King of the World - Reinventing the Magic Kingdom
by, 02-15-2012 at 08:52 PM
You've just been crowned monarch of the Disney Parks in North America. You can change anything you want without regard to budgets or corporate politics. As the benevolent dictator you can command your minions to do your bidding. My question to you is "what exactly is it that you want to do?"
A few weeks ago I decided to have a bit of fun and crowned myself king of Disneyland. I love Walt’s little park and have been there so often others have wondered about my sanity. But we know better, right? Many of you rose to the challenge and I highly recommend readers cruise through the comments on that article. There is some brilliant stuff in there.
Now it is time to travel east to the Walt Disney World Resort. We have four theme parks within our realm. The four theme parks that present a great opportunity to take that which we may consider marginal or even regrettable and turn in into something exceptional. The Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom need our benevolence. What to do?
This week, I shall walk through the Magic Kingdom and give direction to my minions. In future editions, we'll cast our eyes to the other parks as well. With crown properly placed and scepter firmly in hand, let's make our first decrees.
One thing I do not want to change is the way my people arrive to the park. The arrival experience at the Magic Kingdom continues to delight me. What is not to like? You start with a choice of a monorail or a ferry. Granted, some may arrive by bus but they benefit from the VIP treatment of being dropped off at the front door.
After choosing which form of conveyance, I enjoy how the journey becomes the experience of passing through a sequence of spaces punctuated by the shear anticipation created by the deflected views of the castle spires. As a person who tends to travel solo and without a bag, I appreciate the fact that my security team can just wave me through at the front door. I should teach my Disneyland minions to do the same.
First, I must inspect Main Street USA. The grand facades of the buildings suggest that this is a prosperous town but the lack of vehicles up and down the street tell me a different story. The movie theater has been closed down and converted into a store. The biggest building on Town Square has been converted into a boarding house for women and is over run with mice and dogs. The city cannot even afford a fire department.
My economic redevelopment department must leap into action and resolve these issues. We begin with a fleet of vehicles that run throughout the day. I recognize that we have a couple of parades but after 57+ years of operating parks I am sure we can figure out something. Considering the Florida weather, I think the convenience of public transportation, as an alternative is more important then ever.
I am glad that the Fire Station is no longer a shop but I am not sure that the minions got it right by letting the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom in to recruit common folks and putting them through a challenge of finding video projections. I understand the desire to be near the front gate but I feel there is a spot in Fantasyland where you would expect to find magic and Sorcerers. They tell me this is temporary. They tell me a lot of things, not all of which are true.
While they are in the Fire Station, can somebody fix the party line phone? There is one that was working in the Chapeau shop the last time I was there but it is hidden.
It is time to head into the world of cinematic exotica. It is time for visit to Adventureland.
I am not a fan of the Aladdin spinner but I understand that the little ones approve. It can stay for now. However, I think my minions missed an excellent opportunity with the Tiki Room. I am not suggesting that I had anything to do with the fire but let’s just say I am happy those two plastic goons have flown the coop. What I would like to see happen is to return to the original show but update the technology to create a whole new magical experience.
This process is not unprecedented. For example, at Disneyland’s Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, Imagineer Tony Baxter and his team combined classic dialogue by Royal Dano and Paul Frees from the original presentation with bits of The American Adventure and topped it off with the most amazing Audio-Animatronics figure at any of the six North American parks. The presentation is legible, compelling, and emotional. The Mr. Lincoln figure is remarkably lifelike. The advanced technology allows for an incredible range of facial expressions. He furrows his brow, his eyes twitch, and he is capable of forming vowels.
Imagine what you could do with the Tiki Room. Clean up the classic soundtrack and install a state-of-the-art audio system with three-dimensional sound. You did it with the Stretching Room at the Haunted Mansion. Rebuild the birds with incredible, fluid, lifelike motion and the watch the little ones eyes light up. Their parents will feel a sense of nostalgia while being awestruck and entertained by the latest technology.
There is one part of Adventureland that I would never want changed. That is the Swiss Family Treehouse. Unlike the heavy-handed story of the Tarzan treehouse at Disneyland, this one lets your mind fill in the blanks. I can always come here and imagine what it would have been like to sleep here. I'd gladly stay the night if the bed was anything near normal size. Did you know that Ray Wallace, the same guy who designed the Columbia at Disneyland, did all of the rope work?
Oh yes. I will be happy to spring for new light bulbs for Pirates of the Caribbean.
Liberty Square is a delight and I enjoy the rich back-story, the high level of detail, the variety of historic architecture exhibited through the building facades, and the little nooks and crannies where one can find a seat and relax. I know that at times I may be a bit naive, but I do miss having shops that reflect, enhance, and embellish the theme of the land. As this is my fantasy, I would return the shops back into examples of early American craft making. People would get to see artisans in the Silversmith Shoppe or a Milliner crafting a hat. Slowly browse through the Olde World Antiques or stop to smell the wonders of Mlle. Lafayette’s Parfumerie.
I am satisfied with the updated Hall of Presidents show, but once again there is a chance to install the latest technologies and “plus” the show. President Barack Obama is a man that is very familiar to the audience. For years, they have seen the man in their living rooms in High-Definition. Take the facial technology used for Mr. Lincoln and do a makeover of our current President. This will take an already excellent and meaningful presentation to a whole new level by making the impossible plausible.
Once you leave the Hall of Presidents it would be a good time to reflect upon this great land of ours by cruising along the Rivers of America. The Liberty Belle is a fine ship but she is a lonely one along these waters. There is no life. That must change. Bring back the Keel Boats. Bring back a second stern–wheeler or maybe even a side-wheeler. To make sure there is demand, show the banks of the river some tender loving care. Once again, Disneyland has set an example and has created a delightful experience. Why can't we do that here as well?
Tom Sawyer Island should be an activity node for the little ones, but it has become almost deserted. The island serves an important function. Kids need a place to run around to let off steam. Walt was smart enough to put a playland within his park. It could use an infusion of life. My minions are very excited about the use of technology to assist in play as seen with the Kim Possible game at Epcot and the Menahune Adventure Trail at the Aulani Resort in Hawaii. Now they are trying the same thing at the Magic Kingdom with the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom. Why not make the island the showplace for this technology and create a singular experience. Limit the number of players and provide them a more immersive experience with greater rewards. Create a sequential adventure that is driven by multiple choices featuring multiple outcomes and you have a repeatable experience that will form long lines on the opposite shore.
As I pass through Frontierland, my requests are modest. The Country Bear Jamboree could use some tender loving care. A better sound system, revamp Audio-Animatronics, and a return to seasonal shows are all called for. As a gift to my colleague Kevin Yee, I command my minions to fix Splash Mountain to its showroom glory and keep it that way.
I shall wait until my minions complete the construction of the new Fantasyland before I comment. I saw the model at the D23 Expo and it sure beats an empty hole in the ground. Progress.
Speaking of progress, the time has come to tear down the Sci-Fi Fantasyland that we have today and to create a truly forward-leaning Tomorrowland.
Let’s start with Stitch’s Great Mistake. I think that Len Testa and Bob Sehlinger from The Color Companion to Walt Disney World summed up best when they wrote Stitch the following letter:
I can’t go in there. It is like a child torture chamber. This attraction is such a nuisance that I want it gone right away. So that means I need to find something that I could poach from someplace else.Dear Stitch,
We have to talk. We tried to make this work. We really did. But you’re just not the kind of theme park character we need in our lives right now. We were happy for you when your parent’s gave you your own attraction after one mediocre film and TV series. And the ride’s story about you escaping as prisoner of the galactic authorities when they tried to transfer you to another prison – we totally get the whole “bad boy” thing. But no one likes what you have become. What’s with all the spitting and burping you do on the audience during the show? You never used to do that when we were just hanging out. And why is it that the audience has to sit there, strapped to their seats in the dark, so that parents can’t help when their kids start screaming? Is that what you want? Because it’s like…it’s like we don’t even know you anymore.
You say you’ve tried to improve – keeping the lights on low so kid’s can see what’s going on, for example, and making some of the story scenes less scary. But it’s too late. It’s not you; it’s us. We’ve changed, and we don’t want that kind of ride anymore. We just hope that we can be friends.
Best, Bob and Len
Bring in the copy of Stormrider from Tokyo DisneySea. Imagine walking into "The Center for Weather Control" and board a Stormrider, a plane that carries a "Storm Diffusion Device." Our mission is to fly into a storm and detonate the device. Of course, in the tradition of many Disney attractions, something goes horribly wrong. The ride vehicle is a full-motion simulator like Star Tours with in car effects. The show features technology and enhances the current storyline of Tomorrowland as an intergalactic port city.
That's what I'd like to do to poor Stitch, but I leave it to you to tell me what should replace Monsters Inc. Laugh Factory. Why should it go? It does not pass the plausible impossible test. First, what does the world of monsters have to do with Tomorrowland unless they are users of the spaceport outside?
Answer this. The monsters are three-dimensional objects, correct? Why do they appear in real time before us as two-dimensional figures? Are they on a television? It makes sense when I visit Turtle Talk with Crush. He is behind glass as though in an aquarium. But this doesn’t make sense with the monsters. Toss in a bland storyline where many of the jokes are based on making fun of people sitting in the audience and you have a large space that could be used for something else.
I know, sometimes I think about these things too much. Such is my burden as king.
I thought I would say a few words about the Carrousel of Progress, but I keep tearing up and just cannot focus. It is like witnessing the death of a loved one. If you have read Walt and the Promise of Progress City, you know how much this attraction means to me. Not long ago I wanted to jump on stage and fix father’s head, since somebody left a large gap between the latex mask and the costume. And the final scene…(sob).
Just fix it. Build in a process where the final scene is always updated annually. Make it an event. The sharp pencil boys always make cuts to the attractions but they seem to spend money like drunken sailors on the promotions. So hype the changeover. Use the folks who are pimping Innoventions to find sponsors that get a quick mention in the show about their innovative products. Why can’t ASIMO who prowls the halls of Innovention at Disneyland walk on stage and hand Granny a drink? We play our cards right and we can earn a few extra shekels for the realm.
And Autopia. The boring track will give way to something with more visual interest, like the one at Disneyland. You will enjoy your ride in your little hydrogen-powered vehicle sponsored by an auto company. The company will be able to use the experience gained from park operations as a test bed for reliability and people can become familiar with the technology.
While we are at it, restore the bit of the Progress City model on the PeopleMover to something near its previous glory. Make the vehicles move and rehab the model so that it is compelling enough to make folks spin their heads to capture a better view.
Whew. There could be so much more. But that is another story. Time to move on. Time to go over to Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom and see what we can do. But first, I need a royal nap.
Well, what would all you clever kings and queens out there do?