These are odd times for Disney theme park fans. After a decade of escalating affronts to the legacy of quality and good taste they had long taken for granted, relief came in the form of new CEO Bob Iger and the John Lasseter-led Pixar braintrust. While some would see Lasseter as the White Knight by whose hands all positive change would be affected, his efforts will hopefully result instead in a wide variety of Imagineers who could be equally trusted with large-scale, E-ticket projects. As the most highly-placed creative staffer in the company, Lasseter has the ear of individuals that the average Imagineer or animator could only dream of calling for a lunch meeting. After so many years in the wilderness, Disney fans thought that they finally had an advocate at the highest levels of the corporate ladder.
The problem, however, with surviving the reign of a tyrant is that any small kindness is viewed as loving and magnanimous. Things in the parks were so bad for so long, that just getting a fresh coat of paint on anything seemed like the theming achievement of the century. After having been so grateful to see the bleeding staunched, it would seem ungrateful to criticize the new wave of attractions emerging from WDI.
For many of us, though, the last decade of Eisner’s rule left us uneasy and suspicious of change. After decades of gladly giving WDI the benefit of the doubt, trusting fans would now be burned time and time again with each new attraction. The first few years of the new leadership have indeed been far from critic-proof; concerns about the “toonification” of areas formerly themed to exciting “real-world” adventures have combined with worries over the fairly obvious Pixar-centric drift of new development.
It’s not that Pixar has no place in the parks; as the most uniformly popular output of Walt Disney Pictures in the last decade they’re obviously meant for inclusion. While fans might hope that WDI would some day give heed to the huge back-catalog of Disney films and shows without attractions – or even build some completely new attractions without licensing tie-ins, it’s fairly reasonable to expect that the average Disney guest would look to find Buzz, Remy and WALL-E on their Disney vacations.
So while neither unexpected nor unwarranted, the arrival of Pixar in the parks has been a bit overwhelming, and at times redundant and out-of-place. From a Walt Disney World standpoint, it’s definitely been noticeable. In recent years we’ve had Finding Nemo attractions open in two separate parks – one of which placed a cute and pleasant Nemo dark ride into a location that unfortunately stripped EPCOT’s Seas pavilion of its informative nature and overshadowed the real-life thrill of undersea exploration. Tomorrowland now plays host to a Monsters, Inc. attraction which, aside from being absolutely tragic, is woefully out of place thematically (Tokyo Disneyland will soon be getting an out-of-place Monsters, Inc. attraction in their Tomorrowland, but that is at least guaranteed to be a budget-busting E-ticket affair). Last but not least, Walt Disney World is now home to two attractions themed to Toy Story that differ in technological complexity but feature the exact same game mechanic.
This is not to say that the new management has failed, but rather underlines that work remains to be done. While both WDI and Feature Animation are home to an array of great talent, there still needs to be a “scouring of the Shire” at the upper levels of management to clear out those who forced through so many embarrassments in the past. Prime amongst these offenders is Disney Parks head Jay Rasulo, whose disastrous global branding initiative is designed to make Disney’s parks as unique from each other as five slices of stale white bread. It was Rasulo’s visionary leadership that led to the cloning of Toy Story Mania – an attraction designed for Anaheim’s California Adventure – to Florida’s Hollywood Studios. While this fine attraction was a much needed and well-themed addition to the California park, it is completely out of place in Florida’s Studios park.
This brings us, at last, to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and the new Pixar Place. The recently opened area, formerly known as Mickey Avenue, has been completely and elaborately rethemed to resemble Pixar’s Emeryville studios. While the area is ostensibly intended to house a variety of Pixar’s creations, at the moment its only inhabitant is the new Toy Story Mania. With the former Disney-MGM Studios rumored to be the site of several new attractions and re-themings over the next decade, it’s certain that Pixar Place will see a great deal of welcome new development. But what’s on the way?
One persistent rumor over the last year is that Pixar Place will be the site of a new roller coaster, which would be the park’s marketable new attraction for Walt Disney World’s big 40th anniversary celebration in 2011. This speculation derives from last year’s Pixar-based “Toon Studios” expansion at Disney Studios Paris, which contained Crush’s Coaster, an indoor spinning coaster based on Finding Nemo. While many expected the attraction to be cloned in Florida’s Pixar Place, other rumors held that the coaster would instead be based on 2007’s Ratatouille. The latest speculation stems from a recent Jim Hill article, which claims that the new coaster will be themed to Monsters, Inc.
Since its release in 2001, Disney fans have anticipated the creation of a Monster’s, Inc. coaster themed to the film’s Door Hangar sequence. Hill claims that just such an attraction is being designed for installation into the former Soundstage One building on Pixar Place. The building would be rethemed to resemble the Monsters, Inc. facility from the film, with the conceit that guests are attending an open house to see how the titular monsters collect laughter to fuel Monstropolis. As they careen through the building in their coaster vehicles, guests’ screams and laughter will be collected in canisters which will fill to explosive levels.
How plausible is this rumor? While the pricey and well-themed attraction would no doubt be a hit, there’s been no hint of it from Disney. Or has there?
This won’t be the end of the additions to Pixar Place. Hill continues to say that the former Honey, I Shrunk the Kids playground will be rethemed to Pixar’s a bug’s life, and floats the possibility of Lights, Motors, Action receiving its own Pixar overlay when Cars 2 debuts in 2012. He also mentions the rumor, reported elsewhere, that a great deal of the remaining backlot area will be leveled to make way for a clone of the Carsland area that’s coming to California Adventure. This depends, of course, on how popular that new attraction proves to be when it opens around 2012. Hopefully, though, Disney’s cloning trend will by then be wholly purged from the company and we Florida-goers will have unique new E-tickets to call our own.
Maybe, just maybe, Disney’s Hollywood Studios will get something new and unique that suits and enhances the park’s own themes. It would just go to show you, anything can happen in the movies…