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A Peek At Hong Kong’s Eleventy Billion New Attractions…

The Ministry of Information has released this new propaganda video about the expansion now under construction at Hong Kong Disneyland. It’s mostly fluff, but there are some nice peeks at unseen art and models for Mystic Harbor (yay!), Grizzly Trail (meh!) and Toy Story Land (BOO!). Actually, that “meh” for Grizzly Trail is probably unfair on my part; while the rest of the land consists mostly of the “spraying water on people” play areas that I hate so much, the actual Big Grizzly Mountain Coaster itself might prove to be more interesting than originally thought. We know that it’ll incorporate some of the tricks first introduced in Expedition Everest, and that it’ll also feature actual audio-animatronics in the show scenes. The storyboards and models of the bear-based gags on display at the D23 Expo were reminiscent of Marc Davis’s old ursine story sketches, so that’s always a hopeful sign.

I will say one thing to whoever it is at WDI or in Burbank that decided to institute the policy of “fudging” the attraction numbers: STOP. For the love of Walt, please stop. You’re ridiculous. I get it that “attraction” is a nebulous label that doesn’t constrain you like “ride” or “show” would. I get it that a popcorn wagon could be an “attraction” if you decide that you really don’t care how much contempt you show for your guests. But this little scam that you seem intent on perpetrating with the Hong Kong park in particular is becoming a little transparent and threadbare.

When you send your people on camera to make ridiculous claims about attraction counts – even if you counted every shrubbery in the park, I don’t think you’d match that number – you not only strip them of their credibility and make them look ridiculous, but you also further devalue the word of the company that has already been pushed to all-time lows during the Pressler-Rasulo years.

So stop spritzing us with Beverly and telling us it’s rain. If you know it’s not true, and we know it’s not true, then why go to the energy of pushing the lie in the first place? Or is it just a distraction to keep me from spending this entire post whinging and grousing about Toy Story Land? Because if so… well played, sirs.

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19 comments to A Peek At Hong Kong’s Eleventy Billion New Attractions…

  • RandySavage

    Like minds. The first thing I thought when I saw that video was I couldn’t believe veteran imagineer Joe Lansizero was towing the “30 New Attractions for a total of over 100 Attractions” line. I understand that imagineers are required to shamelessly promote their projects in order to get the green light (and remain employed), but this is taking it a little too far.

    The second thing I thought was maybe this is how marketing works in China. I often walk through Chinatown or past Chinese souvenir vendors at the WTC and they aggressively hawk the stuff they’re selling – blocking your path, getting close, jabbering, etc.. So maybe this gross exaggeration with HKDL’s expansion is simply the more reserved, corporate version of Chinese marketing: say anything to get them through the turnstile.

    Problem is once you oversell and underwhelm it becomes difficult to establish repeat business.

    ***

    Next, I’m surprised at your “meh” reaction to Grizzly Mountain… indications are that it will be a level above Big Thunder Mountain: beautifully themed, with AA bears and no shoehorned-in franchise film – what more could an old-school Disney theme park fan ask for?

  • Another Voice

    What’s most interesting is the amount of footage from Tokyo Disneyland/DisneySea that’s in the piece. Granted that Hong Kong Disneyland is so small that it’s really hard to make a promotional video for it but having to fudge another park…that speaks volume for the entire disastrous project.

    ‘Grizzly Mountain’ is, from all indications, just another roller coaster in a box sprinkled with some left over ‘Country Bear Jamboree’ figures. Essentially the ride what was supposed to be a “placemaking” project for California Adventure’s ‘Grizzly Rapid River Ride’ before those funds got moved elsewhere (i.e. – if it doesn’t hock DVDs it gets cut). In the same vain, ‘Mystic Manor’ is a collection of various effects from other attractions stapled onto the ‘Toy Story Mania’ ride system. The much hyped system where “the ride vehicles trigger the eight million, three hundred fifty-eight thousand two hundred fourteen effects!!!!!!!” is nothing more than the same sensors that tell TSM to play the videos on those Ken Cranes’ House of Big Screens close-outs. And the Toy Story Land…one usually finds those in places that let you pet a lama.

    The reason there are limited franchise tie-ins (at the moment) is because of the Hong Kong government. They killed the proposed ‘Piratesland’ because they understand the same thing Tokyo understands – people go to a theme park to experience a theme park; not to see ancillary marketing. Hong Kong has a MASSIVE attendance problem and that would not be solved by shoving a bunch of commercials for films that have no relevance to the audience. That naturally makes one wonder about ‘Grizzly Mountain’ too. And a ride based on toy American Paratroopers.

    Disney has yet to realize that marketing is not a substitute for performance. Producing the easy stuff and selling it hard might be cheaper in the short run, but it always fails. It’s a multi-billion dollar lesson they have yet to really learn from Animal Kingdom, California Adventure, Disney Studios Paris and Hong Kong.

  • Randy: You’re right about Grizzly Mountain, and I’ve been steadily walking back my original reaction since it was announced. Most of my original disappointment was with the actual “land” itself, and how poorly it compares to a full-fledged Frontierland (which I think every good Kingdom needs!). Also, the “water playground” thing really scorches my ham.

    BUT

    I turned around on the coaster when I saw that it actually had show scenes and bits of business that should give it some nice character more reminiscent of BTMRR than of Everest (which impresses at the beginning and end, but has a lot of nothing in between!). But yes, it should be fun in a nice old-school way. And bears!

    AV: I noticed the Tokyo splices too. Embarrassing.

    It would have been odd for Grizzly Mtn to go into DCA… especially within strolling distance from BTMRR. I had always hoped that they’d “plus” that area with a new Mine Train Thru Nature’s Wonderland, but that’s pie in the sky for sure.

    Mystic Manor does seem to be an effects clearinghouse – you can see things lifted from everything from Pooh to Indy – but it should be fun. I just hope it’s not too fast or rough to catch all the details (those TSMM cars really lurch around). Plus – monkey-centric attraction. Always a bonus.

    The expansions in HK have actually benefited from the Chinese government’s iron grip on the nation’s media. If those billions of people haven’t seen High School Musical, you can’t fob it off on them and expect it to succeed. So, like you say, they’ve had to go the original route – aside from the Toy Story Land, of course. I wonder how Disney slipped that one by. If only HK hadn’t nixed Glacier Bay.

    I keep hoping they’ll realize the part about marketing not subbing for quality, but they keep having lapses. It’s not as bad as it was, but they’re not completely cured either. They were able to do it for a long time, because of the legacy of Disney quality and goodwill. Once they’d blown through that (starting in Cali… Light Magic, ride closures, TL98, DCA), it became harder to win people over with an ad campaign. And so the discounts began…

    Anyway, after having to fund billion-dollar makeovers of all their new, low-budget insta-parks, you’d think that the lesson would settle in… That’s why I’m really eager to hear the Shanghai plans. I think that will be very telling, one way or the other.

  • Another Voice

    The issue with ‘Grizzly’ in California Adventure was two fold. First, you had a major raft ride with absolutely nothing to see on the trip. Second, Disney found out how well known the bear where once they ripped them out. In fact, I’ve heard more than one orc whine about not having the Christmas show anymore – it brought in a lot more money to Disneyland than the half-baked Pooh attraction (especially now that Disneyland’s Christmas offering is so stunningly profitable). And too a “placemade” Grizzly Rapids would have been like Splash Mountain on steroids – imagine a ride that was both thrilling (without being too wild to scare away Grandma) and entertaining to the tweener set at the same time. Too bad Disneyland doesn’t have a tradition of “where old and young can enjoy the park together”, you know?

    Now, specifically to Hong Kong. One of the big complaints was that HKDL lacked the true classic Disney theme park attractions. One of the problems with being a brand is that people actually expect you to offer what’s promised by the brand. Just as people in Orlando were upset when the Magic Kingdom opened without ‘Pirates’, so too were those in Hong Kong. When one looks at the situation, ‘Mystic Manor’ is a cut rate ‘Haunted Mansion’ and ‘Grizzly Railroad’ is a cut rate ‘Big Thunder’.

    One wonders how well that’s going to go over.

    A bitterly painful lesson learned in Tokyo was to balance the “classic” against the “local” against the “original”. Disney lucked out in that they had the Oriental Land Company to make all the decisions for them – they don’t have that in Hong Kong. Disney also bitterly learned in Paris that not everyone wants to see the same stories – and Disney doesn’t have a wealthy Saudi prince and gullible Euro investors to bail out Hong Kong.

    And to compound matters is Disney’s complete reliance on plot instead of story in its attractions.

    When an American walks into Frontierland, they simply get it. The wooden plank sidewalks, the false front buildings, the hitching posts, even the fonts used on the signs – these are all things we recognize from generations of movies, television and history. We know what’s going on without anyone having to describe it to us. We simply get it.

    In Hong Kong that association is no where near as strong. People may get the broader references, but it isn’t as quick nor the association so deep. And now Disney is layering on some stuff about bears and a mine and flooding and whiskey barrels and…just what is going on here? How is anyone supposed to understand what’s going on without reading the backstory. One of the primary rules of moviemaking is that a confused audience is an unhappy audience.

    For Hong Kong Disneyland to work, they need to reach their audience on the same deep level as Disney connects to Americans. It’s an art that Disney can’t seem to perform any more. Throwing up a whole bunch of unpopular attractions isn’t going to improve the park’s performance – no matter how many they claim. There’s simply no sign in any of these plans that the expansion plans will be a step in the right direction.

  • RandySavage

    And I thought I was a harsh critic!

    AnotherVoice, for your own health, I think you should ease your death grip on WD Parks & Resorts a little bit. If you can’t find praiseworthiness in a good portion of Animal Kingdom, Expedition Everest, Grizzly Peak, Mystic Manor, than maybe it is time to totally give up on theme parks and walk away… life might be less disappointing.

    Things may never meet the ideal expectation one sets up and real business factors are almost always diminish blue sky plans (particularly in the theme park biz), but when you throw out quotes like, “Mystic Manor is a cut rate Haunted Mansion and Grizzly Railroad is cut rate Big Thunder” when the latters appear to be equals or improvements on the formers, you begin to sound like a maniacal hater with an axe to grind.

    It undermines the solid arguments you have made about the changes that have taken place in Disney parks over the years.

  • Another Voice

    “than maybe it is time to totally give up on theme parks and walk away… life might be less disappointing.”

    Actually, I found flights to Tokyo ease my condition.

    The problem is that once you know what is possible, it’s rather hard to accept what’s going on. And the only difference between “what we get” and “what we can have” is simple laziness. Imagination does not cost money; hard work is more important than budget, and passion is trumps any other element that goes into a project.

    There is nothing wrong with Disney that can’t be quickly fixed just by actually caring about what they present. Walt knew a secret about the entertainment industry. If you create something that is truly good and truly appealing – the public will beat down doors and rip new paths to heave bags of money in your direction. But making something that is actually interesting is hard. It takes a tremendous amount of effort and a good degree of justified self confidence.

    It’s much easier to simply amuse people and hope to trick them out of a few dollars. People won’t beat a path your bank account for cheap thrills and sparkle lights, but they’ll be willing to toss a few pennies your way. Modern Disney is satisfied with collecting those few pennies.

    Companies like that don’t last. All the other movies studios – MGM, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Columbia, etc. – all eventually ran out of pennies to collect and disappeared into bowels of some mega corporation. I don’t want that fate for Disney. I don’t want to sit in a park and think “that’s the best we can expect” when that is a lie. I don’t want to sit in a movie theatre watching toy commercials. Other movie studios do that. And they don’t have thousands of websites discussing them. The combined output of Paramount and Warners and Sony add nothing to my life.

    But walking around the lagoon of Mysterious Island is like stepping through my boyhood’s imagination. Seeing the sunlight bounce off Spaceship Earth reminds me that the impossible can be built. And seeing my son’s fitful first attempts to be brave inside the ‘Haunted Mansion’ lets me witness his journey into manhood.

    Only Disney has been able top provide that to me. I don’t want to loose it.

  • Travis

    First, does ANYONE actually “fall” for these pieces anymore? They are delivered with joyless dispassion, as if a lawyer is standing right off camera to pounce on each person as they speak should they say something that actually MEANS anything. VNRs like this got their start when real interviewers actually interviewed real subjects … and now everyone on camera is memorizing approved “copy,” reading off a Telemprompter, etc. It’s just completely ineffective.

    Second, I hereby offer a challenge to every marketing and publicity “expert” within Disney. Try writing a promotional piece (print or video) that does not include any of the following words, which have now been rendered meaningless:

    * Magic
    * Innovate or innovation
    * Pioneer or pioneering
    * Amazing
    * Exciting
    * Imagine

    I mean, I’ve seen pharmaceutical commercials that get me more jazzed than this — and at least they are honest about presenting legal disclaimers. When they say “more than 30 shows and attractions,” I halfway expect a lower-third of small print explaining something like: “Disney’s definition of an ‘attraction’ may or may not constitute an actual interactive experience and/or ride vehicle, and may not fit all definitions from all consumers of a traditionally defined ‘attraction,’ and said ‘attractions’ may or may not involve any and all guests, and may be subject to closure or height restrictions with or without advance notice.”

  • WDWLocal

    A lot of you folks need to quit being so harsh towards the company, starting this instant! And that includes you AnotherVoice and Travis.

  • Travis

    Why’s that, WDWLocal? Because they throw money at the wrong stuff? Because they keep raising prices and lowering the quality of the product? Or because they create such magical experiences, like this wonderful piece of video that is being used for ….. what, exactly?

  • Ron Schneider

    “The problem is that once you know what is possible, it’s rather hard to accept what’s going on.” Another Voice, you don’t know what’s possible. In the first place, situations change… just ask Mr. Obama. And there’s always a WORLD of technical innovation out there that we haven’t heard of yet (How many years was Disney sitting on the TOT & Star Tours technology before we ever heard of it?).

    What you know is what has been. And most people, being not an Imagineer but a fan of Imagineering, can only gripe about “Why doesn’t Disney repeat what they’ve already done that I know and love?” The lowest forms of which are… “They should never change anything in the Park!” and “This new ride/show/film (that I haven’t seen more than a poster for) will suck!”

    And RandySavage… You are wise, indeed.

  • AV: I gotcha – I thought you were talking about them adding the train ride to DCA. I had heard all the talk about them adding the bears to the raft ride. I still hope for that in “Phase 2″ – the ride really needs a touch like that. Of course, I don’t ride the raft rides that get you soaked, so there’s that. In a perfect world, they’d bring back the Country Bears in that area. Too bad so much space is taken up by the hulking hotel next door.

    Your criticisms of HKDL are well-placed; you can see the difference between Tokyo (when Disney let the Japanese decide what would be best received) and later projects (in which marketing knew best). And I think their modern reliance on plot is what makes the transition so hard – everything has to have a tortured backstory and plot, and it’s much harder to convey that to an international audience that comes from a completely different cultural frame of reference.

    I don’t think, though, that there are any problems with using such broad concepts like the American West. While they’re obviously not as resonant there as they were in California in the 1950s, I would think that the trappings are still well-known. At least the concept of “Frontierland” is known thanks to Disneyland.

    Of course, this might underline the issues with building a park in the middle of billions of people who don’t really know about your product. Disney couldn’t coast on their reputation there – they had to bring it. And they didn’t bring it. I think if HKDL opened with a Frontierland like in Paris, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. You don’t have to be well-versed with the minutiae and details to be absorbed by such an environment. But if there’s nothing much to see or do, you’re not going to be bought off by the Disney name if you don’t really know what “Frontierland” is.

    Randy: I agree that G.M. and M.M. don’t appear to be “cut rate”. GM looks to be more complex an experience than BTMRR, but a lot of that is dependent on the level of show it winds up with. MM appears to be a full-on E-ticket experience; my only concern is that the new ride vehicles won’t convey the stately, creepy atmosphere of the original HM omnimovers. Like I said, I find Midway Mania to be way too herky-jerky, and while I don’t mind a little of that, I hope that Manor is closer to Mansion than Mr. Toad. You have to have a chance to soak in the details! Your points are well taken, though.

    AV (again): Agreed.

    Travis: Applause! You’re so right. There really is a rote level of joylessness in these pieces. It’s like I said – we know it’s not true, they know it’s not true… so there’s a creepy ritual going on. To paraphrase the Incredibles – if everything is the best thing in the world, nothing is. Your “blacklisted” phrases are spot-on, and I would second your challenge to Disney PR to stop using them. Maybe just for a day at first, then a week…

    The point is, if you keep “crying wolf” by overselling things that turn out to be garbage (DCA, etc.), how will I know when you really have something special I should see?

    WDWLocal: I could do that. Or, I could continue holding the folks at Disney to absurdly high standards that would be well-nigh impossible to reach without a concerted will and effort and a ton of cash. Which, I think, is what I will do.

  • Ron: I think, in terms of knowing what’s “possible”, AV was talking about things that we KNOW are possible because Disney’s done them in the past. It’s about them not living up to the bar that they themselves set. It’s not some arbitrary thing we made up – it’s their own track record. If it’s “possible” to build DisneySea, why should we be chuffed with castoffs? Why replace Imagination with something so markedly inferior? I think that’s what he was getting at.

  • PS. Thanks to everyone for commenting, no matter what your position. I enjoy the dialogue. (Am I going to have to add message boards?!)

  • Another Voice

    “Another Voice, you don’t know what’s possible.”

    Yes I do actually. That’s one of the reasons I find myself flying more often to the other side of the planet to enjoy Tokyo Disney rather than flying across country to see Walt Disney World.

    The basics of entertainment haven’t changed in five thousand years and they are not going to change now. A good story told well is all you need. Technology can only support the telling of that story, it can not compensate for it. Making ‘Chicken Little’ in 3D did nothing to make it a better movie, any more than releasing ‘The African Queen’ in 3D would improve that one. Spiny new technology and bright sparkly lights don’t get people to go on brand new ‘Mission: Space’ even though the same people will gladly wait hours to ride thirty year old ‘Space Mountain’.

    Gimmicks fade, but emotions last. Disney’s problem is that they lost that knowledge. It doesn’t take money or technology, it takes storytelling. All the millions poured into re-re-re-telling the story of ‘Finding Nemo’ on that ride and it doesn’t have the same gut-impact of flying over London in the so-cheap-it’s-made-of-plywood “Peter Pan’ attraction.

    No one is saying Disney should repeat itself or that nothing should change. That’s cheap accusation that gets thrown around to attempt to shut down discussion and to stop people from thinking. What people want is for Disney’s new efforts to live up to the standards they have set for themselves, the standards they boast about in all their PR fluff.

    P.S. There is one thing beside joy that’s missing from all those press release videos. It’s pride.

  • Another Voice

    Oh Lord.

    Steve Jobs just called the new iPad “magical”.

    I guess the only thing left is to wait for Disney to release the Fab Five version of “Pants on the Ground” and marketing hell will be complete.

  • RandySavage

    Regarding gimmicks and the future of theme parks, I too am wary of the video-based technology that WDI has become so fond of, particularly as a long-term value proposition.

    Nextgen 3-D movies like Avatar have rendered an entire category of Disney attraction obsolete (e.g., MuppetVision, Honey I Shrunk the Audience, Tough to be a Bug). Developers now build hotels and condos all over the world that out-theme many of Disney’s themed resorts (how many recent developments near you look exactly like Saratoga Springs, Old Key West, Contemporary DVC tower, etc.). Even some civic playgrounds are now elaborately themed. People have had decades to first experience and then mimic the Disney model.

    WDI & Disney have a major challenge in staying far ahead of the new “experiential entertainment” curve.

    I would hope the future of the parks may has more in common with the past than with the present. In short, give us something beautiful, that makes sense, that allows our imaginations to easily expand – things we can’t experience at home or locally. I’m talking about layered physical environments, real three-dimensional animation (AAs) and some significant physical movement (coasters, flumes, EMVs, kuka arms). In short, “Real” over Virtual.

    AV has mentioned Mysterious Island, as a completely transportative environment, with may layers of detail, absorbing and thrilling attractions, that may be a good standard bearer for the future. “Real” over Virtual.

    Getting back to the topic at hand. The good news is that Mystic Point and Grizzly Peak, seem to be following the Real over virtual rule. The Manor may share a ride vehicle chassis with Toy Story Mania, but all indications are that it will feature very detailed sets and physical props, AAs and SFX (along with possible video effects) – much more akin to a Hunny Hunt experience than to TSM. It’s not like we’ll be watching various 3-D film screens of a collector’s mansion.

    ***

    Following Travis’ comment, I would love to see an enforced moratorium on all the saccharine words Disney has made meaningless through overuse, including:

    - Magic, -al
    - Fantasy, -astic, -ies, astical,
    - Wonder, -ful, -s, -ment
    - Dream, -ing, -s, -come true
    - Imagine, -ation,
    - Discover, -y
    - Spectacle, -acular
    - Amaze, -ing, -ment

    It would drive Disney PR & marketing to the looney bin within hours.

  • Randy: You’re so right. Real over virtual. Virtual always gets outmoded much quicker than real – think of the old Imagineering VR Aladdin vs. an XBox 360 today.

    Disney just hasn’t kept pushing the envelope in any of these fields – Saratoga Springs looks like any number of condo complexes around here…

  • philphoggs

    To the point, how many people do you see role playing with Toy Story slinky dogs as if plastic swords in Caribbean plaza? Its not there, the thing that makes your child laugh as they sleep, that’s the imagination that needs to be built into tomorrow’s attractions.

  • “How many people do you see role playing with Toy Story slinky dogs as if plastic swords in Caribbean plaza?”

    You know, that’s an excellent, excellent point. It’s the difference between living your own adventure and watching characters from a film rehash their own adventures.

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