For the start of the new year, I had hoped to do one of those “top ten” lists of things I’d like to see happen in the Disney parks – and especially Walt Disney World – in 2009. Not that I would deem any of my wishes likely to be fulfilled, and in many cases it’s obvious that they’re complete non-starters as far as management is concerned, but I’m a fan of lists and unsolicited criticism so why not?
So let’s pretend that it’s not already February, and that I’ve done this in a remotely timely fashion. Here’s the first of ten things that I’d like to see at the Disney parks in 2009:
#10 – New Attractions
Now, I know that a theme park fan listing “new attractions” among their wishes is like someone naming “food” or “oxygen” as something they’d like to see in the new year. But we’re picky here at the Progress City Bureau of Land Management, and we don’t just drop rides into the parks willy-nilly. In fact, despite a fairly continuous “drip-drip” of attractions over the last several years, many areas of the parks are still in need of additions and revitalization.
Our top nominee for this dubious honor is World Showcase at EPCOT Center, which hasn’t seen a new pavilion for – wait for it – 21 years. Yes, you are old and so am I. There are people who voted in the last election who have never seen an addition to World Showcase in their lifetime. There are soldiers serving in Iraq now who are three years younger than the Maelstrom. That’s how static Showcase has become.
Now, personally I love Showcase. Since the demise of the great Future World pavilions it’s become my favorite half of the park. And, to be fair, they’ve kept it fairly fresh over the years by adding some quality live entertainment and a variety of seasonal festivals. But there’s been no actual new construction in that time, and when you consider that there have been at least seven new national pavilions “officially” announced since the park’s opening that have never seen the light of day (I count Equatorial Africa, Israel, Spain, Venezuela, Russia, Denmark, and Switzerland), it all starts to seem like an anti-climax.
A great deal of this has to do with Disney’s rather harsh sponsorship requirements for the national pavilions. Finding an interested party willing to sign a long term contract with Disney to pony up the cash for building, staffing and maintaining a pavilion is dicey even in the best of economic times. Even then, there are political and ethical concerns – Equatorial Africa fell through when the only willing sponsors Disney could find were based in then-apartheid South Africa.
Yet even when Disney finds willing parties, plans often fall through. Negotiations with various Soviet and Russian governments have taken place on and off since at least 1978. A deal was actually signed with Spain in 1981, and those negotiations continued to take place as recently as 2002. Around that same time, South Korean investors approached Disney in the hopes of sponsoring a pavilion and were publicly rebuffed.
So after decades of stagnation, what can be done to revitalize World Showcase? Well, for one thing it’s obvious that Disney should find ways to amend their sponsorship agreements to be less demanding on the host nations. The pavilion sponsorships are real sweetheart deals for Disney, and while I don’t suggest they give away the shop for free, it might spur development to find ways to reduce the startup cost for sponsors.
More importantly, there needs to be someone at Disney who is excited about the potential of World Showcase, and who can get out there and really sell it to the host nations and their various corporations. Perhaps they should hire some sort of goodwill ambassador, who can travel the world to help drum up support for their efforts. Or, as it was suggested last year when Disney entered the Russian television market, pavilion sponsorships can be rolled into larger, cross-corporate negotiations.
In any case, something most be done. While the rumors persist that Disney has in fact found a sponsor for a new attraction to fill the perpetually empty show building behind the Japan pavilion, nothing has been announced. Even a new attraction there would do nothing to fill the empty expansion pads in the rest of World Showcase, or do anything to help hide the fact that several significant nations are still missing from EPCOT’s international lineup.
There are other sites that also require new attractions. A glaring case is the former Wonders of Life pavilion, which now sits completely empty. While I have my own pet project that I would put here, in general I believe that something is preferable to nothing and this space should be filled by something new, exciting and visionary.
The Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland needs new attractions, but then again so do the Tomorrowlands in Anaheim, Paris and Tokyo. No clones, please. And although the 17-year span since the Kingdom last received an E-ticket might end if the Little Mermaid attraction rumors prove true, they still have to announce and build it before the drought is officially over. Paris’s park has been long dormant as well, and could use – at last – that Splash Mountain or Indiana Jones attraction to fill those empty expansion pads.
Hollywood Studios needs a great deal of attention and expansion – start by dumping Aladdin’s Flying Carpets and the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor there, and then build some real attractions. Go ahead and announce the Monsters, Inc. coaster – you can find a sponsor for it later. And the park’s ugly cousin, the Disney Studios Paris, needs far more new expansion than a few fun-fair rides dolled up in Toy Story theming – it needs an overhaul far vaster than that planned for California Adventure. These parks need atmosphere – that indescribable sense of place that is so potent in Disneyland yet so missing from the tarmac and prefab design of the later parks. Sometimes a well-themed area is an attraction in and of itself. And more than anything, these third-generation half-parks need the lavish, animatronic-heavy dark ride spectaculars that Disney used to be known for.
Animal Kingdom, though redolent in atmosphere, needs dark rides as well, DisneySea needs to expand without selling out, and Hong Kong Disneyland… well, finish it first and then we’ll talk.
You’ll notice that all of my suggestions are for “in-fill” attractions – we don’t need new gates at any of the resorts right now. There’s so much unfinished business in each and every Disney park that it would be unfortunate to spend huge sums on new developments when expansion pads and shuttered attractions still sit empty.
Like the Adventurer’s Club. Shame, oh shame on you, Jay Rasulo.
While even a fourth of my suggestions probably prices me way out of the Mouse’s spending targets, there are a number of expansion rumors out there which, if true, suggest that they are at least somewhat willing to take out their checkbook. Think of it as economic stimulus, Team Disney – ask not what your countries can do for you, but what you can do to build more countries.