Animal Kingdom and Disney Hollywood Studios Exceptional, Acceptable, Regrettable

Written by Sam Gennawey. Posted in Features, Samland

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Published on July 18, 2013 at 3:00 am with 26 Comments

Over the last couple of months, I have been making observations of things that have struck my fancy in the Disney Parks. The goal is to provoke a discussion. Thank you for playing along. Today, we’ll journey to Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney Hollywood Studios park for a continuation of our little game: Exceptional, Acceptable, Regrettable.

DISNEY’S ANIMAL KINGDOM

 

ACCEPTABLE: DINOSAUR

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I must admit I have always found this a rather silly attraction. In my head, it is Indiana Jones in the dark with the dinosaurs who could not get a job at Jurassic Park over at Universal. However, I was reminded that there are many guests who have not ridden Indiana Jones, so they don’t realize the true potential of the ride mechanism. So, I guess it is better than a Princess meet and greet and it has moved up a notch in my opinion. Also, did you know there is actually a real life animal in Dinoland U.S.A.? Look closely and you might spot the American Crocodile.

EXCEPTIONAL: RESTAURANTOSAURUS

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In this case, I am not referring to the food. I am concentrating on the interior design. Since this park is so bloody hot most of the time, I find wandering through this restaurant fairly early in the day is a nice way to take a break. There is rarely anybody inside and you can spend some time looking at all the eye candy. I also rank the Mahararajah Jungle Trek as one of the best immersive environments that Disney (and landscape architecture firm EDAW) has ever created and the Flights of Wonder bird show as one of the best surprises in the park.

REGRETTABLE: KILIMANJARO SAFARIS

Let me start by stating that I believe that Disney’s Animal Kingdom is one of the most beautiful of the North American parks. It has remained consistent in its theming by featuring animals of the present, animals of the past, and animals from mythology. With that said, it seems that we may have trouble in paradise.

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In a backhanded way, I have to say congratulations to the folks WDI. Way back in the beginning, Walt Disney wanted to create an attraction that featured real animals for his True-Life Adventure Land. Based on the popular nature series, Walt felt he could provide a new kind of experience as guests floated past the animals in little boats. However, Imagineer Harper Goff talked Walt out of the idea because he knew that the only thing that most guests would see are sleeping animals. Not very exciting. In order to provide a consistent show, they decided to use an early version of Audio-Animatronics. Imagineer Bob Sewell, who was responsible for the giant squid in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, designed and built many of the mechanical animals. They were pretty simple but effective. Once animator Marc Davis got involved a few years later, a touch of humor was added to an otherwise very serious attraction. And so, the Jungle Cruise as we know it was born.

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What WDI has created in Florida is exactly what Goff was trying to avoid. When the Kilimanjaro Safaris first opened, the attraction was based on a very heavy handed conservation theme where the guests would become responsible for chasing away poachers. The very first version even came with a dead elephant carcass as the grand finale, but that was pulled just after the previews due to guest complaints. Over the years, the conservation theme was dumbed down. First they got rid of the lady naturalist who was constantly being put down by Game Warden Wilson. Now that Wilson is gone, the TV monitors in the queue remain silent, and there is only a tour guide driving the truck and going through the motions to entertain you.

There is no story. There is no humor. There is no conflict. It also seems like there are far fewer animals out on the savannah. I rode the attraction multiple times on my last trip and each time was the same; a disappointment. Considering that the park’s other E-Ticket, Expedition Everest, also delivers less than promised, you have a park in seriously critical condition. It would not surprise me if one of the Universal parks in Florida has a higher attendance at year’s end (or at least by next year’s end) than Disney’s Animal Kingdom. That will be a news story that will reverberate throughout the theme park industry.

DISNEY’S HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS

Now it is time for a quick trip to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. With the money that was poured into Disney California Adventure starting to pay off, there are a lot of rumors running rampant about major changes coming to DHS. Let’s face it, this park can use all the help it can get.

ACCEPTABLE: LIGHTS, MOTORS, ACTION! EXTREME STUNT SHOW

First off, this show must cost a fortune to operate. It seems the target audience for this show is the same for Disney XD. With that in mind, it succeeds. The chase sequences are impressive and pointless. Of course, what is a modern Disney attraction without a tie-in to one of its many intellectual properties? Since the release of Cars 2, they have found a way to insert Lightning McQueen into the show. It works. Once again, the inner 12-year old boy comes out in me. I am also impressed with how they quickly fit 7,000 people into that stadium and get people to walk more stairs than they probably have done in their lives.

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What does not work for me is the overall pace of the show. This is also a problem with the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular! The audience is wowed with an intricate stunt sequence, then everything stops as a fake director and his “team” try to explain what is going on. This theme park left the world of trying to explain behind the scenes a long time ago, and it is on its way to becoming another fantasy park. These two stunt shows and the dreadful backlot tour are remnants of a time long gone. And that is not necessarily a good thing.

REGRETTABLE: THE GREAT MOVIE RIDE

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I thought there were no rides at a Disney park, just attractions and adventures? It is time to either put this good idea to rest or spend the money on a major update. I would prefer the latter. Like the Jungle Cruise, the level of entertainment is dependent upon your guide. Their abilities allow you to overlook all of the non-working elements. However, talent is spread unevenly and most of our tour group was voting for Mugsy to win and knock off our guide.

In Disney’s latest pricing move (charging more for the Magic Kingdom), even they have acknowledged that Animal Kingdom and the Studios are not the equal to the Magic Kingdom. Regrettably, they have lumped Epcot in with the second tier parks. From what I can see, the management has spent a lot of money and effort transitioning toward an electronic media that makes spending and scheduling easier for the guest and helps the bottom line for the Company. They have built some beautiful eye candy with the New Fantasyland even if it is only a restaurant, a couple of fancy meet and greet areas, and a basic dark ride that does not so much tell the story but provides impressions from the films (like all classic Disney dark rides). They have tried every which way to score a food item hit like Butterbeer at Universal. I have to ask; why does it all feel so shallow?

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About Sam Gennawey

Sam Gennawey is an urban planner who has collaborated with communities throughout California over the course of more than 100 projects to create a great, big, beautiful tomorrow. Sam is a member of the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Regional Planning History Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving municipal, county, and private sector planning documents from throughout Los Angeles County. Sam is the author of Walt and the Promise of Progress City which you can find on Amazon.

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26 Comments

Comments for Animal Kingdom and Disney Hollywood Studios Exceptional, Acceptable, Regrettable are now closed.

  1. While I have been enjoying all of these Exceptional, Acceptable, and Regrettable articles, this has to be the first one where I would have to respectfully disagree with most of what has been said. Dinosaur I am torn on.

    For me it is a very high ‘Acceptable’ or a very low ‘Exceptional’. Yes it is Indiana Jones Adventure with dinosaurs, and yes, I don’t like the tie in with the movie ‘Dinosaurs’ that was forced onto the ride very early on. It’s still a very fun ride with visuals and thrill someone can love. At least it’s better to copy the ride design and add a new theme than to copy the whole ride entirely.

    As for Kilimanjaro Safaris and The Great Movie Ride, they are at best ‘Acceptable’ in the condition they are in, just need a lot of work put into them. They are fantastic ride ideas but just need a bit of tweaking and spit-shining on the old and rusty parts. Kilimanjaro Safaris needs a new narrative that both drags you in, isn’t too overtly serious and has some humor mixed in, and doesn’t have a conservation and poacher theme shoved down your throat.

    For The Great Movie Ride, it needs to remove some scenes, update some old ones, and possibly add in one or two more scenes to liven things up. I absolutely love the idea, though, that one is basically having a ‘Movie Marathon’ through many Hollywood classics like Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz, and the Raiders of the Lost Arc. I would replace the Aliens, Fantasia, and final ending scenes with something a bit more…well, something that really screams of a Golden Age of Hollywood while the films may not necessarily be from the Golden Age. A tough idea I had would maybe be a black and white city set with a black and white Charlie Chaplin actor doing some of his memorable skits.

    Also, I am not sure if this has been said before, but when are they ever going to remove that giant sorcerer’s hat? It blocks the view of the Chinese Theater from the boulevard.

  2. I’m a big fan of Dinosaur… maybe it comes from having ridden it like 8 times back in its “CTX” days at my College Program Graduation Party which was held in Dinoland’s courtyard…but I think it’s a great and fun ride. I have heard that the budget was slashed and there were supposed to be a lot more Dinosaurs in there, and I do think the ride feels a little rushed… it would be great if there was just that first “Awe” moment where you can just soak up the atmosphere and wonder of being back among these gigantic creatures before “something goes horribly wrong”.

    I was a CP at the Studios back in the MGM days (my last day of work was May 1, 1999 – the 10th birthday of the park) and I never understood the hype of the Great Movie Ride. I was just there about three weeks ago and it just looked old and dusty. None of the cast members were even easy to understand, let alone gave good performances – in fact, I noted on this past trip that in three days at Disney, I could probably count the number of people who could deliver the spiel for the attraction clearly, loudly, and well could be counted on one hand. (I used to give tours at the Animation Studio, so I had one of the longer spiels at the time) The GMR could use an update and maybe some new technology to make some of the AA figures better and fix some of the effects.

    And yeah, the Sorcerer’s Hat is regrettable for sure. It doesn’t seem like it’s going anywhere because they seem to like having it as the shorthand graphic icon of the park

    • You must not have ever ridden the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. It’s SO much better than Dinosaur — while being exactly the same in terms of track and vehicles — that it turns Dinosaur into a huge disappointment by comparison.

  3. I can’t believe you would dub Kilamajaro safaris as “Regrettable”. Sure, it doesn’t have the “story” it originally did, but the ride itself I think is a brilliant execution of an idea Walt wanted to implement but couldn’t because of the logistics of taking care of animals. I don’t know if you have just hit the wrong time of day or what, but the last couple times I’ve ridden the ride was full of animal activity. It is one of our favorite things at Animal Kingdom, and I believe there is good reason it pulls the long line it does. People enjoy it!

  4. Interesting analysis.

    One question. Wasn’t it Robert Mattey who ran the squid puppet in 20,000 Leagues and then worked on the first animals for the Jungle Cruise? I don’t think you meant Sewell.

    • If you watch the pre-show opening videos of the Disneyland Jungle Cruise being built before 1955, you can see WED Imagineer Bob Sewell riding on the back of a Gator and physically opening and closing his mouth checking the animation, as it moves on it’s track. He was very knowledgeable about all animals and ride development. His wife never knew he had a window on Walt Disney World’s Mainstreet as well as a Tombstone at the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland. I was glad I could tell her after his passing.

  5. Mostly agree with you Sam. I would mark the Safari ride Exceptional. I never miss it.

    However, Animal Kingdom itself is in serious need of help. A broken Tree of Life, broken Yeti, lack of E-Tickets. . . Regrettable! And I think it’s only a matter of time before Universal catches up attendance wise. And it’s Disney’s own fault. They’ve watched Uni build, build, build. They saw the effect of Potter. But they did nothing!

    I would mark the entire studio park Regrettable. While I still love Tower of Terror, it’s stuck in a park so poorly laid out and with so little to do, that I just don’t bother to visit any more. I literally hate the studio park. It makes me depressed. They could easily sink DCA’s 1.5 billion into this park and it still wouldn’t be enough. But something BIG must be done to save this terribly mismanaged and poorly conceived park! Time for Disney to stop kicking the new concepts down the road and actually do something!

  6. When it comes to the Great Movie Ride I have 5 words …

    THE GREAT MUPPET MOVIE RIDE

    It’s time to revive the concept and finally put it to use.

  7. DINOSAUR to me is a very uncomfortable ride and I hate it although I love dinosaurs. The ride vehicle bumps and turns like crazy without a reason. With all the flashing lights and the overall darkness it doesn’t make it possible for me to see anything. When I’m going on the Jurassic Park ride at Islands of Adventure I have time to enjoy the animals and enjoy the ride. I can appreciate the beauty of these animals. Think go wrong over time and the end is spectacular and fun, something DINOSAUR is missing, like the whole Dino land.

    Why is the safari that bumpy. When you go on a similar tour in Africa you go over paved roads that are very comfortable. They take the time to let you photograph and enjoy the animals. Disney rushes us trough the environment and have you on a bumpy road all the time. To read there are less and less animals to watch is even more concerning. I wish they had a cable car ride over the whole safari to enjoy it from the air on a leisure, smooth ride.

    I’ve seen the cars show once and that was enough. I was very far away from the cars who looked like dinky toys. The show was boring like the Indy show. But where Indy rewards you with exiting stunts and new settings here it looks just awful. It sure would work in a movie with the ride angles, quick cuts and the ability to wreck cars. Would love to see this show leave.

    I love the great movie ride when it opened. Although the Sigourney Weaver AA looked nothing like the actress and the scene was awful the rest of the ride was cool enough although a bit uneven. Especially the wizard of Oz is to large and I would have like to see more movies represented in it’s place (with Oz still in there of course). But the ride has become stale. Some updating would have been very beneficial. I also never liked the movie clips at the end, I can see these movies at a cinema or at home, I don’t need to go to WDW to do that.

    I love Animal Kingdom but the current rides there are too short or to cheap or broken. Please fix this beautiful park to re immagineer the whole of Dino Land. Replace the Yeti with something that works and extend the water ride by making it at least twice as long. Fix the bumpy safari and add new rides and experiences.
    For the Studio you need to re-theme the whole park. I don’t want to know how movies are made, I have blu-rays with many hours of making offs on there, I want to ride the movies in beautiful environments. Finally use your Star Wars license to tap it’s potential (it’s HUGE if you want to spent the money) and cut back on the shows. Give the Muppets a proper place with a real Muppet show, not a movie but real puppeteers. Scrap the laughable animation studio tour, it’s painful to see Disney turned it’s back on hand drawn animation when they lost the way to tell compelling stories. Level de building and make a Disney villain ride, hand drawn animation and AA’s in a exiting and fun story.
    And please show some love for Fantasmic, it could be an awesome show, but it isn’t.

  8. The Disney Studios are embarrasing.

    Animal Kingdom is good, but needs to keep growing, which it sadly hasn’t. Disney’s practice of building a basic theme park to begin with and then expanding the offerings over time, only works if they actually, you known, expand the offerings over time.

    The resort as a whole has allowed to stagnate for so long that it’s just going to take longer and cost more to get it where it should be.

    Meanwhile, Universal seemingly finds a way to build amazing and impressive top tier attractions overnight. Go figure.

  9. Really shouldn’t attractions be revisited every 10 years for updates and relevence. Everyone is on the money with thoughts and we just have to hope Disney comes through. Universal is the best thing to happen to Disney. I still believe Universal is building up to what Disney is/has been. It will really take UOS/IOA to pass Disney in attendance over HS & AK for the Mouse to kick it into high gear.
    I’m optimistic it will happen given time. In the end we win.

  10. This is a great series. I hope you keep it up.

    I admit I don’t have a ton to offer to the conversation, as the sole time I’ve been to WDW was in 1999. But I remember a few things.

    When I was there, the Kilimanjaro Safaris poacher storyline was in full swing. I thought it was hoaky and contrived, but it also fit with the sort of theme or story that is common at Disney parks. The fact that now the ride is basically a simple meander through viewing areas is unfortunate. I could experience that at the San Diego Zoo.

    Of interesting note, WDW has now gone the longest stretch in its history without building a new park. They’ve probably experienced expansion fatigue, but the previous record for Time Between New A New Park™ was between Magic Kingdom (1971) and EPCOT (1982) – 11 years. Studios showed up in 1989 and Animal Kingdom in 1998. So we’re sitting on 15 years without a new park at this point while management virtually ignores the “second-tier” parks.

    I liked then-Disney-MGM studios, and I don’t love the sorcerer’s hat at all. The Chinese Theater makes sense, but I know it’s a licensing third rail at this point.

    The thought of a diluted Cars Land at DHS saddens me. Maybe it if were worked into a larger Pixar Place, that could somehow, sort of work, but I really just don’t see it. My biggest complaint with Disney parks nowadays is how Pixar franchises are arbitrarily plopped down wherever management needs a fix.

    I think I’m more concerned that AK’s former chief is now over the Holy Grail in Anaheim. If the dude couldn’t even fix the Yeti or bring back the boats at AK, I don’t have a lot of faith in him at DL.

  11. Interesting article. I haven’t been to WDW since 2010, so I can only go with my experience three years ago, but I love both Dinosaur and the Safari ride. I’m THRILLED that they dropped the narrative on the Safari ride and just shut the #*%& up and let us enjoy the animals. I think having the driver occasionally narrate makes it much more real and as close to a real safari in Africa as possible. As for Dinosaur, I actually like it a little bit better then Indy. I do kind of wish they could slow the ride down a bit so we can get a better look at the dinosaurs, but otherwise it’s great and even slightly scary at times. Overall I’d say Animal Kingdom is borderline Acceptable and occasionally Exceptional. Dino land is mostly Regrettable except for Dinosaur. I’d be fine if that just went away completely and they built the Australia section that has been rumored for forever. I’d be sad to see Dinosaur go but if we get to hold a koala bear or hand feed a kangaroo then it’s worth the tradeoff.

  12. In the great movie ride operator’s defense, the requirements at Jungle Cruise and Kilimanjaro are different than the great movie ride. On Kilimanjaro the guides are allowed to ad-lib a bit, and on Jungle Cruise they are allowed even a little more leash, but the Great Movie Ride guides must stick to the exact same script every time.

  13. Disagree about the Studios, I think it’s a great park, very beautiful, and they actually keep to the theme of making movies, and not just give it lip service. The Streetmosphere characters really make the streets come alive. Both stunt shows are big ticket items in a big way, and they actually go through the whole movie making process. Those stoppages in LMA are at the core of the idea that it is movie-making. You seem to have missed the point. I get the idea that rides sell tickets, but both stunt shows are unique (particularly LMA) and set Disney apart from the genre elsewhere.

    Although people harp on the fact thad Dinosaur has the same track as IJ, it is different enough to be its own experience. You get really close to the dinosaurs popping out from the darkness and their roars are really loud and scary. The sound system is exceptional and almost the star of the show. The prolonged moment of darkness gives you a completely different feel.

    • I think the Streetmosphere characters are the best part of that park. I spent one day just following their show around and it was the best day I ever had in that park.

      Sam
      http://www.samlanddisney.blogspot.com

  14. Haven’t been to Animal Kingdom yet — like having something to look forward to. For DHS:

    EXCEPTIONAL
    Tower of Terror queue. (Especially the ruined lily pond.)
    Sci_Fi Dine-In Theater
    Writer’s Stop
    Tune-In Lounge at the 50s Prime Time Cafe
    Honey I Shrunk the Kids Playground
    dog footprints in the cement at Fairfax/Farmers Market
    old Hollywood characters who wander around
    Walt Disney One Man’s Dream

    ACCEPTABLE
    Dinosaur Gertie’s & dinosaur footprints
    Star Tours
    ABC Commissary (actually very similar to the real Disney Studios Commissary in Burbank!)
    Indiana Jones stunt show
    Rock N Roller Coaster

    REGRETTABLE
    Animation tour now fairly pointless
    Backlot Tour — what’s left of it
    they closed the Catwalk Bar!
    Carthay Circle not used for anything

  15. It is interesting that you are talking today about the two American Disney parks that need the most help. AK has so much potential but fails to fully deliver. You are right that the safari ride seems to be missing most of the animals. Every time I have ridden it, I have seen few animals. The ride itself is not that fun. It does seem a real problem. I agree that the poacher theme was over the top and made the ride a lecture rather than a pleasure. But there does need some story or excitement or amusement.

    I really think that DAK needs a fantasy section that makes some magic happen in the park. I don’t think Avatar will be a draw, but fantasy animals of all kinds, I believe would be hit.

    HS is a massive problem. The layout is just wrong. It feels like a cheap park. It really is a failure bring the magic of Disney to guests. I believe that a park which does NOT take you behind the scenes of movie making to reveal how the magic happens is the way to go. It needs to be a park that takes you INTO the movies you wish you could experience.