Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Theme Parking: Stirring The Pot - Will The Rivers of America Be Shortened?

  • The talk of Internet Disneyland today is MiceAge's rumor that the upcoming Star Wars Land addition will be accompanied with a massive redesign of the Rivers of America and the route of the Disneyland Railroad. According to those rumors, about one quarter of the length of the waterway will be excised to make room for the expansion. The north end of Tom Sawyer's Island will have to be removed to make room for the new waterway, taking Fort Wilderness with it. And along with change will be a rerouting of the railroad along the new waterway, cutting much closer to Big Thunder Mountain before cutting back toward Fantasyland Station.

  • It is difficult to take anything MiceAge reports as face value. Such rumors have the tendency to evaporate as reality encroaches. As writer Matthew Gottula stated on Twitter, "Then again, this is the same source that kept telling us a few years ago that an Ewok Village would uproot the submarine Voyage and Autopia." Here are a few of the highlights from MiceAge from the recent past:
  • Again, rumors are just that. Something to talk and laugh about while there is no real news to discuss. Maybe this is all true. But I'm not going to bet my Disney Dollars on it.

  • UPDATE 09/30/2015: I should have bet my Disney Dollars.
    Disneyland Today @DisneylandToday
    @ZachTWB Hi, Zach. The Rivers of America will have a new route when it reopens.
    Congratulations of MiceAge for getting this one right.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Theme Parking: The Timetable Is Set For Star Wars' Disneyland Invasion

  • A pair of announcements were released yesterday signaling the start of the Star Wars era of Disneyland.

  • First, Disney announced the official launch of Seasons of the Force, beginning in Disneyland on November 16, 2015. The inaugural event coincides with the opening of Star Wars Launch Bay in the Innoventions building, additions to Star Tours - The Adventure Continues for Star Wars Episode VII, and an updated to the Jedi Training based on Star Wars Rebels. The seasonal offering include the Hyperspace Mountain overlay, a Star Wars film supercut (I guess) in the Tomorrowland Theater, and limited time food, drink, and merchandise. Writer Matthew Golluta had reported on rumors that JJ Abrams was not allowing an Episode VII teaser to be included with the theater show, which seems to have been honored. This should all be interesting if anyone needs a Star Wars fix before the land is ready.

  • The other announcement portends the start of Star Wars Land and its effect on the rest of the park. At the end of the day, January 10, 2016, Big Thunder Ranch will permanently close to make way for the new land. In addition, several attractions on or around the Rivers of America will be closed for at least a year. Those include the Rivers of America itself, the Mark Twain, the Columbia, the Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes, Tom Sawyer's Island, as well as the Disneyland Railroad. The Rivers will be partially drained during construction. This seems to indicate a much larger impact on the park than some tucked away land behind the berm.

  • There are a lot of questions still about how the railroad will be impacted. Considering how deeply themed Star Wars Land will be, they can't have the train running through it. But will they divert the tracks forward or behind the new area? So many questions.

  • Things are moving fast and it's an exciting time for a Disneyland fan!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Theme Parking: Giving In To The Fantasy

  • Coincident with my rejuvenated affinity for all things Disneyland has been the launch of Dismaland. The temporary art installation coordinated by British street artist Banksy has been discussed quite a lot over the last month. What it's really about is open to some debate. But a recent link crossed my Twitter feed that tried to do so in some detail.

  • Heather Havrilesky's article, "Burning Down the Mouse", describes her family's visit to Disneyland at the behest of her children and, through that that lens, the larger corruption of culture through capitalism. Her argument seems to be that corporate-driven consumerism has made the world a bad place. In her personal anecdote, she was almost tricked into enjoying herself at Disneyland. It was only upon examining the consumerist sheep around her that snapped her out of the capitalist illusion.

  • I don't bring this up specifically to attack Havrilesky's (or Banksy's) critique of the pitfalls of capitalism. In many ways, I agree with them. The drive for money over all other considerations is dehumanizing. Conversely, there are people who occasionally can turn the vast corporate power at their disposal toward doing a real good. I think that, despite whatever other the company's intentions, Disneyland is one of those good works.

  • In the article, Havrilesky can't help but belittle the type of people she imagines would enjoy the theme park. She describes watching a parade and wondering why everyone she saw took in the entertainment so passively or with such disinterest. Instead of clapping and dancing along to the music, the crowd sat and watched the parade go by. Some were even so distracted that they were checking their cell phones instead.

  • I had a similar experience recently that this article made me rethink. While celebrating my wife's birthday at the Disneyland Resort, we took our daughter to the Frozen sing-along show. She loves to belt out the songs, which my wife and I find to be adorable. And I admit that I am a fan of the songs as well. As we sat in the theater, singing along with "Love Is An Open Door" (my wife and I singing a duet), I looked around the theater. Almost every face was blank, each person staring blankly at the screen. I turned to my wife and asked, "Do you think everyone else knows that this is a sing-along?" Even the wildly popular "Let It Go" was greeted with silence from the crowd. As we walked out of the theater, I wondered why all of those people went to watch a not-so-great stage show if they weren't there for the singing.

  • But thinking back, I wonder why I felt so judgmental about how those people watched the show. Maybe they really did want to watch the show. Maybe they were shy about singing in public, but still wanted to experience it. Maybe they were hot (and it was really hot that day) and they were just looking for respite. Why did I need to say that they were doing it wrong?

  • When I see people in the park who may not be enjoying themselves in the moment, there could be any number of reasons why. There are crowds, weather, closures, queues, money, and family pressures to deal with. Those things don't magically go away just because you've entered The Happiest Place On Earth. People find themselves under pressure to have fun and sometimes they just can't. We should not judge them for not living up to our expectations.

  • Finally, we should not be judging people for finding enjoyment where they can. People are not sheep just because they want to watch a parade go by. People are not sheep because they want to experience a thrilling but perfectly safe ride. People are not sheep because they want to ride through an elaborately told story. We understand that there is a capitalistic side to everything in the park. But there is also the thought and hard work that goes into everything we might see and do.

  • Fantasy is not a bad thing. Authenticity is not automatically some universal virtue to judge everything else against. We seek out fantasy because we want to experience something more than mundanity. It is not weakness to share in the imaginative. Fantasy can be used as an escape, certainly. But people deserve to be reminded that not everything is terrible in the world. We deserve to enjoy life, no matter how we might choose to do so.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Theme Parking: Out With The Old

  • A couple of very interesting news items dropped during our vacation last week to the Disneyland Resort (trip report coming soon). Of course I was nowhere near a computer, so I'm writing about them today.

  • First up, the Orange County Register reported that a very optimistic Tom Scaggs, COO of Walt Disney Company, announced a groundbreaking timeframe for the new Star Wars Land. According to Scaggs, both he and CEO Bob Iger are pushing to start development in 2016. A lot of the scuttlebutt online assumed a 2017 start date. Those estimates were based on the assumption either that at least two years of planning would be necessary post-announcement or that Disney would delay until 2017 to meet the letter of their agreement with the City of Anaheim. Considering the competition that Disneyland is expecting from Universal's Harry Potter land, Star Wars Land can't open soon enough. Of course, I initially estimated an open date of June 15, 2018, so a 2016 groundbreaking is way too late for my taste, but I suppose Disney knows what they are doing.

  • The other big news of the week was more bittersweet (or just bitter) for some. The long running musical, Disney’s Aladdin – A Musical Spectacular, will finally draw to a close January 10, 2016. Taking its place will be a new musical based on the massive hit movie, Frozen. Several people online were losing their minds over the announcement. Some will genuinely miss the show, or, more likely, the Genie. Others seem to loathe Frozen so thoroughly that they decry any further incursion of the property into the parks. I agree in the sense that running three separate shows plus a meet-and-greet at the same time would be insane. So insane in fact that there is no way Disney is actually going to do that. My hope is that Disneyland will sunset the other, smaller shows to focus more on their new musical, while freeing up the other theaters for new productions. That would be the smart thing to do, right?

  • Right, Disneyland?