Earlier this week, Disney’s Hollywood Studios premiered the all new “Pixars Countdown to Fun Parade”. Fans unanimously hated it. Last week Animal Kingdom unveiled it’s all new “Wild Africa Trek” and most compared it to Dollywood’s all new rope course. Summer of 2010 Universal opened the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and attendance at Walt Disney World went flat. Tonight Disney held a press conference to showcase a revamped vision of their “New Fantasyland” project. Wow…and not in a good way.
Growing up in Florida I loved Disney. In fact I shunned parks like Universal because they were trying to be too much like Disney. Then I went to parks like Universal and was blown away. Can something this fun, this imaginative, and innovative actually not be a Disney product? You bet it can. Universal unleashed the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2010 and blew the doors off of anything Disney has done in YEARS. The scope, and vision of the project was unreal, yet there it stands with a million riders on the signature attraction and a million cups of the signature drink sold in way under a year.
Let’s look at Disney. The last great innovation the park came out with was the visually stunning Expedition:Everest. The ride was amazing, the Yeti was fearsome and the detail exquisite. Now, the Yeti dances the Disco, and the last few attractions that were given were based off of the “Modern classic” Pixar films. Uninspired pieces of work that were designed seemingly to move guests through the line and into the gift shop where kids scream for the toy versions of the rides they’ve just seen. The best innovation Disney has come up with in recent memory are additions of “interactive queue lines” in some of the same attractions that haven’t been updated in 30 years.
Now with Fantasyland they are building one new dark ride ( a clone at that) a new coaster, and a slew of new meet and greets restaurants and shops. I may yet eat my words and the new additions may be amazing, but from this side of the fence it looks like more of what Disney already has: Ways to move overpriced merchandise, sell pictures, keep people eating and more.
Disney fans will argue and say that Harry Potter was nothing but a retheme, and they were right. But it was a GOOD retheme and it brought things the world hasn’t seen before. Disney shrugged it off, then it saw that fansites that were devoted solely to them were devoting time now to this boy wizard. Fantasyland was announced, and it was met with cheers by Disney fans, and yawns by everyone else. Then Potter hit and was HUGE. It seemed to send Disney into a panic and brought them to the conclusion they needed something else rather than a half a dozen meet and greets with Princesses and Pixies. A Coaster was designed.
Universal now stands with it’s hands on the trigger, and rumor has it that later this year they will pull it, announcing a huge (rumored) expansion for WWOHP that promises more of what people love, and tripling capacity.
So will Fantasyland save Disney? Let’s hope they don’t think so.
What could bring the crowds back to the park and have Universal reloading it’s guns with more than Potter?
- Take EPCOT back to it’s roots. Bring back fan favorites like Journey Into Imagination with Figment and Dreamfinder. A new country with an all new ride. Updates of the current rides, and toning down the characters. Education, Adventure, and Experience is what made me fall in love with EPCOT as a kid.
- Juice George Lucas for all he’s worth! Let’s get that Indiana Jones dark ride, but not the one from California. An all new adventure. Bring back some of that old Muppet Magic with a Henson themed area. Muppet Vision 4D was only the beginning!
- Pixar Place fully envisioned. Stop toying around with the idea of a Monsters Inc. Coaster and just do it! Let’s take that fun of Pixar and bring it to the park.
- Beastly Kingdom at Animal Kingdom. Do I need to say more?
- Stop relying on merchandise sales! There was a time not long ago when Disney would build a ride and people would buy shirts, plush toys, lunchboxes all from the ride. And guess what? It wasn’t even a movie! Imagineers are some of the most brilliantly gifted thinkers in the business, let their imaginations run wild.
Does Disney need saving? Probably not, it has all of the loyal fans who will go year after year for no other reason besides that it’s Disney. But that’s not how you run a business. You need new growth, and it is possible to get that. I’m no business man, and half of this just comes from a whiskey induced rage that I wasted 30 minutes of my time for nothing more than a reiteration of press releases we’ve read for two years now. But parks everywhere are seeing what Disney has done, and what they are no longer doing. They’re all lining up for a slice of the pie and not getting much of a fight.
Regardless of what happens, this is a great time to be a theme park fan. And if the rumors we’ve heard are true, Universal has the bottle and the lightning is just waiting for them to open it.