The first week in October begins the new fiscal year for the Walt Disney Company, and for Disneyland Resort that almost always means projects either kick off or wrap up in order to satisfy the sharp pencil boys who are always trying to defer the bills to the following fiscal year. Fiscal Year 2015 is no different for Anaheim, as lots of plans awaiting approval in Fiscal ’14 will now be getting underway in Fiscal ‘15. In this update we’ll fill you in on the previous rumors we’ve told you about that got approved, and a few long shot surprises that will be coming very soon to the Anaheim parks.
Diamonds are a Park’s Best Friend
Fiscal 2015 will be the year remembered as Disneyland’s Diamond Celebration. While the budgets for the 60th celebration aren’t as big as they used to be before MyMagic+ began wreaking havoc all over the place at the Florida parks, there are still some very lavish entertainment additions heading to both Anaheim parks. The night parade coming to Disneyland, based on Hong Kong’s new Paint The Night parade, got several key additions and plussed up extras compared to the Hong Kong 1.0 version. Most notably, several additional float units and lighted performers were added for Disneyland, plus a last second decision to create a new Frozen float for the parade.
Disneyland’s Entertainment team is working out the details on the logistics and choreography for this new night parade, after carefully studying the Hong Kong version and finding some weak spots. The concept of a “show stop” with magic paint brushes activating LED effects on the performer’s costumes and floats was supposed to make the jump to Anaheim, but Disneyland’s team has found the concept a bit hokey and barely noticeable by the Hong Kong spectators standing along the parade route frantically trying to get their paint brush to do something.
Parades with lengthy show stops often fall flat with audiences, as it can seem as if the parade has come to a grinding halt due to a technical problem or traffic jam, rather than a purposeful pause for some unexplained theatrical flourish. If the paint brush effect is barely noticeable and unimpressive, there are plenty of Operations people in Anaheim who would prefer that the Entertainment team just keep the big new parade moving along instead of stopping for an ineffective sight gag that most folks won’t understand.
Aside from tweaking the massive new night parade, Disney’s pyrotechnic wizards are busy putting the finishing touches on the new fireworks show. This will be the 15th anniversary of Steve Davison’s fireworks shows in Disneyland, since he first boosted his career with the successfully ground breaking “Believe… There’s Magic In The Stars” fireworks for Disneyland’s 45th anniversary. But before the new show can debut next May, lots of new equipment must be installed so it will be back to the future as Disneyland returns to performing the simple (some might even say archaic) Fantasy In The Sky show this winter and spring, beginning Friday, January 9th.
To prepare for the new parade and fireworks show the backstage alleys behind Main Street will be wrapping up later this fall. The project has been scaled back quite a bit since we first broke the news to you on the proposal almost two years ago, and instead of a fully themed companion to Main Street USA, the alleys will be simple 15 foot wide pathways making a doglegged short cut behind existing Main Street buildings. The eastern alley will feature nicely rebuilt ends on the south and north entry portals to the alley, particularly on the north end where a new First Aid facility with a themed two story façade will replace the 1970’s era trailers hidden behind cheap lattice walls. But the alleys themselves will be simply adorned and unable to access the Main Street buildings they pass directly behind.
The likely scenario here will be that the alleys will remain closed behind decorative gates for most of the day, and only be opened by the crowd control teams at the height of the nightly crush when all the new night entertainment is happening. They won’t be nearly as lavish and fully themed as the original concept, which was to feature additional retail and park amenity space. But when Disneyland attempts a lavish new night parade performing up to twice per night, plus a huge fireworks show, and multiple showings of Fantasmic!, those alleyways will be a dramatic improvement over the crush of humanity that already swamps Main Street on busy nights.
And all the other projects and nostalgia-fueled concepts we’ve told you about for the 60th continue full speed ahead with the funding green light for the new fiscal year, including sparkly new Diamond Celebration silver nametags for the Cast Members. The rehab for Peter Pan’s Flight has now grown to over three months long, as the plan to plus up that classic dark ride for the 21st century has now been slotted to begin on Monday, February 9th and extend into late May.
The 60th won’t only focus on Disneyland though, as the full remake and plussing of World of Color we’d told you about continues to move forward. That will cause World of Color to go down for a long winter’s nap after Christmas, as they rebuild and refit the existing infrastructure with new plumbing and special effects.
There’s another addition coming to DCA for 2015, which has been in stealth mode for the past few months as WDI has had to walk carefully around some powerful Imagineers to get out of the starting gates. The result is that Luigi’s Flying Tires is now slated to close on Sunday, January 11th to be remade into an all new ride, in the shortest amount of time possible.
We’d told you back in 2013 how John Lasseter continued to put his considerable influence behind the Flying Tires attraction, even though Mary Niven’s operations team at DCA felt the ride was a real turkey. In that previous 2013 update we told you how DCA Cast Members leaving their shifts were surprised to find Imagineers at Luigi’s after the park closed testing remote controlled Guido characters. The remote controlled Guido forklifts acted as battering rams who would bash into the tires and help move them around the attraction. That idea continued to morph artistically at WDI, while the Operations team in Anaheim schemed to do away with the ride permanently due to the low customer-satisfaction scores it receives and the unfortunate track record of injuries from people tripping while they try to climb into the cumbersome vehicles. John Lasseter’s dream of reinventing the Flying Saucers from his youth never quite worked well, and everyone in Anaheim and a growing group in Glendale knew it but didn’t have the guts to tell Lasseter.
But after lots of political footsie with Imagineers, TDA has now gotten their wish and the original Luigi’s attraction is planned to close just after Christmas. The current plan is to replace the Flying Tires and the oddball and easily overlooked “Festival of the Flying Tires” backstory with a new attraction that removes the need for the riders to steer their own vehicles. A fleet of 1950’s Fiat cars, ostensibly Luigi’s extended family visiting from the old country, will spin and twirl around the floor in a choreographed musical production number in the new ride tentatively called “Luigi’s Festival of the Dance”.
The new ride will keep the existing tire showroom building and indoor queue, and use a version of the WiFi controlled system that guides autonomous vehicles through the Ratatouille ride at Disneyland Paris and Mystic Manor at Hong Kong Disneyland. The massive fans and deep basement that powered the Flying Tires ride system will be put into mothballs, while the new ride is built literally on its grave. If the aggressive schedule from WDI pans out, the new ride could be up and running by the Christmas season of 2015, just under a year from the time the Flying Tires closed.
There’s no word yet whether they might get Fiat to sponsor the Luigi’s Festival of the Dance ride, although that would probably upset the bigwigs at General Motors who have been in recent talks with TDA to once again sponsor at least one attraction in each Anaheim park. When the Star Wars Tomorrowland plan was officially dead and buried earlier this year, WDI began contemplating an updated version of Autopia that would fit perfectly with a GM sponsorship. Autopia and/or a GM sponsorship of Radiator Springs Racers, with those soaring Cadillac tailfins, are on Disney’s wish list of corporate agreements now that GM has exited its dark bankruptcy era and has money to spend.
When Hollywood Freezes Over
But before Luigi’s Flying Tires can join the Rocket Rods, in the short list of failed Anaheim attractions, DCA will need to get through the busy holiday season. And as we’ve told you, the Frozen franchise will be invading DCA’s Hollywood Land section in a big way this Christmas. Ice skating, a new stage show, plus Frozen exhibits and merchandise, food and beverage offerings, and lots of icy décor will take over most of the Backlot area of Hollywood Land.
The Frozen characters themselves will now be moving from Fantasyland over to the Disney Animation building, and they will set up residence in the space that was always supposed to be reserved for character meet n’ greets; Character Close-Up at the exit of the Animation Academy. That area hadn’t been used for character greetings in over a decade, and it’s most recently been the site of the nifty Toy Story Zoetrope machine. But the zoetrope will be packed up and moved into storage and that area showcasing recent Disney or Pixar movies will be redressed as Anna and Elsa’s royal lair. The greetings will be by reservation only, as they’ll use a form of the Fastpass tickets currently in use for Frozen in Fantasyland.
You won’t be able to avoid Frozen this winter when you enter Hollywood Land, and the end date on all this Frozen fun is open-ended as Burbank wants TDA to ride the popularity for as long as possible. Burbank really missed the boat on the Frozen craze last winter and spring, losing out on a lot of merchandise sales and theme park visits since they weren’t prepared to satisfy customer demand for Frozen. They’ll try harder this Christmas season, and keep the additions around indefinitely, but it may be too late to drive much new business. The last-minute addition of Frozen to the upcoming night parade at Disneyland, plus the makeover of Maelstrom in Florida, means that Frozen will be found in the parks for decades to come, perhaps to serve as a reminder that Burbank needs more faith in the product they create.
New Year, New High Definition
And once DCA concludes the holiday season with a big Three Kings Day celebration in early January at the returning Viva Navidad show, it won’t just be Luigi’s Flying Tires closing for an extended period. Soarin’ Over California will finally be moving forward with the transition to an HD digital format that was cancelled at the last minute a year ago. Soarin’ will also close on January 11th, and remain closed until late May. It won’t just be an HD upgrade however, as the Soarin’ building and all of Condor Flats are now budgeted to receive themed Placemaking by WDI.
Condor Flats and Soarin’ were the lone breakout hit for DCA when it opened in February, 2001, and if it weren’t for Soarin’ the generally crummy reviews for the park in ‘01 would have been truly horrific. But Soarin’ and the surrounding shops and restaurants still have a 2001 design that doesn’t fit with the new period-specific (and much more expensive) aesthetic that WDI has been ladling onto DCA since Toy Story Midway Mania opened in 2008. Gone will be the circa 2001 generic props and cheap shopping mall signage around Condor Flats, to be replaced with a distinctly mid 20th century vintage look and feel. The interior hallways and theaters of Soarin’ Over California will also change, with vintage props and a more enveloping queue and pre-show.
The transition to an HD format should be a stunner, as the simple upgrade to digital recently at DCA’s It’s Tough To Be A Bug show made a huge difference in that 15 year old theater. The new Soarin’ worldwide footage will have to wait however, as the Soarin’ The World footage is slated to debut first in Shanghai Disneyland, whenever that horribly delayed and massively troubled project is able to open sometime in 2016. But DCA’s signature attraction from 2001’s opening day will at least get a fresh new look and impressive tech upgrade for the 60th celebration.
While DCA flogs the Frozen craze to death this winter and closes several shows and attractions for big makeovers, Disneyland will also be heavily into refurbishment mode. A larger than normal amount of cosmetic and infrastructure improvements have been added to the Fiscal 2015 budget for Disneyland. The exterior cosmetic refurbishments that began this summer at the Main Entrance and Main Street USA will continue to spread throughout the park, while the usual rolling refurbishments of attractions continue through spring.
It’s important to remember how much better Disneyland looks today compared to 10 years ago when it was scrambling to fix years of neglect before the 50th Anniversary began. But as good as the Resort already looks, TDA wants to make sure the park sparkles for the Diamond Celebration, and the TDA planners carved out a big chunk of extra money to make it happen. It’s a good reminder of how passionate about Disneyland many long-term executives in TDA are, even if the Disneyland President top spot is a revolving door position that is filled by a nomadic and emotionally detached exec every three years. (Michael Colglazier’s executive contract in Anaheim will be up in early 2016, barely 15 months from now.)
Legends of the Fall Protection
While the park exteriors are being freshened up this winter, more attraction refurbishments will be scheduled to fix the glaring problems with lighting and animatronics in too many rides lately. Those inoperative fixtures and figures are all due to the panicky “Fall Protection” standards that Disney’s safety team imposed in Anaheim suddenly last year, after Disney was fined due to an outside contractor falling and breaking his arm while cleaning the Space Mountain dome in November, 2012.
The most noticeable maintenance problems caused by the fall protection standards currently appear in Splash Mountain, where entire lighting racks hung from the ceiling and some animatronics placed too close to tall ledges are now off-limits to Disney’s maintenance teams. Splash Mountain will close for refurbishment this January, and TDA has dedicated a healthy budget to rebuild and re-engineer the lighting rigs and animatronic sets throughout that ride so that maintenance teams can return to performing upkeep in those areas. Until that refurbishment however, Splash Mountain will remain a dark and creepy ride with many inoperative animatronics. Rolling rehabs at other less noticeable problem areas in other attractions and facilities will begin this week and continue through the spring, under the beefed up budget for Fiscal ’15.
Interestingly, many of the exact same physical conditions and maintenance scenarios exist at the identical or similar rides in Walt Disney World. But with Florida’s far less legislated environment, no state inspector will be bothering any of the Team Disney Orlando managers to bring their facilities up to the Anaheim standards for worker safety. While Disney executives love to gush about “One Disney” and their universal safety standards on each coast, when it comes to spending a lot of money to upgrade the facilities that are identical to Anaheim, the Orlando team is curiously quiet on that specific topic.
Okay, that just about wraps things up for this update. Does news of an enhanced 60th anniversary parade have you twinkling with delight? Is an updated Lugi Tires attractions inflating your expectations? Let us know your thoughts below.