Some of the 60th Anniversary plans were finally revealed, although in a rather underwhelming presentation on Main Street USA that TDA’s execs cut and changed a half dozen times in the days leading up to the modest press event. And while the Disney Parks Blog also finally fessed up about the plans for Luigi’s Flying Tires we told you about months ago, the rest of the 60th plans are now relegated to a slow drip of information through this spring. In this update we’ll fill you in on the backstage panic leading up to last month’s 60th announcement, and what’s ahead for Anaheim before the Diamond Celebration officially begins on May 22nd.
Diamonds Take Forever
Originally the 60th Anniversary media reveal was scheduled for last July 17th, in a splashy event planned for DCA’s Stage 17. But TDA’s executive team, which have struggled to make decisions regarding the 60th, cancelled those plans at the last minute. The cancellation last July was so sudden that TDA was stuck with mountains of hors’ deovres and swag that mostly went to waste.
But around Thanksgiving TDA committed to trying another big event and decided on January 28th. The plan was to spill the beans on all the rides, attractions, and new entertainment coming for the 60th. Disneyland was scheduled to close two hours early, DCA’s closing time was extended two hours later to help take up the slack, and big plans were put in place to wow the assembled media, with the crowd filled in by local bloggers and invited fans from the Disney Parks Blog.
But in a scene that’s become more common in TDA in the last two years, the plans on what to say and what to announce began changing almost by the day in the weeks leading up to the event. The end result was a last minute decision to avoid any mention of ride upgrades, 60th nostalgia exhibits, or anything except the three Steve Davison produced entertainment offerings. Until even just a day before the event, there were still plans to mention the changes we’ve been telling you about for almost two years that are coming to the Fantasyland dark rides, and announce that Neil Patrick Harris would take on the celebrity role of Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary Ambassador to the World. And they’d ignore the attraction plans, like the elaborate remake of Condor Flats into Grizzly Peak Airfield that accompanies Soarin’s big budget upgrades and digital 4K conversion to the original film format.
What happened instead was that TDA closed Disneyland two hours early, pushed out all the paying customers, and then formed a small crowd on Main Street with a tiny contingent of traditional media backfilled with a few dozen amateur bloggers and about 100 fans who got an invite from the Parks Blog. A few dozen extras in attendance were TDA suits and various Burbank hangers-on, nervously watching the crowd to judge their reaction. Steve Davison and Tom Staggs ran through a tightly scripted presentation that was short on details, but long on corporate marketing speak. And 12 minutes after it started, it was all over. Tom was ushered to the Golden Horseshoe for a quick interview with Disney’s in-house communications team, while Steve Davison and a creative rep from each of the three entertainment offerings hosted a brief Q&A session in the Lincoln Theater. The questions from the smattering of traditional media were almost painful; like the confused reporter who gushed she loved the spinning bugs in the original Electrical Parade as a girl and asked how many of those bugs would be used for Paint The Night.
Why exactly this short event had to be held on Main Street USA and close Disneyland two hours early wasn’t clear, although Steve Davison’s brief display of rough cuts from the projection mapping to be used in the Disneyland Forever fireworks show was ostensibly the excuse. Steve Davison’s brilliant fireworks shows, while artistically impressive, have been an operational nightmare for Disneyland for the last decade as they close a half dozen or more Fantasyland attractions, and sometimes the Matterhorn and Disneyland Monorail system, for up to two hours per night. So it was no surprise to Disneyland operations management that Steve would create havoc with paying customers and close Disneyland two hours early just for a quick 60 second rough-draft display of his latest artistic vision. Who needs an operating theme park anyway? So long as the Entertainment Department has a blank canvas of a park to work on, the message Anaheim’s operations management took away from the media event was that the rides and even the entire park can be shut down at Steve’s whim.
Left out entirely from the 60th media event were all the other attraction concepts coming to Anaheim before May. The return of the Hatbox Ghost to the Haunted Mansion, new abominable snowman show scenes plussing up the Matterhorn, the Fantasyland dark ride upgrades, the nostalgia-fueled exhibit and upgraded Marvel experiences in Innoventions (with the lower level now shuttered, the upstairs level will also be closed in a few weeks), plus the expensive 4K conversion of Soarin’ Over California and Grizzly Peak Airfield. Those things were originally to be announced on January 28th, with additional information fleshed out for the local fan bloggers at multiple Q&A sessions that night; like the plan to remake Taste Pilots Grill into a new restaurant called Smoke Jumpers Grill with a 1940’s theme and a dance floor made for swing dancing.
The bigger attraction plans beyond the 60th, like DCA’s new Marvel roller coaster in planning for the parking lot south of Tower of Terror and the Star Wars Land concepts planned for Disneyland’s northern flanks, will have to wait for D23 Expo. The fleet of height test balloons recently bobbing above those various project areas early one morning certainly piqued the interest of arriving Cast Members. But there is still plenty to mention coming to Disneyland for the 60th. Yet TDA’s decision makers can’t seem to commit to a communication strategy, leaving their counterparts in both Burbank and Orlando increasingly annoyed at the indecision.
So now the plan, as much as there is one in TDA, is to announce the non-entertainment 60th offerings in a drip-drip-drip fashion via the Disney Parks Blog. Daily viewership of the Parks Blog has weakened over the years, with a painfully scripted and overly corporate selection of “news” that only a PR flack could enjoy, but at least the Disney fan websites can be counted on to link to any major announcement on the Parks Blog. And unfortunately that’s how the rest of the 60th news will be released until mid May, via Parks Blog pablum.
Tired of Being Tired
The first in these announcements, the closure of Luigi’s Flying Tires, came as no surprise to our regular readers. Although originally the closure of this unsuccessful ride was going to be marketed as part of “new magic” coming for the 60th. Wisely, TDA decided to divorce themselves from that painfully false 60th tie-in, and instead just pretend as if the tires are going away because park visitors would rather be on another spinning car ride than a flying tire.
The reality is that Luigi’s Flying Tires was a concept doomed from the start. Any Disney fan knows that the ride was shepherded into reality by John Lasseter, a huge Disneyland fan, who wanted to recreate Tomorrowland’s famed Flying Saucers from the 1960’s. The bloated and slower version of the ride that showed up in Cars Land wasn’t much like the smaller and nimbler Flying Saucers, and the ride experience at Luigi’s left much to be desired.
When Bob Iger and Tom Staggs took their first test ride of the completed Flying Tires attraction in March, 2012, an underwhelmed Bob exited his tire and marched over to the Imagineers and told them they needed to make the tires go faster and to turn up the music because he could barely hear it. The sheepish Imagineers had to break the news to Bob was that there was no way to make anything go faster, and he couldn’t hear the music because none was playing and the ride wasn’t planned to have music past the queue. After that rather disastrous executive review, less than 90 days before Cars Land was to open, an emergency plan was put in place to record eight new Italian-themed songs for the attraction and the Imagineers began brainstorming how to make the ponderous ride experience livelier. The Imagineers also added an extra 45 seconds of ride time, bumping it from its original 90 second ride length to the current 2:15 minutes, the thought being riders needed more opportunity to figure out how to get the vehicles to move.
The other result of that brainstorming was the infamous addition of dozens of huge, Italian-flag beach balls after John Lasseter remembered the old footage of the Flying Saucers when a savvy marketing guy dumped a bunch of beach balls onto the attraction for the TV cameras. TDA ordered thousands of custom-made Italian flag beach balls, and ride operators were staffed backstage every day blowing up new beach balls with air nozzles to keep the fleet of balls clean and freshly plumped. The result of all this new music and beach balls was a thematic overlay installed before the ride even opened, as the Imagineers worked with Pixar consultants to create the “Festival of the Flying Tires”, complete with a fabricated backstory about a musical festival Luigi’s family used to celebrate in the old country. Of course no one who goes on the ride picks up on that contrived backstory, but at least it made sense in panicky Glendale brainstorming sessions in the spring of 2012.
These last minute additions cost over a million dollars via Imagineering’s bloated budget processes, but that was chump change after the massive underground facility and custom-built ride system zoomed the Luigi’s attraction budget to just shy of 100 Million dollars. By comparison, Radiator Springs Racers as the epic E Ticket that ranks consistently in Anaheim’s Top 3 rides, cost just over 300 Million dollars.
But what works in an Imagineering brainstorming session often turns disastrous during daily theme park operation, with fewer and fewer Imagineers having any real theme park operating experience. And that was what happened to the beach balls, as their addition caused quite a few minor injuries, plus a daily parade at DCA’s Guest Relations from angry riders with injured egos after being smacked upside the head by a beach ball. More importantly, within 60 days of Cars Land’s opening there were several lawsuits regarding injuries allegedly related to the beach balls that have yet to be settled in or out of court. The beach balls were pulled by the end of the first summer, and Disney’s legal team insists that no one even mention that beach balls ever existed on that ride until the pending lawsuits are settled.
With the beach balls gone by August of 2012, Luigi’s Flying Tires settled in to a mellow pace for the last two and a half years of 600 underwhelmed riders per hour on a ride system that’s proven to be incredibly reliable, if not terribly entertaining. Break downs at Luigi’s have been very rare, making it the most reliable attraction in Anaheim month after month, second only to the human-powered canoes in Critter Country.
But the main reason the ride will close for good is the consistent first aid runs caused by people stumbling as they exit their tire at the end of the ride, once they forget they can’t step on the inflated tire like a step. It’s those pesky and non-stop small injuries, mostly just twisted ankles and skinned knees, which have convinced Disney’s legal department that the ride is an injury factory and a major lawsuit just waiting to happen. In 2013 WDI mocked up a new tire vehicle that had a retractable sidewall allowing for an easier step, but it was a nonstarter with the legal team. Couple the constant injuries with a series of customer research surveys in 2012 and 2013 that showed Luigi’s Flying Tires was one of the least liked attractions at the entire Resort, and the writing was on the wall, even if it did cost almost a hundred million to install.
In its place a new ride will be built, literally on the grave of the old ride system and its huge underground complex of giant fans, vaults, and air chambers. The new ride, with the working title “Luigi’s Festival of the Dance”, will be a WiFi controlled trackless car ride where jaunty Italian convertibles (but not Fiats, as Disney still tries to woo GM into new park sponsorships) spin and zip around the floor in a series of choreographed dance routines. This will be the third “dancing vehicle” spinner ride at DCA, after Francis Lady Bug Boogie and Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree. WDI will be working hard to make the ride experience notably different with Anaheim’s debut of a trackless vehicle system similar to those already in use in Hong Kong and Paris. It should be interesting to see if they succeed.
Bling Bling and Other Things – MiceChat Podcast
The MiceChat crew discusses Disney park news and what’s coming to a theme park near you in 2015. Of course, the big news comes from Disneyland, where the 60th “Diamond” anniversary is on the way with three big new shows and surprises. And please help us welcome a new/old host to the show, The Fabulous Disney Babe.
And that should wrap things up for this update. We’d like to know your thoughts on Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary plans. Will you be booking a flight to Anaheim to see new shows, fireworks, Hatbox Ghost, updated attractions, rethemed lands and a new attraction in Cars Land?