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In The Kingdom…

It’s been kind of busy on the news front lately.

In fact, there have been a series of minor revelations about changes both expected and not, and the online Disney realm seized accordingly. A rather hit-and-miss record in the parks over the last fifteen years has left fans somewhat shell-shocked, and that can make things a little touchy when beloved attractions are altered without a heads-up. It also means announcements are meet with a skepticism that would previously have been unheard of. This leads to some interesting conversations.

First thing’s first. Following the closure of Toontown Fair, bulldozers have swooped in to clear the way for Storybook Circus. Mickey’s house has been demolished; check it out courtesy of this video by Jeff Lange:

You have to wonder why they’ve left the construction fence completely devoid of artwork or signage, leaving the poor conductor to improvise something that will keep people in their seats while the train is watered. You might also notice that the recorded narration in the train mentions the return of the Barnstormer. While we knew that the existing kiddie coaster would be retained for the new area, to this point the re-themed attraction has been referred to only as “The Great Goofini.” Apparently the Barnstormer franchise is just too vital to lose, as the full name of the refurbished attraction will be The Barnstormer Starring Goofy as The Great Goofini. Succinct, right?

Apparently WDI is trying to set up some battle royale between their beloved characters over who will lay claim to the mantle of “Great”, as judged by this concept art for the new meet-and-greet for Mickey in the old Main Street Exposition Hall:

Why even bother anymore? And what in God's name is wrong with that one kid's hand?!

Yay – more angular people with genetic abnormalities aggressively enjoying themselves. A kid standing on a trash can. Another apparently vogueing. Others flat-out sprinting towards the building – why are you sprinting if you have a Fastpass? And what’s the weird spectre looming on the second floor?

This rendering accompanies Disney’s announcement that the new Mickey meet-and-greet will utilize the Fastpass system for booking encounters with the characters. The building, formerly used for the Gulf Hospitality House, the Walt Disney Story, and a preview center for future attractions, has had its vintage infrastructure torn out so that the facility can be reconfigured as the Town Square Theater. It’s unknown if there will actually be any theater left – one of the two former Walt Disney Story auditoriums is currently used to screen classic Disney animated shorts – as the meet-and-greets will be themed to Mickey’s backstage dressing room. It sounds that very little will be left of the building’s past; the fairly famous character mural, painted by the great Disney artist Bill Justice, has already been destroyed.

The new meet-and-greet will feature an interactive standby queue to entertain those not using Fastpass to reserve time with the characters. Also note that Disney takes pains to state that Main Street is Mickey’s “new permanent home” – looks like he’s here to stay! So now we have the Town Square Theater (which may or may not have a theater) and the Main Street Cinema (which doesn’t actually show movies anymore).

Meanwhile, there’s the Haunted Mansion, where a massive queue redesign is underway. Pictures of the work can be found online, and reveal a number of references to obscure Mansion lore from the Sea Captain to Phineas Pock. It works in theory, but the brief glimpses we’ve seen really concern me that this new interactive queue is going to be way too on-the-nose. The pipe organ player’s crypt is shaped… like a giant pipe organ. With skulls coming out of the pipes. Just like in the ride! And the Sea Captain’s crypt has a bronze statue of a sea captain drowning! Right on the crypt! I know that I personally plan on having my cause of death commemorated in life-sized recreation on my own tombstone.

I know this is all nitpicking, but the more cartoony the attraction’s entrance becomes, the less effective it will be. The Mansion is great because it starts off as this mysterious, abandoned house – where nothing is obviously amiss but where there is an atmosphere of forboding. Slowly that unravels, and by the time Leota has her seance things go berserk. I’m not keen on scattering the queue with wackiness – especially wackiness that steals the thunder of the show’s original gags.

Yes, yes. Nitpicking.

The other big event on the Mansion front came a few days ago when, with no prior announcement, the “hitchhiking ghosts” segment was covered up and replaced with rather… inelegant… digital projections of the ghosts. Take a look, via Inside the Magic:

Word has emerged that this is only a temporary fix while the animatronics that usually inhabit this area are refurbished, but without any prior announcement from Disney the change caused widespread panic. In this atmosphere of change, with interactivity being added to the queue and “NextGen” on the way, I think that people had horrific visions of bad CGI projections interacting with the guests who had shelled out $85 extra for the magic NextGen RFID wristband. Thankfully, though, it appears that the animatronics will indeed return – the effect used for this scene since 1971 gives the ghosts a wonderfully dimensional and tactile appearance that projectors would be unable to achieve.

There’s one last thing we should mention while we’re at the Magic Kingdom. We’ve all continued to wonder what’s happening to The Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Managment since its fire last month. We’ve rooted, of course, for a return to the original show, but while Disney has neglected to reveal their plans a June re-opening appears to be on the cards. This has led most to assume that the Under New Management show will return as-is, but we’ve been told that Disney has not ordered a new Iago animatronic to replace the one that burned. This would preclude a mere restoration of the existing show, but what will appear instead is anyone’s guess. The original show? A hybrid of the two? Additional fuel for these rumors was added last week when one of the animatronics from the pre-show was removed; this could mean anything from mere repair work to something more significant. It would be nice to hear from Disney on this matter, but at least we still have a glimmer of hope that the terrible Under New Management show has gone the way of the dodo.

So that’s what’s happening at the Kingdom… for now. There are still rumors as to what happens next after the Fantasyland expansion – whether big things will be afoot for Tomorrowland or Frontierland – but that’s a story for another day. In the meantime, if you hear something, say something!

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14 comments to In The Kingdom…

  • Jeanine

    While I could be wrong, I think I assumed the figure waving from the second floor was a silhouette of Mr. Lincoln on the top of a GMWML banner, gesturing to the silhouettes of his audience below.

  • Truecoat

    I like the idea of Mickey fastpass. This will tie up many fastpasses that in the past would have been for rides. This makes other fastpasses available for the likes of me!

  • Tim

    Nitpicking or not, I think there is some cause for concern on how the tone of the Haunted Mansion approach will be affected, however subtly, by the on-the-nose, big visuals new tombstones as opposed to the old more subtle, verbal pun tombstones. The dark humor of the Mansion doesn’t quite reveal itself until guests are well into the experience, so to have so much in the new “Act One” queue kind of gives away to whole game too soon. I suppose we will see soon enough how well integrated the new queue elements are to the existing experience. Hopefully they will strike the right balance.

  • Retro 71

    Interesting article some hits and misses. I’m gonna jump down to the Mickey Meet n Greet. I think this is going to be more than a simple meet n greet. I believe it will be a semi small interactive show featuring the living character initiative mickey mouse cleverly themed as depicted in one of the posters in the concept illustration. In WDI’s eyes RC can do no wrong with concept illustration and storyboarding, I wish I could draw like that even though it’s verging on the graphic novel style of illustration.

    As for the mansion you make some really good points. I do enjoy the fact the the mansion is seeing more and more love these days. It only took how long for Orlando management to realize the potential power of a real “vital” franchise. I also agree with you. I do think the tombs look overly stylized and a bit too theme-y. The mansion felt real, at least from the outside. I believe it was Walt who said we take care of the outside while the ghosts take care of the inside. Well there goes that saying. Passe? Cliche? Who knows. I know tone is always been an issue for the Mansion. Too scary for the young? Well now with some funny yet fun interactive elements no one can say the mansion is scary!
    I dunno, I’m torn on this. I just hate the NEW stylized look of everything in the parks. It’s becoming more cookie cuter cutesy, less realistic and fantastic.

  • Another Voice

    Nothing demonstrates the big difference between “story” and “plot” like ‘The Haunted Mansion’. A story is the emotional changes that happen as a result of the events of the plot. The story of the Mansion is how we start off frightened of ghosts but through our trip through their mansion grow to see them as funny and friendly. Contrast this with the plot driven ‘Pirates’ which shows us the tragic fate of a group of pirates attacking a town, but our attitude towards the pirates doesn’t really change all that much from the start to the end.

    I really worry if Disney even thinks about these things these days. Instead “Disney Parks” seems to construct everything like a commercial: short, snappy, loud, make sure you expose the brand at least three times. Nothing is allowed to stand alone – it’s simply a long ancillary revenue line from movie to DVD to toy line to amusement park to happy meal. Franchise above all, so it’s easier to plunk in merchandise-friendly characters in front of the Mansion than work on the story.

    Five bucks says the opening of the new queue is ‘celebrated’ with a big trading pin release featuring the new tombstones.

    As for Mickey…trot out the mouse for a quick brand experience opportunity. And paying some a drama major from the community college to stand around in a rubber head is a hell of a lot cheaper than putting iron in the ground. Fastpass is just a way of “justifying” WDW’s continuing refusal to invest in required infrastructure.

    I also have to wonder how long ‘Mickey’ will be a draw if he continues to be nothing but the Paris Hilton of Disney – known only for being the center of a marketing effort than for anything the character actually does or represents. At least the princesses have stories, Mickey just kinda poses for cameras these days.

    And yes, ‘Epic Mickey’ was a major underperformer. I think because the character has been so drained of personality – or interest to anyone that has been successful toilet trained.

  • Julia Stewart

    Am I the only one who noticed that the ‘REAL” Mickey balloons are shown here in the concept art? That made me the most excited!!!! I really hope they bring those back!

  • RO93461

    FYI- “Epic Mickey” may have “underperformed” but not because it’s not good, but because it came out after Thanksgiving and was only released on Wii. It still became the best selling single platform game in the company’s history. I have two 12 year olds that love it and because it has rich story. Just another POV.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/15/business/15mickey.html?_r=1

  • Maria

    Did they happen to announce when the animatronics will return? I’m going to WDW in a month and I’d of course prefer to see those.

    From a practical standpoint, Fastpasses for Mickey make sense. The crowds do warrant it. But personally, I find it rather depressing, as it’s just another step toward characters becoming attractions. Yes, I know that they’ve had queues for characters for quite some time, so they’re probably technically attractions already. It’s just a bit disappointing, is all. My first interactions with characters were in 1998 at DL, and I was sorely disappointed when I went to Orlando for the first time a few years ago and only saw characters in a poorly themed building in Epcot. It’s just not the same.

  • Another Voice

    I’ve heard great things about the game and the people I know who’ve tried it enjoy it.

    But “performance” is measured by those in the Team Disney building. Long gone are the days of “singles and doubles” – Disney now operates on the “either make our enemies weep with envy over our success or you will be sold to the salt mines and we shall beat the donkeys that took you there” mentality.

    But that still leaves open the question about why ‘Epic Mickey’ didn’t do better.

    For a long time it was assumed that the Studio created the “brand equity” of Disney. Big, popular movies made people want to visit WDW and buy merchandise. I’m wondering now if the reverse is true. With Disney films now a reduced factor in popular culture, and with constant advertising for the parks, they are now the most visible part of Disney.

    The entire focus of park marketing is young children and the public’s preception of the parks – crowded, expensive beyond reason, and only for parents guilted into making “memories of magical dream wishes” – sure doesn’t help sell products.

  • Smaha

    We can’t just throw out there that the public’s perception of the parks is that they’re “crowded, expensive beyond reason, and only for parents guilted into making ‘memories of magical dream wishes’” without the data to back it up. What is this based on? If opinion only, then fair enough….

    Since this was at one point a conversation about the Haunted Mansion, any chance the changes are in preparation for Guillermo del Toro’s movie?

  • philphoggs

    Its always good to hear AVs opinions, and of course ROs, everyones for that matter.
    I also realize that the hospitality house drawing is a form of art, but depending on where you stand, it’s a symbol wrought with dread. Toontown is not gone, it’s taking over mainsteet.

  • philphoggs

    Oh yes, nitpicking.
    The best random comment I heard out there yet on the queue – ” Looks like someone stuck a large HM collectible souvenir in the queue”

  • Mark W

    I don’t think your concerns about the HM queue are nitpicking at all. Quite the contrary. If your fears are correct, the interactive queue changes are going to completely destroy the suspenseful atmosphere of the attraction’s opening and the overall progression of the attraction. I honestly can’t think of a way to more negatively impact the attraction (short of altering the ride itself) than what is being done with the interactive queue. WDW’s Haunted Mansion is quite possibly my favorite Disney attraction ever (other than maybe DL’s Indiana Jones Adventure) and its pretty saddening to see the nonchalance with which WDI is completely altering the flow of one of their classic, hallmark attractions.

    That said, I’m actually not totally opposed to the new hitchhiking ghost effects. That was the one section of the attraction that I always thought seemed somewhat outdated and could use some revision (especially after experiencing DLP’s analog to that section). If the animatronics are indeed down for refurbishment, I’d love to see some enhancements to them and the overall effect in this section – IMHO, if they want to improve HM, the money should go to that rather than the NextGen queue.

    Also, just want to throw my lot in with Eddie here and say that Epic Mickey is a quality game. As a formerly-hardcore gamer who now only plays occasionally, the game definitely delivered on gameplay, overall design, and production value. There’s also tons of nods to Disney history, trivia, and miscellanea that I ate up as a fanboy – it was just a little too easy/quick for my tastes (I think a result of it being designed with children in mind). But I believe that the reasons Eddie gives for its financial under-performance are correct. FWIW, lead designer Warren Spector has indicated in several interviews that the door has been left open for the possibility of an X-Box 360 and/or PS3 port(s).

  • philphoggs

    Well it’s official. I’m wondering now if the ambient sounds are also loud enough to affect the Rivers of America or Tom Sawyers Island.

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