Disney World’s Reluctant Dragon

Written by Jeff Heimbuch. Posted in Disney, Disney Parks, Features, The 626, Walt Disney World

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Published on December 16, 2012 at 4:02 am with 30 Comments

Well, it’s official. The “largest expansion ever in Magic Kingdom history,” New Fantasyland, is open and the holiday season crowds have descended upon it. If you’re visiting the Vacation Kingdom of the World anytime soon, chances are you’ll be experiencing long waits to either dive Under The Sea with Ariel or to dine in style with Belle.

But that’s fine, because in my honest opinion, most of that stuff is worth the wait. But I’m not here to talk about that today. I’d like to talk about “New” Fantasyland’s dragon problem.

“Dragon problem?” you may say. “What dragon problem? It looked pretty neat to me!” And you’d be right. It DID look neat. But its staying power was vastly diminished by Disney’s social media campaign to promote it.

Let’s take a step back and start from the beginning…

Part of the New Fantasyland “shtick” is that it has always been there since the Park opened in 1971. The villains, for whatever reason, hid it away from our eyes, and it was only just recently that the curse was broken to allow guests into it. This was promoted by a pretty great looking website, where guests could help “break” the curse by playing games and answering trivia questions. This, in turn, unlocked portions of the land on the interactive site, giving you some fun tidbits about it.

Kind of cheesy, but well done. It’s cute enough in its own right, and they didn’t shove it down our throats.

But then, a few weeks ago, Disney started ANOTHER big social media push for New Fantasyland. This one, headed by Gary from the Disney Parks Blog, claimed that, while building the Magic Kingdom back in the 70s, Imagineers came across a real, live dragon egg. Of course, the egg was already hatched, with dragon foot prints leading away. This evidence was supported by “photos” from WED, and an old 8MM film that was pushed out.

If they had stopped at that, it would have been great.

However, from then on, it was a full on out viral campaign to try to convince the world that a dragon was wandering around free, and that it would, ultimately, return home to the Magic Kingdom.

If you followed the entire thing, you know what I am talking about. New, blurry photos of “dragon sightings” were posted every day. Multiple shaky cam amateur footage of the dragon was revealed, in true Cloverfield-like fashion. And finally, Gary, our guide trying to figure out this mystery, set out to interview the denizens of the Magic Kingdom to find out the truth.

Look, Disney, I get what you were trying to do. And honestly, I’ll give you a lot of credit for how much effort you put into what you are trying to accomplish. But the entire thing, from start to finish, was a disjointed, uneven affair that left a lot of us in the dark. The tone kept shifting back and forth, between serious and funny, and it lost a lot of people in the process.

For example, we had the one video where a farmer who was investigating a noise by his barn was confronted by the dragon. The video was played completely straight, as it should have been, and left us with a sense of wonder. But to follow it up, we get another video, with Gary dressed in dragon pajamas, running around New Fantasyland at night, making a joke out of it. The going from one extreme to the other was a poor choice, and it just didn’t sit right with me or anyone else I’ve spoken with about it.

Another thing I disagreed with is that they played on our sense of nostalgia. Quite a number of times throughout the process, they made reference to some classic Disney dragons: Elliott, from Pete’s Dragon, Figment from Journey Into Imagination, and the dragon from the Animal Kingdom logo that was meant to be part of the (unbuilt) Beastly Kingdome. To me, this was a tease…especially the use of Figment. For years, Disney fans have lamented the fact that the Imagination Pavilion is terrible, and they wanted some form of the original, beloved Figment attraction to come back.

By using all of these classic dragons, even as fleeting as some of them were, they tried to play on our nostalgia factor. In a lot of ways, they got people’s hopes up that maybe, just maybe, something would be done with the characters again. Alas, it was all for naught, since they were just tools for Disney’s overreaching social media machine.

But I think the factor that bothered me the most was how it ended.

Disney spent who knows how much money on this massive, online campaign, but their ultimate decision was to unveil the dragon for one night only.

Yes, that is correct. According to its official “reveal” video on the Disney Parks Blog, the dragon would appear for only one night, when New Fantasyland opened. And to make it worse, it was unveiled during the media event only.

Yes, the MEDIA EVENT. There were no regular, day to day guests there, but instead, members of the news media who could report back on the amazing thing they had just seen that no one else would be able to experience.

Kind of seems like a big waste, don’t you think? It seems like a move like this would alienate their loyal paying customers. What about the Annual Pass Holders? Or the DVC Members? Or regular, everyday paying guests? Do THEY get to see this special event taking place? No, apparently not, it seems.

In fact, it really leads me to believe that the entire campaign was geared specifically toward their target demographic of the folks in attendance at that media event (mommie bloggers), and that, in turn, would garner the entire thing rave reviews in those online and print communities.

But the average consumer, who was force feed the whole dragon campaign through Disney’s various outlets, was left out in the cold. This “mystery” that was shoved in our faces for weeks and was ultimately unveiled to a group of people that most guests do not belong too, and now, will never have the chance to see for themselves. And that has led to a bit of a fan backlash.

I admit, the dragon itself was pretty impressive. The way it “flew” over the Magic Kingdom, with its wings flapping and fire shooting from its mouth, was an amazing sight in that video they posted. However, its entire presence was lessened by the social media campaign. If they had just kept the dragon as a surprise, and really wowed those in attendance with its appearance, it would truly have been a feat not easily topped by other theme parks. Can you imagine how amazing that would have been? People would have been sitting there, enjoying the New Fantasyland, when all of a sudden a massive dragon would fly over their heads, shooting flames as it roared! It would have definitely surprised a few people and left them with their jaws open.

Instead, Disney decided to force feed us a story to get us all excited about something really cool they were going to do and instead killed the impact of the entire thing by making it impossible for any of those folks to see it.

And I really don’t get why they decided to use it for just this one night. In fact, that’s a pretty ridiculous thing to do to their guests. Wow them with this great effect, but only roll it out for a small group of people? Come on now…who WOULDN’T want to see a dragon fly over Fantasyland every so often? That would be a great “plus” for the Park.

I’m sure there are some safety issues to take into concern with this, such as the weather, the technology being used, and mechanical failure (no one wants to see a dragon take a nose dive into a crowd of people), but they could still roll it out for special events. Hell, even a once a week surprise appearance would go a long way toward creating good will with their guests.

Instead, we’re lead to believe we’ll never see the flying dragon in Disney World again.

Of course, I don’t actually believe that, and I’m sure it’ll make an appearance again sometime in the future. But for now, after all that hoopla of trying to “find” it again, he’s gone. And all we have left are the memories from the mommy bloggers and a social media campaign that wasn’t exactly filling.

In the end, I’m left annoyed and puzzled as to why anyone at Disney would think this campaign made sense, or why they would spend so much time and money to alienate the fans that actually take the time to read their blog (like me). But I really hope that, in the future, they learn from their mistake. Disney should be reaching out to the entire fan community and Disney guests in general.  When you create media buzz, you need to follow through and let your audience enjoy the thing you’ve been promoting.

I’d like to know your thoughts. Were you wowed by the social media campaign or frustrated by it?

by Jeff Heimbuch

If you have a tip, questions, comments, or gripes, please feel free email me at [email protected] or leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!

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Comments for Disney World’s Reluctant Dragon are now closed.

  1. why can’t they just fly the dragon again?

  2. It only had to work for one night. Disney used the working Yeti in commercials long after they shut it down. The love many feel for WDW is almost unconditional and WDW can be counted on to exploit the emotions of these folks without regards to longer term profits. When the hit the wall of dissatisfied customers, they’ll know it. Till then, enjoy Dragon vs. Yeti!

  3. I love the idea of doing this with Dumbo rather than the dragon, though you wouldn’t have the excuse to use the cool pyrotechnics.

    The thing I don’t get is, the dragon isn’t a part of the New Fantasyland (or even old Fantasyland) story. It’s not part of B&tB, Mermaid, Snow White or Anything in the Circus, even though I’ll grant you that it isn’t completely out of place there. So, let’s even say they hit a home run with it, where would it go beyond the technical wow factor? Maybe that’s enough, I don’t know.

    But you might think, Dave, you did read the article above that explained the backstory, did you not? Oh, of course. But if you are like many that would visit WDW who don’t spend much time thinking about it outside of the time they are actually there, where would the tie-in to anything else in the park be? Maybe they’re putting in something like the Boneyard at Animal Kingdom in that big open area where kids can somehow “discover” the dragon eggshell for themselves. But Eeek! watch out, that one is the Maleficent dragon, RUN! Fantasyland – too girl-themed, my ***! ;-)

    Again, maybe the wow factor is enough, but that’s just not the usual way Disney does things that grab attention like that. Just thinking in pixels here (a lot like thinking out loud), but wouldn’t it have been more fun if they said something like “The dragon came home to roost at WDW, but we think that when it saw all the press and paparazzi and how they’re trying to screw up a proven hit in Cars Land Florida, it bolted again, so we don’t know when s/he will be back.” Could have tied it up neatly, ribbed the blogger-types and left them without committing to it as an attraction/show element, etc. (and made me chuckle about Cars Land). Folks could fuss about not seeing it, but the story response could be “What are we gonna do? It’s a dragon, who knows what it might do next.”

    But instead they faceplant. One night only = Disney controls everything about the dragon (which we already knew, but for “story” purposes) = whole campaign story’s premise blown to pieces because the surprise comes not in the form of “Dang, that was cool, wish I could have been amongst the semi-random group of park guests there that night to see it,” (possibly in more colorful language) but “Sorry, you can’t have nice things, only these very carefully sanitized and selected people who have blogs that are SO amazing can (*wink, wink* that means your blog isn’t). Here, look at the pretty video, really gives you a sense of how much you missed, doesn’t it?”

    After thinking about this some I realized that I felt this way before once, but couldn’t place it, then figured it out. I applied for a job at an art museum once. It was in 2008/09, so I was hardly the only one. I didn’t hear and didn’t hear. Then after I would have otherwise forgotten about it, I got an email saying something to the effect that they got a lot of applications for the position and after carefully considering all of them and interviewing several candidates before narrowing it down to only the five best and announcing the new employee at a grand gala that you weren’t invited to, we were, in effect, deciding that you were totally not the person in which we were interested.

    Ok, I might have embellished it a bit starting at “grand gala,” but not much! They might as well have said “We made copies of your resume for folks at the gala to wipe their feet on before entering the glittering crystal atrium.” I wrote back “Thank you for letting me know I failed so spectacularly and on so many levels! I only wish that I could have been there to personally pee in the champaign glass at the top of the cascading pyramid!” but didn’t hit send. I just couldn’t believe they were rubbing it in my face like that. It would have been better if I just never heard. But they had to absent-mindedly insult me, too, thinking they were making themselves look good, which is what Disney did. Classic PR fumble.

    I’m not terribly affronted by the whole thing because I wouldn’t have been there even if I had the chance to see it that one time, but it’s the principle.