Sunday, July 23, 2017

Walt Disney’s Dreams Grow and Change But to What End?

By Ron Baxley

Come explore some of the changes coming to the Disney Parks that were recently announced at the D23 Expo and find out how these changes may affect areas that nostalgic fans of the parks may or may not like. We will also discuss how this relates to Walt Disney’s vision for the parks and the company he and his brother Roy founded in today's new article by contributing writer Ron Baxley…

The Disney Parks have been growing like Mickey’s beanstalk and are changing as though they've been given a magic potion at times. The after-effects of the growth and change may be gauged differently depending on the type of Disney fan one may be—a nostalgic one or one focused more on innovation and change.

Walt Disney himself promoted growth. A quote often attributed to Walt Disney regarding the theme park he had years of firsthand oversight of is: “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.” Walt also embraced change. He has been quoted in multiple sources as saying, “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

Disneyland has grown and changed quite a bit in 62 years as has its sister park Walt Disney World. Recently, at the D23 conference and via the Disney Parks blog, many changes for Disneyland and Walt Disney World have been noted beyond the widely announced Star Wars additions. Some long-time park goers may be nostalgic for past attractions that they find timeless where others may welcome the change, feeling some attractions have become dated. Commenters on social media and blogs are bemoaning some of the changes, including the now old news that the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney California Adventure has been replaced with the Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Escape attraction. Nevertheless, change has always been part of the plan for the Disney Parks, and quite a few additional changes to the parks have been announced.

Disney California Adventure's updated entrance

It’s not only the older parks such as Disneyland and Walt Disney World that are going through some fairly substantial changes. Disney California Adventure, which is only a little over 16 years old, is getting some new additions yet again. Disney California Adventure started as a park themed on the history and modern aspects of California as a state in 2001. Attendance was not impressive to the executives during the first couple of years. Plans started being made around 2007 for major changes, so they added Buena Vista Street (a street themed as though a young Walt Disney would have encountered it in the 20s when he first came to the Los Angeles area) and Cars Land (an area themed with attractions based upon Pixar’s “Cars” franchise), both of which opened in 2012. They also made other changes here and there to incorporate more Disney characters and sets. Attendance started to improve. Therefore, when one sees changes at Disney California Adventure, one must keep in mind that it has truly been a nearly constantly evolving park with concepts.

What has commenters on the Internet complaining is that the Disney Parks Blog recently shared an announcement from the D23 conference that the Paradise Pier section of Disney California Adventure, a section that emulated beach-front amusement parks of the 1900s, is being changed to Pixar Pier which will open in 2018.

Artist concept art for Pixar Pier (© Disney)

Many commenters are making a slippery slope of it, stating that the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror changing to the Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission Escape ride led to this and will lead to still more changes. However, California Adventure has changed quite often with a fairly major overhaul occurring just six or so years after its establishment. The overhaul to Paradise Pier will brand the area even further with Disney Pixar properties. According to the Disney Parks Blog...

“Pixar Pier will feature a brand-new look for the area now known as Paradise Pier, as some of your favorite characters come to life on this seaside waterfront. You will discover whimsical neighborhoods filled with your friends from “The Incredibles,” “Inside Out” and even more of your pals from “Toy Story.” Building upon the evolution of Disney California Adventure park that began in 2007, we are building more new worlds for you to step into and enjoy your favorite stories.”

Disney's Hollywood Studios' Hollywood Boulevard at dusk

Disney's Hollywood Studios, formerly Disney-MGM Studios, being only a few decades younger than the Magic Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World, was built in the Eisner years, and opened in 1989. It started out as more of an experience of Hollywood movie making, including a Backlot tour that at one point even had the house from the Buena Vista property, “The Golden Girls.” This Backlot has gone through major changes over the years, and many of the aspects are gone, but perhaps the biggest change coming to the former Backlot area is a Toy Story Land. The location of Toy Story Land and its placement in older areas of the park seem to be leaving a sour taste in the mouths of fans who grew up experiencing opening day attractions like the Studio Backlot Tour that was more suitable for both parents and adults to enjoy together.

Studio Backlot Tour entrance

According to Disney...

“In 2018, you’ll find yourself shrunk to the size of a toy to explore the world of Andy’s backyard with your favorite Toy Story characters, including Woody and Buzz. And Toy Story Land will feature two new themed attractions. Slinky Dog Dash will be a family coaster attraction where you’ll zip, dodge and dash around many turns and drops that Andy has created to really make Slinky and his coils stretch to his limits. Alien Swirling Saucers will also be a new attraction at Toy Story Land. It’s designed as a toy play set that Andy got from Pizza Planet, inspired by the first “Toy Story” film. Aliens are flying around in their toy flying saucers and trying to capture your rocket toy vehicle with “The Claw.” ”

Artist concept of Toy Story Land to be finished in 2018 in Disney Hollywood Studios (© Disney)

One thing noticeable about the changes to the Disney Parks is the emphasis on Pixar properties which have proven to be popular among families with young children. At least five or more of these families made positive comments about the changes to Pixar-themed areas on the Disney Parks Blog. Again, the emphasis in the parks seems to be moving more to catering to young children. A lot of the Pixar films gained popularity in the 90s when the millennials came of age, so Disney could also be trying to cater to those in their twenties who are nostalgic about their youth. What they do seem to be straying from is Walt Disney’s idea of a park that can be equally appreciated by adults and kids. Families can enjoy the rides together, of course. However, one wonders if the nostalgia of childhood from a dark ride based on classic Disney animation or the true adult excitement of a classic thrill ride can be found there.

Another nostalgic attraction for longtime Disney park goers is the Great Movie Ride also found at Disney's Hollywood Studios, which will no longer be available to experience in its original form as of August of this year. The Great Movie Ride had scenes from classic films such as “Singin’ in the Rain” and, my personal favorite, “The Wizard of Oz.” Housed in a full-scale reproduction of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, this classic attraction granted guests the opportunity to experience the glamour of Hollywood without having to leave the East Coast. Rumblings among fans who aren't necessarily happy by this news seem to be consistent in how the attraction gave them an early taste of classic films and spurred their interest in them as well.

Out with the old, in with the new (even new versions of characters, not classic ones). The Great Movie Ride is being replaced with Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. An opening date has not been announced but given that the Disney Channel cartoon, more abstract Mickey and not classic Mickey is emphasized, this change seems to be another one catered to families with young children and not one made for all ages.

Artist rendering of what Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway will look like using more abstract Disney characters and not the classic ones older generations are accustomed to. (© Disney)

According to Disney's description of the new attraction...

“On Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, you’ll step through the movie screen and join Mickey and his friends like never before. The attraction will put you inside the wacky and unpredictable world of a Mickey Mouse Cartoon Short where you’re the star and anything can happen. This zany out-of-control adventure features surprising twists and turns, dazzling visual effects and mind-boggling transformations that happen before your very eyes. The attraction is inspired by the Mickey Shorts that you can see on the Disney Channel. And the people who bring you the shorts at Disney Television Animation are partnering with us to help bring the attraction to life."

Perhaps a little more controversial is when Disney takes a beloved attraction and overhauls it completely. One of the latest announced overhauls, or really replacements, is the Universe of Energy in Epcot, which is approximately 35 years old.

I remember seeing the original attraction without the Ellen and Bill Nye show when it still had the unique rotating tile screen back in the 80s. I also remember being awe-struck by the shiny solar panels on its unique architecture. Thankfully, they kept the audio-animatronic dinosaurs scene within it throughout the attractions different reincarnations. In the coming years, though, they are overhauling it completely and replacing it with a Guardians of the Galaxy attraction. Aug. 13 will be the last available date to ride the Universe of Energy. According to the Disney Parks Blog...

“First, a “Guardians of the Galaxy”-inspired attraction will be added to Future World, adhering to the original vision of Epcot’s Future World as the place to experience the excitement and adventure offered by space travel.
This is an addition we’re really looking forward to, as a “Guardians of the Galaxy” attraction – Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! – debuted at Disney California Adventure park earlier this year to rave reviews from guests. Epcot’s brand new E-ticket attraction will be based on the rockin’ and action-packed world of “Guardians of the Galaxy” and is the next step in how guests can encounter these characters at the Walt Disney World Resort. Epcot just may be the perfect place for a “Guardians”-inspired attraction…”

Disney fans have taken to the Internet saying how much the Universe of Energy meant to them, that it was one of the attractions they remembered most about Epcot. Some have stated that Epcot is moving more from being an educational, technological hub to more of a place for the latest popular science fiction or fantasy Disney film.

Walt Disney did affirm that his theme park would always be growing and that the company embraces change. Whether he meant that this growth would be at the expense of other pre-existing areas within the parks and just how much change he intended is up for debate. For now, it appears that areas of the Disney Parks will continue to be changed and even at the expense of classic attractions. What does seem to contrast with Walt’s original intentions is that the parks should be entertaining for people of all ages.

The Disney company of today knows that movies geared towards kids and preteens sell tickets and young parents seek out the latest in entertainment to appease their children rather than teach them about attractions from the past and their history. The company is not interested in maintaining a museum and, with significant competition from theme parks like Universal who continues to up their game in the industry, Disney has a right to stay relevant. Change and growth are expected and have always been a part of the Walt Disney Company. These recently announced additions to the Disney Parks appear to be wondrous and well-done but also seem to be tipping the scale to one side of the public than Walt’s vision perhaps originally intended. If the powers that be are able to properly balance the scale by honoring the formula Walt set forth by offering something for people of all ages to enjoy together then they will have a recipe for success. Losing sight of that would be disastrous. For now, I'll stay optimistic and continue to enjoy the classic attractions that remain and be reminded of the man who made it all possible. The man whose business was happiness. The man who brought tears and smiles to kids, young and old, all around the world...the late, great Walt Disney.

Walt Disney on his last family vacation to British Columbia where they took a boat up the coast of Vancouver Island during the summer of 1966. Walt passed away the following December.

(Note: The information contained in this article represents the opinion of the author and not necessarily the opinion of Disney Avenue.)


S.C. native author and former 15-year educator Ron Baxley, Jr. has visited Disney World since he was three in 1978. His mother, Marleen Baxley, was originally from Jacksonville, Florida and had family there who facilitated going to Disney World. Ron has been invited as a guest author at Oz festivals and science fiction cons since 2010 and was recently awarded the honor of a lifetime membership by the International L. Frank Baum and All Things Oz Foundation in Chittenango, New York, birthplace of L. Frank Baum, in June for his lifetime Ozian achievements. Within the past year, Ron posted a social media article with photographs entitled simply “Dad and Disney” in which he compared a lifetime of experiences in the Magic Kingdom in Disney World with his Dad including his first-time experiences in Disneyland after attending as an authorial vendor at OzCon in San Diego in 2015. From having a plush Mickey Mouse as his favorite, earliest toy to watching Disney films, Ron has been a Disney fan as long as he has been a fan of “The Wizard of Oz.” If he is not occasionally traveling to the closest Disney Store outlet in Concord, N.C., he enjoys yearly trips to the Disney Parks and collects different types of Mr. Potato Heads there and elsewhere.

Ron recently went on board with Mad Hatter Adventures Company, a travel agency that specializes in Disney destinations, as a part-time outside sales contractor selling Disney vacation packages. Contact Ron at for more information on Disney vacation packages and visit his Mad Hatter Adventures Facebook Page here.

Ron is an Oz, fantasy, science fiction, children's, and young adult author of 25 years and part-time correspondent/reporter for the Orangeburg “Times and Democrat” in Orangeburg, S.C. He has most recently had an article on Eugene and Eulie David, former M.G.M. Wizard of Oz “Munchkin” actors and brothers who lived in his hometown of Barnwell, S.C. published in the August - October 2016 issue of the glossy national magazine “Filmfax” after it appeared in three newspapers. He placed this article and a fictionalization of it as well as stories which followed his previously published Oz books in a brand new Oz fan-fic collection, After Th’Oz, available from Amazon. A full listing of his Oz, co-written Oz/Wonderland, fantasy, and science fiction books (some of which were traditionally published from Maple Creek Press) can be found by clicking here and information on his other projects and updates can be found at his author page, here.

You can find all of Ron's articles here.

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