Michael, Murphy & Marty oh my!
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The dog days of summer are upon Disneyland, and healthy crowds boosted by the Summer Nightastic 3-day locals pass continue to surge through the parks. While the troublesome entertainment offerings that were supposed to be the big glamour elements of the marketing campaign continue to give the Entertainment Department fits, it's that cheap summer pass for locals that is really the most successful part of the whole thing.

Today we'll dig into just how long it may be before Fantasmic's new dragon finally appears, and what resurrections from the dead may be ahead for Disneyland this Halloween among a few other things in this update. Got that trip to the doughnut cart already made? Have that latte blended now? Well then let's get going, shall we? - Al

Murphy's Stall

The big question on everyone's mind is obviously, when will Murphy the ever-so-troublesome Fantasmic dragon finally appear? The current answer is not for at least a couple more weeks, and perhaps not even until after the Nightastic campaign officially ends on the 23rd. The company contracted by Disneyland's Entertainment Department to build and install the finished dragon recently completed that task, after weeks of shoehorning new equipment and repaired infrastructure back into the pit on Tom Sawyer Island.

Dragons hide here

The newly redesigned dragon and the elevator lift it rises up on is so much heavier now with all of the reinforcements that four new larger motors also just had to be installed to ensure that Murphy can rise up out of his lair two or three times per night on cue.

I see dead dragon
What do you see?

But now, almost two months behind schedule, the dragon has been turned over to the Entertainment Department to begin the extensive programming and testing needed to allow Murphy to go through his scripted paces, including the very tricky element of spitting giant plumes of fire out over the Rivers of America. Since the folks working in the Entertainment Department's technical services group really don't know how the dragon will respond to all of the work yet to come, the tentative debut date of August 16th now being considered (and posted as gospel by some who should know better) should be taken with a huge grain of salt.

Dragon or Batmobile?
This better?

True, the mechanical bits were done this weekend and it appears to be "fixed". But there are still days and weeks of programming and testing needed. This wasn't going to be a human-controlled effect like the original dragon, which had an operator down in the pit working a glorified joystick to get the boom and head to move around at showtime. This is going to be more like an animatronic that has a computer program that goes through its paces automatically at the push of a button from the control booth. That takes programming and testing to make sure the clearances all work and it moves and acts like the show designers want it to. It may look finished, but there is still plenty of work and testing to be completed.

The other mess the Fantasmic team has been trying to fix is the new Flotsam and Jetsam (or Flotsam and Jetski, as the crew calls the creatures powered by Honda AquaTrax machines). One of the eels ran into the central pyrotechnics barge while snaking its way across the water during the show just over a week ago, and since then the eels have been cut from nightly performances. Luckily the driver was okay and no major damage was done to any equipment, but the eels were pulled until a fix could be made for the extremely poor vision the drivers have to work with underneath the eel head.

The solution appears to be the installation of tiny night-vision cameras with a small screen inside the driver compartment that will allow the drivers to maneuver around the island and floating equipment barges much easier. They've been rehearsing the new night-vision eels since this past Friday, and if things continue to go well the return of Flotsam and Jetski could happen by the time you read this update.

Blame Game

All of these technical problems for the reworked Fantasmic show have caused a predictable round of finger pointing, and the popular culprit in Entertainment is now the decision by TDA to delay the Fantasmic rehab by two months in order to continue nightly performances of the show last January and February.

Regular readers will remember that Fantasmic went to an unusual nightly schedule of performances through the dead of winter while Main Street USA was repaved and all parades were cancelled for three months. The decision then to continue offering Fantasmic ever night so that at least one major "spectacular" was offered each day to winter crowds was a noble one, but even then it wasn't a popular one with the folks in Entertainment who wanted more time to prepare all of their new summer toys. The result was an extremely rushed spring rehab that left many loose ends and an expensive new dragon who broke his neck with a thunderous crash just days before his official debut.

The response and damage control now requires another lengthy rehab for Fantasmic, and the show is now planned to close for two months just after Labor Day regardless of whether or not Murphy debuts this August. The schedules for Disneyland haven't been publicly released yet, but weekends in September will only feature the Celebrate street party and encore performances of the Magical fireworks. The Remember fireworks look to have entered Yesterland, unless they get a sudden reprieve.

This upcoming winter will also have an extended Fantasmic closure, as the Rivers of America are drained for a needed refurbishment from January to April. After a few months of rehearsals, Fantasmic should return again in June for the 2010 summer season, and only then will it likely feature every element it was supposed to feature this summer. 2010 also means the 55th Anniversary, and the Anaheim property will get in on a broader theme centered on the "Happiest Memories On Earth," with World of Color making its debut as part of that campaign kick-off in the spring without an adjacent Fantasmic to compare it to.

Oh-no E-O!

Before then however, on September 25th the new Halloween fireworks will debut, and Nightastic will become an unfortunate memory not quite on the scale of Light Magic, but certainly not as successful as TDA had hoped. The big surprise for the spooky Halloween fireworks will be a flying Zero the dog, borrowing the cables for a few weeks from Tinkerbelle and Dumbo.

And of course there's the new Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy that TDA was forced to admit to in a huff after we alerted you to it. Ghost Galaxy will be using some of the special effects equipment installed back in 2006 for the failed Rockin' Space Mountain promotion, but there will also be new lighting and props installed along the track and in the loading area during the two week refurbishment this September. Once that new Ghost Galaxy equipment is installed and tested, future versions of Ghost Galaxy should only require a few days of rehab instead of two weeks.

Shrunk to infinity!

Just in the past week, Disneyland President Ed Grier and his TDA planners have held a few meetings to consider another element for this year's HalloweenTime promotion; a return engagement of Captain EO to the Magic Eye Theater in Tomorrowland. This idea was of course prompted by the sudden death of Michael Jackson, and the waves of nostalgia Disneyland fans suddenly felt for that salute to 1980's music video kitsch. The decision on whether or not to bring Captain EO back for HalloweenTime has not yet been made, but TDA is now pulling together the numbers and feasibility on what it would take to give the theater a quick Captain EO overlay and retheme.

4 or 5 noses ago?

There's actually quite a bit of work that would need to go into this temporary changeover, with WDI approved signage and testing and training involved, not to mention the pesky issue of Kodak's sponsorship that mandates that Honey I Shrunk The Audience themed commercial to play in the waiting area. But since attendance at this venue has plummeted in recent years to the point where it only hosts a tiny fraction of its daily capacity, a return of Captain EO would be a great shot in the arm for this almost forgotten facility. And of course there would be swarms of Annual Passholders flooding the park to see this attraction one more time.

Passholders; by the Numbers

It's those swarms of Annual Passholders that give TDA pause when it comes to crazy stunts like bringing back Captain EO. Just this summer the total number of Disneyland Annual Passholders has now solidly risen above the 800,000 mark, and it's still rising by thousands every month. You can bet that price increases are on the way this fall, but it's those huge numbers and the problems they increasingly cause for crowd control, parking and any number of operational issues that have forced TDA to take a step back. In response, a new TDA executive committee was just formed that has been tasked with taking a hard look at the Annual Passholder program to try and quantify exactly what kind of impacts it now has on the compact Resort area.

We've detailed for you in previous updates the irony of having summer weekends in July and August that are less crowded than weekends in February and November due to simply blocking out hundreds of thousands of Annual Passholders. And we've also told you how difficult it is to get a parking space at Disneyland on a Sunday when all of the Annual Passholders push the passenger per vehicle ratio down to nearly one person per can, instead of the casual tourists who have an average of over three people per car.

This isn't the churro line?
Long renewal lines tend to form after Christmas

Anyone who has been caught in the ridiculous crowd control and overwhelmed facilities whenever something new opens in Anaheim or during the final days leading towards an extended blockout period knows that there are obviously more Annual Passholders than the 54 year old park was designed to accommodate. But with the nightmare crowd control this past June for the opening days of Nightastic, and the overwhelming new World of Color show just seven months away, TDA has decided it can't keep on growing the Annual Pass program as it has for the past decade.

Price increases are obviously a focus from this new committee, but they'll also be looking at phasing in blockout periods more gradually to prevent giant spikes in attendance on certain dates, as well as other pricing and demographic options that could cut down on the sheer volume of people that could descend on the Resort at any one time. The whole point of the Billion dollar DCA expansion is to increase the attractiveness of the Resort to multi-day tourists who spend far more money than local Annual Passholders. But an overcrowded park full of locals killing a few hours of leisure time at steerage rates certainly makes those tourists think twice of ever returning to Disneyland, and TDA knows they've reached the breaking point and something must be done. We'll keep you posted on the outcome of that new committee, if the price increases on the way don't tell the story enough.

D23; and Counting

The other issue turning up the heat on Ed Grier and his TDA planners is the rapid approach of the massive D23 Expo at the Anaheim Convention Center in early September. The D23 Expo is a pull-out-all-the-stops event unlike anything currently put on by corporate America, sort of a combination of Apple's Macworld event and a splashy corporate pavilion at a World's Fair of yesteryear. All of the top executives from Disney will be there giving presentations in the 7,500 seat Anaheim Arena, and the entire Anaheim Convention Center - the largest facility on the West Coast - will be dedicated to the D23 events. Disneyland and the DCA expansion will be the Imagineering star obviously, but every corner of the Company will be reporting out on their current offerings and future plans.

The folks who were planning for the WDI exhibit at the D23 Expo were furious to see one of the headline-grabbing announcements they were considering for September leak recently on the Internet; blueprints of a proposed revamp of WDW's tired Fantasyland (that we'd told you about in a previous update). Even though some of the big D23 Expo announcements are leaking early, the pressure will be on TDA to help put on a good show for all of the Company bigwigs and the throngs of Disney fans expected to descend that week. That D23 Expo is slated to remain in Anaheim through at least 2012, and Ed Grier knows he will be held partially responsible if this event doesn't go well.

Window to the Past

Ed recently made a rare appearance inside Disneyland for one of those high-profile events with lots of press cameras that he relishes so much. The occasion was the July 17th window dedication ceremony for Marty Sklar, who received his Main Street window in the tiny corner office of City Hall that he originally worked out of in the 1950's. Hundreds of Anaheim Cast Members and Glendale Imagineers showed up for the 7:30AM ceremony, and the event was standing room only.

Ed was the host, and he read his prepared script perfectly, right down to the repeated (and unfortunate) references to the lawyer-approved term "Disneyland Park" instead of the more widely used and simple "Disneyland." You could practically hear the trademark and copyright symbols dripping off of Ed's script that morning, yet Anaheim Cast Members weren't really surprised with the stilted performance.

Counting photo opps...
Ed Grier

The mood changed dramatically however when Ed introduced his predecessor Jack Lindquist, who hired in with Marty and worked his entire adult life for Disneyland before retiring as Disneyland's President back in 1994. Much has been said about the radical change that took place when Jack handed over the reins to his Eisner-picked successor, Paul Pressler, who ushered in the era of blow-dried and pre-packaged Disneyland "shop keeper" Presidents that was only briefly broken by Matt Ouimet's three year return to reality.

But that difference in tone and attitude were vividly on display that morning, as Lindquist turned the event into a roast of sorts for Sklar and regaled the audience with wacky Disneyland history that included mysteriously dying orange groves, burning convertibles on Ball Road, and mad rushes to round up enough ice and pretty girls for a suitable Disney party. The audience went from polite golf claps while Ed was at the podium, to hearty laughter and enthusiastic applause while listening to Jack. Marty got in on the comedy act as well when he got to the podium, yet he was quite visibly moved by Jack's gracious tribute to him.

Unfortunately, the rather humorless Disneyland Publicity department removed any mention of Lindquist and his 10 minute speech from the press release of the ceremony, and TDA's mind-numbing Cast Communications department removed any mention of Jack from their coverage on the internal Cast Member TV show and website coverage. Much like a disgraced Soviet General after a rough night at the Kremlin, he was quietly airbrushed out of the official record of the event. Disneyland can be tough even on a keynote speaker.

It should be at Knotts.

After the window was revealed (hopefully bricks are now screened for at security; after all the man let DCA go forward) and the confetti was cleaned up, Cast Members and Imagineers alike couldn't help but reflect on the differences between the current executive leaders and their much more down to earth predecessors. Luckily the full speech by Jack Lindquist is still available on YouTube via an unofficial video.

Many folks in Anaheim and Glendale contrasted the executive styles on display that morning with the moving and witty speech Walt Disney gave to the Anaheim Cast Members on the occasion of the park's 1965 10th Anniversary at the Disneyland Hotel. The audio of that ballroom event is also available on YouTube, and it has language and subject matter that would make a modern day TDA Human Resources manager faint as lawyers and publicity flacks run from the room in terror.

While the world has certainly changed since people like Walt and Jack and Marty first built and then ran Disneyland, the current crop of TDA executives would be wise to try to ditch the boilerplate and speak as honestly as their predecessor spoke. Or at the very least, Disney's publicity people should avoid having the more plastic Ed share the stage with an much admired old-timer who knows well enough to not refer to it as "Disneyland Park."

Oh-kay - that should do it for today. Remember your support continues to be vital, as your donations to PayPal help keep the bills paid. We're only here due to all of your kind efforts.

Keep in mind updates only get posted when there is something to report on, and not before. It takes time to confirm things, and even then we can only offer a snapshot of a continually evolving story. Just like the happiest place on earth, patience is a virtue; the queue may take a while before you can enjoy the attraction. ;)

See you at Disneyland!

Al Lutz may be e-mailed at [email protected] - Please keep in mind he may not be able to respond to each note personally.

2009 Al Lutz

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