In 1999, Paul Pressler became the President of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, and shortly afterwards would be named Chairman. He was given a more powerful role than any other Parks & Resorts chief in history. He wasn't only supervising Park Operations, he was put in charge of Imagineering as well.
Paul Pressler was already well known to WDI by 1999. As President of Disneyland, he had been intimately involved with the design and development of Disney's California Adventure. Pressler helped shape the concept and determined the budget for the park. It was reported that the overall expansion of the Disneyland Resort was well over one billion dollars. Most of that money did not go into California Adventure; in fact, the park received less then half of the investment. Most of the money went into the new parking structure, Downtown Disney, and especially the Grand Californian Hotel. The park designers would have to work with crumbs. But Paul Pressler wasn't just the guy holding the purse strings anymore, as Chairman of Parks & Resorts he had creative approval as well. For the first time in Disney history, a moneyman was dictating "creative" changes to the artists at Walt Disney Imagineering.
Paul Pressler had convinced everyone on the Parks & Resorts team that Disney's California Adventure would be an unparalleled success. In the days leading up to the opening of California Adventure, the Director of Attractions at Disneyland, Paul Yeargin, openly discussed his concerns that Disney's California Adventure would fill to capacity every day. He thought the resort's biggest problem would be disappointed guests, who, after traveling a great distance to see California Adventure would have to settle for Disneyland instead. Yeargin and other Disneyland executives made decisions based on this premise. Including a now infamous decision by Disneyland Resort President, Cynthia Harriss, to restrict Annual Passholders from using their passes at Disney's California Adventure for the first few months after opening. This decision only served to anger the already disgruntled 400,000 passholders who provide a significant amount of revenue for the resort. Harriss and Yeargin, like many of the Disneyland executives, had followed Pressler over from the Disney Stores and had no previous theme park experience.
Then in February 2001, the world saw what had been festering behind closed doors at WDI for the past several years. Disney's California Adventure opening in the old Disneyland parking lot. It was a mix of off-the-shelf carnival rides and film-based attractions. When Walt's close friend and long-time Imagineer, John Hench, saw the park for the first time he said, "I liked it better as a parking lot." WDI would try to fix California Adventure any way they could. They threw attractions at it left and right...Who Wants to be A Millionaire
, a bug's land
, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
, even the Main Street Electrical Parade
would come out of moth balls. None of it worked, of course.
All these projects were subject to the same approval process as Disney's California Adventure. Park Operations (Paul Pressler) would need to approve the concept and budget for the new attraction. The Strategic Planning department would then determine if the project were economically feasible. Then if the project were approved, it would be supervised by Project Management to make sure the creatives didn't try to improve the attraction after it was in production. Of course, all these new systems of control came with a price tag, which drove up the cost of the projects. The Walt Disney Company was spending more money on bureaucracy and less on the attraction itself. In the end, the paying guest got shortchanged.
At WDI, it was taboo to suggest that there was something wrong with California Adventure or the any of the new attractions. At first, WDI management said that the weather was to blame. When the weather cleared up, they blamed the economy. Then they used the new standby...people were scared to travel after September 11th. None of these excuses were valid because Disneyland continued to have much more respectable attendance figures (it's hard to image the weather or economic conditions could be so drastically different ninety feet to the south).
It would seem that WDI could sink no further, but in March of 2002, Pressler (along with former strategic planner Jay Rasulo) opened the only Disney theme park less impressive then California Adventure...Walt Disney Studios Paris. The park failed so miserably, it forced Disneyland Paris into a debt re-structuring plan that currently threatens the future existence of the resort. The pendulum had swung to the other extreme.
Walt Disney Studios Paris is the total opposite of Disneyland Paris. It is a theme park by the numbers-designed with a spreadsheet instead of paint and brush.