Today’s MiceAge Update brings you the latest from the halls of Imagineering and Team Disney Anaheim, where some big-ish projects are in the works. After a pleasant summer season with manageable crowds of tourists spread evenly between the two parks, the Disneyland Resort crashes into late August this week with the return of over 500,000 SoCal and SoCal Select Annual Passholders who have been blocked out since June. That will make this the busiest week of the summer by far, and the Resort’s parking infrastructure will be stretched to the breaking point while the parks suddenly crawl with huge crowds of locals. While the front line Anaheim CM’s struggle to keep up this week, we’ll fill you in on what their TDA bosses have been working feverishly on this summer. Namely, the plans to get the Resort ready for the 60th Diamond Celebration and beyond, with some surprising new twists.
In order to fully comprehend the Anaheim news, it’s important to understand what’s been happening on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. The construction of Shanghai Disneyland is well underway, as the structural steel for the massive show buildings grow from former bean fields. Unfortunately, the entire Shanghai Disneyland project has been struggling with massive delays and setbacks for over a year now. The problems stem from the slow and questionable workmanship of the Chinese contractors and the mountains of red tape (no pun intended) the local bureaucrats keep throwing at any request or proposal from Imagineering. There are many business books already written about the pratfalls of doing business in Communist China, but when the park is finally complete there could be one doozy of a bestseller written about the construction of Shanghai Disneyland, and we’ll just leave it at that.
The result of the growing mess in Shanghai is that the timetable for opening the park hasn’t just slipped, but now appears to be in general freefall. The biggest hint of this growing problem was in Bob Iger’s comments to the investor community in the most recent quarterly earnings report. After some scripted cheese where Bob declared they were “thrilled” with how the Shanghai park is coming along, he buried the real lead when he said; “We hope to set an official date for our grand opening sometime within the next six months or so.” Before that comment, Disney had still been sticking with the internal November, 2015 opening date or “late 2015” phrase they’d released publicly several years ago. But Imagineering troops in Shanghai now realize there is absolutely no way a late 2015 or early 2016 opening will be possible.
Instead, the park’s opening has slipped until April, 2016 at the earliest, and Summer 2016 is not impossible. More and more Disney personnel are being assigned to the project and moved from Burbank, Glendale and Anaheim in an attempt to be able to hit the ground running once the construction is complete, but that’s currently only adding to the costs. Burbank and Imagineering planners are also coming up with contingency plans for opening in phases, where the Downtown Disney and two hotels open ahead of the park, while the park itself goes through a phased opening throughout 2016 where not all lands and certainly not all the E Tickets will be up and running on the delayed opening day, whenever that may be.
These Shanghai delays are wreaking havoc with Burbank’s fiscal planning calendars for 2015 and beyond, and they have already forced hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funds to be budgeted for the project. It’s a mess over there folks, and it’s going to have some major impacts on the parks here at home.
A Land Not Too Far Away
Most noticeably, the major capital investments planned for Disneyland and DCA beyond the 60th are in limbo right now while Burbank accountants try to get a handle on just how much extra they’ll have to shell out in Shanghai the next two years. The plan to infuse Tomorrowland with new Star Wars attractions was already sidetracked last year by huge problems and cost overruns with the MyMagic+ program at Walt Disney World. The sudden delay on the Tomorrowland Star Wars project, which was very close to being announced publicly, allowed Imagineering to regroup and go in for an even more ambitious plan it continues to work on for Anaheim. The new plan that has risen from Tomorrowland’s ashes has Star Wars landing in Disneyland in a much different location, with a new proposal to take over the Big Thunder Ranch and Mickey’s Toontown.
The plans for Anaheim that WDI is currently mocking up in their dedicated Star Wars design studio now have an entirely new land being tacked on to the north of Frontierland and Fantasyland. The new Star Wars expansion would be accessed via the western flanks of Fantasyland beyond the old Skyway station, taking over the Big Thunder Ranch area and extending to the north beyond the railroad tracks. Where Toontown is now would be more expansion and a large show building, not unlike New Orleans Square with the show buildings for Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean stashed unseen behind it. It’s this show building on the Toontown plot where the bulk of the Star Wars E Ticket and some other indoor environments would reside.
Yes, this means Toontown would go away completely if this concept gets approval. The Roger Rabbit dark ride and Gadget’s Go Coaster would both go to Yesterland, while the popular Mickey and Minnie meet n’ greets would slot into a new facility elsewhere. The smart money is that Mickey and Minnie would take over the Disneyland Opera House, using the interactive talking character technology WDI had previewed in Toontown several years ago.
While it has yet to be given the green light, Tom Staggs has told WDI to continue working the Star Wars designs towards the goal of using Toontown instead of Tomorrowland, and TDA is complying by bringing the Submarines back out of mothballs after they sat untouched for the first five months of its nine month “refurbishment”. After its light cosmetic and vehicle refurbishment, the biggest problem for the Submarines now is how TDA’s Public Affairs department will carefully word the talking points on why Disneyland will be filling up the 9 million gallon submarine lagoon (that still leaks) in the middle of California’s epic drought.
Disney California Adventure is not without its own E Ticket proposal that’s quickly gaining favor with Burbank execs. While Star Wars is slated for Disneyland, DCA’s future now lies with the popular Marvel franchises. We’d told you in the past that a Marvel Studios extension of the Hollywoodland section of the park was being pushed by WDI and Burbank, allowing the various Marvel stars to appear in a slightly more relevant and permanent environment than their current Innoventions digs. Now that plan has an E Ticket to go along with the meet n’ greets, in a proposal to put a Marvel themed version of Rock N’ Roller Coaster tucked into the parking lot currently between Tower of Terror and Luigi’s Flying Tires.
The proposal for a Marvel thrill coaster takes the concept of the Monsters Inc. door coaster still sitting on the back burner for DCA, and dials it up several notches. Where the Monsters Inc. coaster is proposed as a “family coaster” with a 38” or 40” height requirement, the Marvel coaster would be much more intense and have a 48” height requirement, the same as California Screamin’. TDA’s research teams have bolstered the WDI proposal with plenty of fresh data showing that a thrill ride aimed at school aged boys and their fathers is exactly what’s needed to give Anaheim’s roster of attractions a boost with that important demographic. The new expansion would open in two phases, with the Marvel meet ‘n greet facilities opening first just after the 60th while the coaster finishes construction in the parking lot beyond.
Even without the Shanghai headaches throwing the budgets and calendars into limbo, there likely won’t be a peep from Disney about Anaheim’s Star Wars or Marvel plans until next summer at the D23 Expo. The media focus instead will be on launching and promoting the 60th Diamond Celebration. TDA will be using the old playbook from the 50th for much of the preparations for the 60th, and that means lots of refurbishments and painting for the next eight months.
The good news is that Disneyland already looks dramatically better today than it did just prior to the 50th, after the infamous years under leadership by Paul Pressler and Cynthia Harriss. And while plenty of paint and freshening is also coming to DCA, that park still sparkles after its 1.2 Billion dollar expansion and continuing upkeep. The work out front on the Main Entrance turnstiles was the first project under this master plan, and the painters tarps will literally spread into and throughout the park this fall once the Main Entrance refurbishment is finished. The Main Entrance work is also another sign that the troubled MyMagic+ system with all its “touch points” and convoluted rules and 60 day advance bookings for a teacup won’t be coming to Anaheim any time soon.
Main Street Bypass
Meanwhile, backstage, work continues on the new crowd control alleyways being built behind both sides of Main Street USA. These new alleyways will be pressed into use throughout the day during the 60th, as TDA’s entertainment team plans for multiple new parades and a lavish new fireworks show. It’s that one-two punch of a new night parade and a massive new fireworks show that will put the alleys into the heaviest use, as Disneyland’s crowd control team will need all the help they can get herding the crowds from Fantasmic! to the night parade to the new fireworks back to a second Fantasmic! and a second showing of the night parade.
Interestingly, DLR President Michael Colglazier and his executive committee keep boasting internally that the 60th will have more meat and more offerings than the 50th. The narrative for these execs, many of whom weren’t in Anaheim during the 50th, is that the Golden Anniversary was mostly about freshening up an aging Disneyland and righting the past wrongs of disgraced former executives. They feel their 60th roster of entertainment, dark ride upgrades, and retro-nostalgia offers more tangible offerings than the 50th, but when you consider the 50th added two big new parades, jaw-dropping new fireworks, a reworked Space Mountain and an all-new Buzz Lightyear ride, plus lots of swanky décor, the 60th plans seem more modest in scope. At least they are trying to go as big as they can for the 60th, but the fuzzy memories and revisionist history of the current execs have some old-timers in TDA scratching their heads. The Anaheim old timers are looking forward to seeing the Christmas star return on top of the Matterhorn next year, however.
A small media event is planned to give more information about all the new entertainment and offerings coming for the 60th, including the upgrades coming to Fantasyland’s dark rides, the HD conversion and plussing of Soarin’ Over California, and a winter closure and major rework for World of Color. But the timing of that 60th media event still remains up in the air, due to a last minute push by Burbank to offer an all-new experience this holiday season.
Taking a cue from the successful Frozen Summer Fun promotion they pulled together very quickly out at Walt Disney World, a new Frozen offering will be shoehorned into DCA for this Christmas season. Setting up in, you guessed it, the backlot area of DCA’s Hollywoodland, the characters from Frozen will be moving in for the holidays. An indoor ice rink and character meet n’ greet will be installed in Stage 17, while next door the Muppets will go on hiatus (again) and the MuppetVision theater will be repurposed for a small stage show and Frozen sing-along. Frozen décor and set pieces will be plopped down around these two venues and take over some of the existing Mad T Party facilities, and the existing Studio Store nearby will be turned into a Frozen merchandise headquarters. This will create a Frozen miniland of sorts in DCA, and should help take the pressure off the Frozen frenzy currently found in Fantasyland.
Disney knows it can only give the media so much information at a time, so they are still trying to strategize when they announce the Frozen holiday miniland and then follow that up with a 60th media preview. What’s unfortunate is that 15 years ago a major animated motion picture like Frozen would have had parade floats and seasonal offerings planned to go into the parks the week before the movie opened in theaters, but last winter the Frozen craze caught Disney’s theme park executives flat footed and totally unprepared. Merchandise shortages around the country and four hour lines for understaffed meet ‘n greets in the parks caused Disney to lose out on buckets of profits from that cultural phenomenon.
Whether or not the Frozen miniland in DCA this winter will be effective or only prove that Frozen has already jumped the shark is yet to be seen. It’s just a shame no one had the nerve or the funds to plan all of this a year ago when America was begging to buy Frozen merchandise and experiences.
One last thing. For those of you concerned the Muppets never get any respect from TDA, constantly being replaced by the latest 3-D preview or princess sing-along show, WDI is putting the finishing touches on a proposal to install an all new MuppetVision show into that theater. The original 1991 film, and it’s unfortunate plot device hinging on the annoying Waldo character, would be replaced with a tighter and shorter presentation that focuses only on the classic Muppets characters in a digital 3d format. If the new show gets the green light for installation by 2016, TDA will need to find another venue to use for appeasing the synergy gurus up at the Burbank studios.
Did today’s update have you reaching for the Star(Wars) or leave you Frozen? How do you feel about the Star Wars project making a move on Mickey? Are you happy to hear about the plussing of Marvel at Disneyland Resort? Do you find yourself cheering for the Muppets over Monsters? Let’s hear your opinions below. After all, Walt said it best, “Disneyland is your land . . . ”