Have we ever considered what makes any of the Disney parks a great, good, or bad experience? It can be said that we sub-consciously judge this through the parks relation to Walt's folly, Disneyland.
When Walt Disney started developing his original park, there was no way of knowing if it would be a success. However, when Disneyland opened in 1955, it was met with unbelievable praise and astonishment. As it developed through the years, it only continued to see positive feedback.
Each of the original lands encompassed a general yet effective theme. Main Street, U.S.A. - small-town America at the turn of the century; Adventureland - the exotic locales of faraway lands; Frontierland - the Wild West and roots of America; Fantasyland - a village of fairy tales and stories; and Tomorrowland - a presentation of the future and the Space Age. Walt struck gold with these lands, each becoming beloved by park visitors.
When the company finally set out to build another park, they decided to use the same scheme. The Magic Kingdom in Florida also found success when it opened it 1971. Since the opening of Disneyland, Walt added two more lands to the list. Each was more specific than the earlier lands but still had room for creativity. New Orleans Square opened in 1966 in Disneyland and Liberty Square opened with the Magic Kingdom in 1971.
Walt and the people at WED had so far created detailed, elaborate lands that had surpassed the audience's expectations. Walt continued to develop new exciting lands in his head. Unfortunately, he died before the opening of the Magic Kingdom and before any of his further plans could be built. WED didn't decide to build another park until they began to develop Epcot Center.
Epcot Center was not a completely original creation, however. It was based on Walt's ideas of a city of the future (EPCOT) and his celebration of international cultures. In some ways, Epcot Center could have been said to be the child of Tomorrowland and the planned International Land. The familiarity of these concepts to park guests led to Epcot Center being a semi-success at opening in 1982 and to this day considered one of the better Disney parks.
This poses the question: does a Disney park's success depend on its relation to Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom? Let's continue.
In 1989, Disney-MGM Studios opened. The park was originally a planned pavilion for Epcot Center but managed to be built as its own park. This new endeavor was not at all derived from the original lands of Disneyland. It was met with mixed reviews and presently considered one of the weaker Disney parks.
This can also be applied to its sister park: Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris which opened in 2002.
Throughout this process, Tokyo Disneyland and Euro Disneyland (Paris) had opened using the same successful design of Disneyland for the most part.
In 1998, Disney's Animal Kingdom was born. It was another moderate success. It could be said that the park was loosely based on Adventureland, a key connection to Disneyland.
In the early 1990's, Disney had been developing a park called Disney's America. Being that it was never built, there is no way to say whether the park would have been a hit. Based on the way of thinking presented in this discussion, it would have. The park found its roots in Frontierland, Main Street, New Orleans Square, and Liberty Square.
As the 21st century came, Disney was in the development of two parks. One would be considered one of Disney's worst parks, while the other being considered a milestone in theme park history.
In February 2001, Disney's California Adventure opened. This was a completely new venture for Disney. The park had no connections to Disneyland; in fact, it was more of a derivative of Disney-MGM Studios. The park underperformed.
Later that year, in September, Tokyo DisneySea opened. This was also a completely new venture for Disney. Rather than not finding any connections to Disneyland, this park became what could be considered Disneyland's counterpart. The park centered around various lands that did not necessarily relate to each other but worked together. It was a somewhat altered image of Disneyland. Main Street became a Mediterranean town, Tomorrowland a port of the future, Adventureland became a river delta and an Arabian outpost, Fantasyland was now a underwater mermaid environment, Frontierland became a mysterious volcano, and New Orleans Square was now New York and Cape Cod.
Tokyo DisneySea became one of Disney's most highly respected parks.
Let's sum up the information so far. Epcot Center (Tomorrowland) worked, Animal Kingdom (Adventureland) worked, Disney's America (Main Street, Frontierland, New Orleans Square, and Liberty Square) may have worked, and Tokyo DisneySea (version of Disneyland) worked. The Studios parks and California Adventure (no connections to Disneyland) did not work.
But aren't we forgetting something? Fantasyland. We have yet to see a park derived from the idea of Fantasyland. This leads to my belief why so many feel that a great park would be one based on myths, legends, and tall tales. Fantasyland was developed on imagination and story-telling. And recently, many ideas have been brought up about a park based on various stories from around the world. This idea almost made it into a park and even almost became its own park. Beastly Kingdom was based on the legendary and mythical animals of the world. It never came to fruition and possibly never will.
Next time Disney decides to build a new park, why not try to see how it connects to Disneyland or the Magic Kingdom? Chances are if you can't find a link, the park might be a flop.