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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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?