Across the continent in Anaheim, Disneyland fans are preparing for the opening of the Blue Sky Cellar. This new preview center, an homage to the lapsed Disney tradition of similar in-park exhibits, will showcase art from the impending billion-dollar renovations to California Adventure. The Cellar, located in California Adventure’s former Golden Vine Winery, opens to Annual Passholders this Thursday and to the public next Monday, October 20th. It will feature art from the first phases of the remodel, including the redesigned Paradise Pier area, Buena Vista Street entrance plaza, Cars Land and Little Mermaid attraction.
The best way to keep track of the constantly shifting plans for California Adventure is the project tracker thread at MiceAge. From there I gleaned the following image, which brings me to my point:
A handful of displays have already appeared outside the Cellar, giving brief overviews of the new areas. The map above is included in the artwork, and if it’s familiar to Disney fans that’s not by accident.
The whimsical California Adventure map is clearly designed to echo the classic Disneyland souvenir maps of the 1950’s and 60’s. It’s a fun touch that not only presents some exciting art for new guests but provides a nice nostalgic link to the past for fans. It shows, in a small and almost imperceptible way, that the new development at Disney’s California parks is being done with a strong and respectful eye towards the past and the cumulative history that has created the vast legion of Disney park fans in the first place. And that’s fantastic.
What’s not fantastic is that while west coast fans have Disneyland-devoted folks like Tony Baxter and John Lasseter working slavishly to restore that resort according to its founding principles, those of us enamored of Disney’s Orlando empire have no such champion. It’s occasionally obvious that someone at WDI is aware of Walt Disney World’s history pre-1995; from time to time we’ll get something neat like the retro EPCOT merchandise and maps that trickled out for that park’s 25th anniversary. Every now and again something really cool and subtle will happen that will make fans say, hey, somebody on the inside “gets it”.
But mostly, the Florida property seems like a vast hodgepodge of concepts arranged without thought or plan. This is bitterly ironic considering how deftly and skillfully it was once conceived, created and managed. It lacks the detail and nuance of Disneyland, and has no champion to push for the changes it so deserves. The Florida property houses four theme parks with more conceptual range than any of Disney’s other parks; EPCOT Center alone once presented a slew of daring ideas of the sort that are exceedingly rare in the realm of themed design. Yet all this promise and all this initial bold intent have been left, abandoned, in the Florida sun because it’s much easier to crank out new attractions without heed for how they would fit into any larger conceptual framework. There’s no place on the quarterly report to attach a figure for “big ideas”.
I love Walt Disney World and there are lots of Imagineers doing great work at WDI. Every now and again something great happens to make it through the gauntlet of corporate managers and into the parks. I just fear that the Florida property will never, ever begin to reach its full potential until it has someone at WDI who loves it as dearly as John and Tony love Disneyland. Until someone positioned sufficiently high in management is willing to fight for it, and to understand the unifying ideas that make it great. Maybe it’ll never happen, but hopefully fans of the “Vacation Kingdom of the World” will one day have a reason to head down to the Cellar themselves rather than just to hit the bottle.