Something different today…

A long time ago… In a place far far away (from Florida) an executive retreat was convened.

For those unfamiliar with the term “executive retreat,” let me explain: it’s a way for people who are already somewhat removed from the day to day interaction with their customers to add the element of physical distancing from their workplaces to get even further away from them.

Many of these gatherings are held in premium priced venues, where attendees dine on poultry normally found in joke shops and swill copious quantities of adult beverages as they try to avoid contact with anyone outside of the series of cubicles they normally inhabit.  In order for their employers to pay for these gatherings, a series of tasks are assigned to all attendees. Completion of said tasks allows for more meal opportunities and before they know it they are back in their cubicles again avoiding customers just as before.

For customers of such company, the assigned tasks at these gatherings usually have very little effect upon them. Ideas sketched out on napkins from left field are found to be impractical, business plans from underlings gunning for their jobs end up at the bottom of briefcases, and hopefully a few pillows cushion the fall backwards that was supposed to be cushioned by a coworker who suddenly had trust issues.

Occasionally the instigators of such events change up the schedule a bit and ask everyone involved in the “executive retreat” to come up with a creative idea. For customers of said company this almost always means trouble, as said creative ideas cause billions of dollars in profits to evaporate and Internet gadflies have a field day.

Many regular readers of this column first encountered the trouble these “executive retreats” can cause back when Disneyland in Anaheim announced the results of a “retreat” dedicated to increasing the revenues from its adjacent parking lot. A shopkeeper and a schoolteacher were inexplicably chosen to master plan a major expansion of the Disneyland property with their visions of inexpensively constructed shops and restaurants in an environment designed to look like the state of California (in the very same state).

Rides would be sprinkled into the mix sparingly, wherever possible replaced by films featuring company contract players. “Hip and Edgy” they demanded the park would be, so Mickey Mouse wasn’t going to be allowed on property, and the one live show would feature Finding Nemo fish-head hatted dancers grabbing their crotches.

After almost a decade of empty walkways and a couple of billion dollars later, the schoolteacher and shopkeeper have moved on, the parking lot ended up with a few more cars back in it, a few rides were finally built, and the once still entry turnstiles began to spin with paying customers.

So now I find myself seeing history repeat itself as Disney confirms their deal with Jim Cameron and his Avatar franchise in this interview from the Orlando Sentinel newspaper.

To be sure things have changed quite a bit within the Disney Corporation. Eisner’s departure, and Iger’s efforts to this point, along with the direction provided by Lasseter have resulted in an improved second gate for Anaheim. The executive now overseeing the parks, Staggs, for the most part seems to be on the same plate.

With success many times comes contempt though, which can shut out all reason and any constructive criticism. Iger and Staggs from what I understand may be at this stage as the project remains a mystery to anyone outside of the close executive circle they now head in dealing with it.

Tree of Life? Or Glow-necklace ODV cart?

The real problem is not in the execution of their idea, as Disney can replicate the world of Avatar convincingly and would be devoting the proper budget to do so. It’s the simply the very concept itself. Avatar is a movie defined by its technology, where character development takes a backseat. Its protagonists move the plot along in their adventures and yet audiences aren’t moved enough to remember their names. The simplistic story/concept doesn’t offer much to build on for beyond what happens in the movie. (And apparently Cameron is now dealing with that very issue in getting the sequels together.)

The merchandise sales for Avatar were unremarkable, and once it petered out of the stores, it didn’t return. For a company that makes as much as it does from merchandising I find it surprising that this one factor apparently continues to be dismissed. Also let’s not forget the royalties that must be paid to Cameron, something Disney wouldn’t have to deal with the Pixar and Lucasfilm properties since they now own them outright.

The biggest problem may be that this appears to be the only major project on the immediate horizon for a resort that desperately needs to be freshened up with more new attractions and a major investment in infrastructure. Walt Disney World over the next decade will face some formidable competition from neighboring attractions. Queue enhancements, while nice, can’t compete with new rides. The Resort’s bus transportation system is in dire need of an upgrade or reconfiguration throughout the property. Current management must stop bending over to pick up pennies as dollars fly over their heads.

Islands in the sky? Or balloons for sale?

Longtime readers know I don’t hate James Cameron. He’s a terrific filmmaker. I don’t hate Walt Disney World. It truly needs a lot of attention physically and financially right now. I think Tom Staggs and Bob Iger for the most part are on track and making good decisions for the company. John Lasseter’s contributions are to be lauded even with his continued blind spot about Cars 2.

Avatar land is the problem. Believe me, walking away from that concept now will cost a lot less than building it, then trying to fix and then ultimately replace it; which is going to happen.

I noted online a lot of you feel the same way. Don’t let Animal Kingdom become Disney’s Florida Adventure; speak up!

See you at Disneyland!