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More Eastern Winds

While I was writing about Hong Kong Disneyland, news apparently continued to happen.

On the subject of Hong Kong, there was a key provision of the expansion deal that I neglected to mention. It was reported, and widely reiterated in the press, that two of the new areas – Grizzly Trail and Mystic Point – will remain worldwide exclusives to Hong Kong Disneyland for five years after their construction. Toy Story Land, a clone of an area already under construction in Paris, will remain exclusive in Asia for five years.

The necessity of these arrangements stemmed from Hong Kong’s extreme concern about the rumored upcoming Shanghai Disney park, which general consensus now seems to hold will open in 2014. At times in recent years it seems like Hong Kong was about ready to give up completely on the park; officials complained at a recent meeting that the current expansion wouldn’t matter as the Shanghai park will be “10 times the size” of Hong Kong Disneyland. How they would know that is a mystery, as plans for the Shanghai park are as yet unannounced and have yet to even receive government approval from Beijing.

That hasn’t stopped Disney from working on it, though. As part of the snowballing news this week, it’s been leaked that Bob Weis, Imagineering’s Executive Vice-President, Creative, will lead the design team on the planning and development of the Shanghai resort. Weis previously led the team that designed the Disney-MGM Studios in Florida, and he also worked on Tokyo DisneySea and the abandoned Disney’s America and Disney-MGM Studios Europe projects. After several years building his own design company, he returned to Imagineering with some fanfare two years ago to lead the re-design of California Adventure.

According to LaughingPlace, Weis was chosen for the job over Scott Trowbridge, Vice President of R&D at Imagineering. Trowbridge, too, returned to WDI two years ago with some ballyhoo after a stint as Vice President of Universal’s Creative Studios; strangely, though, little has been heard of him since. Although any conclusions about this would be completely baseless speculation, one hopes that internal politics aren’t a factor here and that Trowbridge is working on something amazing that will surpass his previous masterpiece, Universal’s The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man.

Back in Hong Kong, it seems that I’m not the only one who was displeased to see the announcement of Toy Story Land. The message boards are full today of fans that are either upset with the entire concept, or baffled by its incongruous placement between Mystic Point and Adventureland – a site that cuts off expansion opportunities for both areas and creates thematic inconsistencies. Amusingly, one poster went as far as to post contact information for Hong Kong Disneyland execs to plea for a change in the plan. The post also mentions something that I left out of my previous story; in recent news reports about the expansion, sources referred to one of the three areas being themed to the arctic. This was apparently a land called Glacier Bay, which at some point was replaced by Toy Story Land. Unless it was meant to actually be an empty glacier, it’s hard to see how it couldn’t have been an improvement on Toy Story Land.

For more details on the planned Hong Kong deal, the government has finally posted the press release on their site. It also features high-resolution copies of the concept art we showed earlier. Finally, the Motley Fool has posted an editorial entitled Why Can’t Disney Get It Right the First Time? I couldn’t agree more, and the article shows how this pattern of under-developed new gates has hurt Disney since the opening of Animal Kingdom in 1998.

UPDATE: Alain Littaye has posted an update about the situation, with some details about the political process behind the expansion and some information about the abandoned Glacier Bay area. It seems that there’s a possibility that the pirate-themed area and Glacier Bay were both nixed by a meddling Hong Kong government; Littaye’s source suggests that Toy Story Land was suggested by Jay Rasulo as a low-cost alternative. This swap-out would explain the incongruity of Toy Story Land’s placement, and certainly fit in with Rasulo’s stingy ways.

UPDATE THE SECOND: I have to say, I’m pretty excited because this is the first time I’ve been linked from a Chinese-language website full of angry Hong Kong Disneyland fans who are not happy with these plans. You think I was snarky? These folks just aren’t having it. I quote: “The mainland China’s people always make me feel angry when I am playing in HKDL and now they want to build SHDL just because they think they are rich, RUBBISH! I think HKDL will become a rubbish bin with all their sputum.” No he didn’t!

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