As I look back on the year and ahead to the new one, I realize something with a bit of alacrity: I am very, very nearly "over" Disney. (Since this touches on several elements of Disney, I am posting it in the Disneyland section, but feel free to move it if you see fit.)
I'll start with D23. I was a big, big supporter of it and went online a lot this summer to defend it when I felt people were being overly critical. I've always thought, if you're a Disney fan, you should be a member of the Disney fan club. Well, about four months ago my membership to D23 lapsed, and after thinking about it a LONG time, I put the reminder notice into the shredder (so my family wouldn't find it and say, "You threw this out by mistake!") and decided to see what would happen if I didn't renew. And the result is ...... drum roll please..... absolutely NOTHING. I've not missed it at all.
The last issue of the magazine I felt was more than ever just a corporate brand magazine, and since I plan to be out of the country when the Expo is happening this year I realized there was no point in being a member. I am still on their Facebook page and I follow what they do there, and it just seems more than ever that D23 doesn't know what it wants to be. It's not a fan club, it's a corporate messaging service. But I'm not ANGRY at it, and when people ask me if they should be a member I tell them yes, but have started adding that you won't really get much for your money if you're not a "participator" in events and such. OK, so, D23 became a ho-hum experience that while I still can appreciate, I don't feel is vital in any way. (Their Facebook page is really, really boring.... they even seem to delete negative comments about Disney, which lead to no real actual communication between members.)
With D23 down, I started thinking about why I bought a Premier passport last year. I was going to Florida for work AND I have been a Disneyland Annual Passholder for about six years, so it made sense. But the last time I went to WDW, I tried SO hard to cut Disney some slack but found the whole place was feeling run down and tired. They built too much and now they don't want to maintain it, they want to charge people more to provide less, which today in particular (with the fiscal cliff vote) feels like a running theme in the country overall. When we went to WDW for six days, I actually started getting ....bored. I HATE TO SAY THAT. But apart from rides we had done a dozen times or more, it didn't feel there was much new and more importantly, it felt like they were closing or not maintaining older things. It was sad to go by the Wonders of Life Pavilion at Epcot or to see that Disney still won't spend the money to fix the Yeti in Expedition Everest. Pavilions at Epcot looked tired, and for ME to say that is really saying something, because I'm a major Epcot fan. Disney's Hollywood Studios felt like one big giant corporate commercial, and all I kept thinking about while there was how much I used to ADORE the Studios, it made me fall in love with the movies all over again every time I went there. It was special. Now, it's a corporate brand program.
Compare that to Universal Studios, where I went for the first time in a VERY long time. It felt fresh! Granted, it was "new" to me in a lot of ways, but literally it LOOKED AND FELT fresh and new. They were keeping it up. The staff was polite and courteous. (I'm not joking.) Everything in the rides actually WORKED. Even "off-the-shelf" rides like the roller coasters looked like they were being maintained. I had been on "Spider-Man" before and thought, Wow, this actually looks like it did the last time I was on it. The vehicles weren't all scratched up, the queue area wasn't gross and dirty, the employees TALKED TO ME and smiled, the ride worked perfectly, and when I got off I was smiling. OK, enough about Universal. This isn't a comparison, but it was the first "chink in the armor" for me when it came to Disney.
I live on the west coast, so I've been visiting Disneyland a lot this year due to my Premier pass. Maybe too much. Likely too much. Because from the moment I pull into the parking structure and see a bunch of people waving wands at me and looking incredibly unhappy, to the time I get on the tram and am basically shoved on with a ton of people and driven by areas filled with plastic tarps, to the time I get into the parks, it all feels ....long in the tooth.
Everywhere you go at Disneyland, DISNEY is thrown in your face. Either that or Star Wars. I don't mean Disney permeates the place, which would be wonderful. I mean, it's like going to the grocery store and being bombarded by ads and branding. That's what Disneyland has started feeling like to me.
The guests themselves are less considerate, by far. People run around like they own the place, they shove their strollers wherever they want to, they sit down and eat fast food they've brought in on the side of the curb, they are not pleasant. The place is always TOO crowded, it's becoming crazy -- in October, I went on a Thursday afternoon, and everything was jam packed. Clearly, too many annual passholders, but, hey, I'm one of them so I don't actively complain about that.
But then there's the experience in general. I don't know how to describe it, it just has come to feel so ....corporatized. There's no sponteneity. Now, I paid $700 for my annual pass, so I figure I get a LITTLE room to express my negative opinions ....most companies these days actively encourage feedback. Disney doesn't, except if it's yet another restaurant survey when exiting the park. Mostly, they don't want to hear it. But because it's Disney and because I have FOND memories of such high customer service, I expect that there, and more and more I feel I'm the one at fault because I have these expectations. I admit I have started to actively look for things that are "wrong," but it isn't much of a challenge. Rides are in incredibly poor shape, everything is scuffed and dinged. Wherever you go inside a ride, there's trash -- I don't mean a piece or two of trash, I mean there are drink cups and popcorn containers and fast-food wrappers pretty much everywhere. It seems Disney doesn't care.
BUT ... this isn't just a post about why theme park customer service has fallen in quality. It's about Disney in general.
I remember in the '80s and '90s being SO excited by ANYTHING Disney did. "Beauty and the Beast," "The Little Mermaid," "Aladdin," "The Lion King," "Pocahontas," "Toy Story," the Touchstone movies ("Three Men and a Baby," "Good Morning Vietnam"), the new resorts at Walt Disney World, the Disney Store, it felt like Disney was an endless source of creativity that could never end.
Now ... Marvel super heroes are stuffed into Disney parks because Disney bought them, and no one really asks, "Do they fit?" Soon, "Star Wars" will be even MORE ubiquitous. Everything is Pixar not because it works thematically, but because Disney needs to "monetize." From what I've heard, Walt Disney Imagineering has been eviscerated, Disney Animation basically doesn't exist, and the movie lineup for next year is all remakes of remakes of reboots of franchises.
There's just no magic left, and I've gotten disillusioned. I know, a lot of you will say "Stop complaining and don't give them your money if you don't like it." And I guess that's what I'm going to do. I've made a decision to go to Disneyland MAYBE two times this year -- I already know when they will be, and paying for the ticket is going to be more financially logical rather than buying an annual pass.
I'm hoping that if I get rid of D23 and stop going to the parks, maybe I can get a little "breather." I can enjoy other West Coast theme parks, go to Vegas, travel to cities other than Orlando, and maybe -- I hope SOOOOOO much -- by January 1, 2014, I'll feel I miss Disney.
Maybe I am alone in feeling like Disney's new strategy of being a "content management company" makes them.... very non-Disney. It all feels so calculated and forced, in the name of making money for shareholders.
I remember when Eisner and Wells expanded Epcot, built Disney-MGM Studios, started building all of the resorts, expanded into Europe (with something that felt VERY different), and challenged their workers to always amaze consumers. For a long while, you never really knew what Disney was going to do next, and you knew whatever it was, you wanted to see it!
Now, there's ANOTHER Disneyland in China (it doesn't seem to bother Disney what China's politics are like, as long as there is money), Disney will churn out a new "Star Wars" movie and more Marvel super hero movies because they are guaranteed money makers, Pixar will deliver another animated film once a year, and ABC and ESPN will continue to be the new "heart" of The Walt Disney Company. NOTHING feels creative or original or exciting anymore, and when I go to the Parks and read the D23 magazine, it just gets a little depressing. Everything is designed to provide the greatest possible revenue with the lowest possible creative risk.
So, like I said, maybe after a "Disney breather" I will start to miss it and will welcome it back. But for now as we start a new year, I guess I will say at least a temporary farewell to Disney. I WANT to feel the magic ... but I can't be FORCED to, if that makes sense?