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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  • waymire01

    One thing not mentioned about DHS is the shows, Little Mermaid, Nemo, and Beauty and the Beast.. and they are fabulous. Unique and interesting props, fantastic visual effects.. our whole family enjoyed them.

  • danielz6

    Watch Tokyo Disney Seas little mermaid show sometime. Ariel actually swims, instead of just sitting there with projections from the film. Ursula is huge and there’s a lot more fish and live performance. You’ll never be able to see Disney world’s version again.

  • DisWedWay

    I was just looking at a several sites which focused on the public’s favorite costumes, and I didn’t see one Avitar? Or John Carter and friends.

  • David Hollenbeck

    I guess Dinorama was too easy a target. I’d get rid of the carnival midway idea and put in a dark ride. My thought is that you can keep Chester and Hester’s, but make the attraction about going to their place because they have something the institute doesn’t. It would remain an opportunistic tourist trap, but the thing drawing you in is to see their dinosaur egg (it’s really just a smooth rock shaped somewhat like an egg). So, once you discover that it’s probably not a real dinosaur egg, you’re feeling a little taken by these shysters and are heading out when the floor near the fake egg starts to be bursting like it’s being hit with a sledgehammer from the other side. Once the hole is large enough, a real baby dino emerges. You spend the rest of the ride following his adventure as a modern day dinosaur. Later, you find out that because of the time travel in the Institute (the Dinosaur ride), the egg somehow came along when a group returned from the late Mesozoic era (I’d explain if I’d worked out that detail) and was just about ready to hatch in that spot, millions of years ago, which is now under H&C’s place.

    I just think it would make the relationship between H&C’s and the institute clearer, plus give the land a mascot of sorts, would be something kids could ride without being scared, would give people a break from the heat, etc. In a nutshell, it would make Dinoland much more cohesive and interesting without bulldozing the place or dropping (in fact, pointing out) most of what is really a great, though not obvious, existing story for the area.

  • horizonsfan

    I know the apologists are going to push back on the Safari, but I rarely have a great time. I’ll keep going on it since there are so few rides at DAK, but they’ve missed an opportunity, especially given all the space. There are great things in the park and it’s gorgeous, but it needs some serious TLC. That’s the case with all the parks, but it feels more noticeable in a place with so few attractions.

  • DisneyHokie

    DHS’ biggest problem is that it was originally designed to be a half-day park. They wanted guests to go to the studios or Typhoon during the day and then Pleasure Island at night (they all opened within a month of each other). The back 2/3′s (Streets of America and Pixar Place) was only accessible via the tram tour and the walking tour. The park so was popular that for the park’s first five years, they added new attractions in a haphazard manner, wherever they had room. The only area that was fully planned out was Sunset Blvd. and Tower of Terror, which some might argue is the best part of the entire park. With a DCA makeover-type budget, DHS could rival MK as WDW’s best park.

  • holierthanthoutx

    I don’t see how the Great Movie Ride can be considered regrettable when there are two attractions — the Animation Studio Tour and the Backlot Tour — that are just abominations.

    I know you haven’t been a Disney fan long enough to have seen these attractions in their glory days, but each used to be pretty great, and a whole lot longer than they are now. What’s left of both attractions these days is simply useless. They only thing I enjoy about seeing these attractions is the memory of what they used to be.

    At least the Great Movie Ride is essentially the same as it has always been. It would be “regrettable” if they had removed about 80% of it and let the vehicles just roll through empty rooms.

  • DannyB

    Just returned from my family’s first-ever trip to DisneyWorld. We loved Animal Kingdom, and we loved the Kilimanjari Safaris. We never experienced previous versions of the ride, we weren’t looking for humor, and I’m glad the TVs were not in use as I would find them distracting from the beauty of the park. Animal Kingdom is the most beautiful park I’ve ever been to!

    Except for Dinoland. Labeling the Dinosaur ride “acceptable” may be a bit generous. It seems that, for most of the ride, flashing lights substituted for actual, decent scenes. The label I gave it after riding was “annoying.” But the rest of Dinoland needs a category several steps below “regrettable.” It’s the ugliest area of any Disney park I’ve been to, in what is otherwise a most magnificent, beautiful park.