On my recent visit to the Magic Kingdom in Florida, a ride on the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters attraction had no active animation on any of the targets that junior space rangers were shooting at. As compared to the similar Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin in Anaheim, where I was hard pressed to find any of the animated targets not functioning as they had on previous visits. A little thing for guests, but a problematic budget item that can be reduced or eliminated by a sharp pencil wielded by a low level manager looking to shine in eyes above that pay grade.

Image Disney

How about something from the not too distant past? Toontown at Disneyland is home to the Jolly Trolley. Well, it used to be… now it’s home to the stroller catching streetcar tracks. As for the Trolley? It’s not quite so jolly. First having lost the second streetcar and then the eccentric motion that made the cars bounce and roll along there short rides from downtown Toontown out to Mickey’s home and back, the remaining on-stage trolley car became a photo op location, then a Disney Vacation Club kiosk, and now it’s just a glorified park bench.

Guests to Disney California Adventure’s Buena Vista Street may not have noticed, but the cast of characters that once called it home, seem to be fewer in number and maybe limited in time on stage. To be sure, they were a small cast to begin with, but budgets being what troublesome things they are, labor is a simple target. Especially when that actor or musician makes more per hour and doesn’t generate the revenue of an outdoor vending cast member selling various edible or otherwise consumable products. Even the characters working the variety of photo opportunities around the Parks generate income through PhotoPass images sold. So, it doesn’t take a genius Accountanteer to see whose hours will get cut or eliminated when the call comes from Burbank to economize and make the spreadsheet look good for the end of quarter investor calls.

Yeah, I can rattle on and point out more examples, such as operating Splash Mountain with mostly frozen animatronics, Indiana Jones with the same door and soundtrack most of the time, faded hills and buildings in ToonTown, diminishing menus at once vaunted establishments . . . you get the point (and can probably offer even better examples below). It’s a tried and true practice that the folks at Imagineering will create something that looks good and amazes guests for a while. Then it gets turned over to park operations and to put it bluntly, things change. Recall the detailed windows that Imagineers art directed to great applause for the opening of Buena Vista Street. Once merchandising got full control, out went some of those great details and in came the t-shirts and plush toys. The same stuff that is always for sale all over the resort in Anaheim, not to mention online. Or how about the late lamented Buena Vista Bugle? A cute little bit of newsprint that that mimicked the daily newspapers that once were such a part of life in the big city (not to mention the one Walt Disney himself offered on Main Street USA). Gone, all in the name of the balancing that is income and expenses.

I know, I am the first to say that a Disney theme park changes from visit to visit; not a thing preserved in amber. Yet, would it really hurt that much if everyone tried to keep those little things that make for such a good show out where guests can see them? Because those are the gems, the extra sparkle that gives Disney a boost. When it works just right, those details make the magic shine. But when they don’t, it’s just another sad reminder of how things used to be.

“All too easy…”

So, which Star Wars land will shine and which one will be the first to start cutting corners? Click To Tweet
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Roger Colton has been a fan of trains all his life. With family in the business of railroading it was only natural. He has volunteered at railway museums in California, Nevada and Hawaii. Along the way he has operated steam, diesel and electric trains as well as being involved in a number of restoration projects. As part of a great team, he offers tours on chartered private railroad passenger cars at Private Car Service. He is also a member of the Southern California Railroad Museum and was involved with several railway excursions the Carolwood Society operated. Disney is only one of many interests as well as trains. Others include history of the American West, World War II aircraft, classic film and television, and collecting/trading Disney pins. His online world included managing a member community for AOL, participation in various newsgroups and websites. He also writes his own blog - - on a variety of topics.