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A Peek At The Future

Hiya fellas, remember me?

Sorry things have been dead around here for what, I see, is a surprisingly long time. What’s ironic is that during this period of silence there has been a remarkable flurry of activity and news in all corners of the Disney empire. The head of the motion picture division, Rich Ross, got canned and just yesterday was replaced by former Warner Brothers President Alan Horn. This was a huge, enormous upgrade and we’ll talk more about it soon.

Films have been greenlit, canceled, and announced; Glen Keane left Walt Disney Feature Animation. The Fantasyland remodel in Florida has been slowly revealed, with surprisingly impressive results, and Epcot’s Test Track closed (yay!) for a remodel that will give it an aesthetic that is “TRON but not TRON.” Yesterday, Snow White’s Scary Adventures closed forever to make way for a princess meet and greet area. Plans for Downtown Disney continue to founder, and get kicked up and down the corporate ladder, continuing an embarrassing saga that has gone on for years now.

But most of the news is good, and a lot of the spotlight is going to California Adventure, which is finally emerging from its five-year makeover. When the park is re-dedicated later this month, guests will find a park with a remarkably different vibe than they did in 2001. It has, amazingly, become a habitable environment that’s pleasant to visit.

Most exciting is the new entrance area themed to 1920s Hollywood. Buena Vista Street will revive the classic Los Angeles Red Car Trolleys, and bring back to life the long-defunct Carthay Circle Theater. I’m not really happy that they’re using the theater for a restaurant and bar, but at least it looks nice. With the new architecture, water features, and background music, the difference between new DCA and old is like night and day.

I took a trip down to Anaheim the other week to check out the changes; I hadn’t been in a long while and the difference amazed me. I took the following brief video of the construction that continues on Buena Vista Street as they try to meet their opening day deadline. Now, a caveat – first, this was taken on my (terrible) cellphone, so it isn’t spectacular. Also it was impromptu filming on a blustery day, so it’s not exactly Toland-grade cinematography. Nevertheless, I think you’ll get an idea of how things are progressing.

Looks good. I can’t wait to see it all finished. While the remodel won’t solve all of DCA’s problems, at least it will now have a fighting chance. There are still areas within the park that need major remodeling, and most of all the park needs ride capacity. Lots of ride capacity. When there’s always a massive queue for the slight and nonessential Monsters Inc. ride, you know you need more for the family to do. More people-swallowers like Pirates or Mansion in Disneyland; more animatronic theater shows like Carousel of Progress or the Tiki Room; more transportation like the Disneyland Railroad or the Red Cars.

Still, it’s looking good so far – now they just have to get it open on time!

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19 comments to A Peek At The Future

  • Can’t comment on DCA…I am an Orlando guy, through and through, but…

    …closing Test Track to make it TRON Track…really? What kind of bone headed idea was this? Test Track drew a crowd secondly only to Soarin’ in EPCOT, and if you did the math, Test Track probably sent more riders around the high speed loops than Soarin’ sent over Cali in the last several years based on show times.

    While I am curious to see what the Mouse has in store for TT, I am also highly annoyed that they chose to … for lack of a better term … F**K with what was working while ignoring things that don’t! We have Wonders of Life being used as convention hall that is being overtaken by weeds, we have Imagination…which should be renamed Abortion…and a half-finished, Denched-up Spaceship Earth. Meanwhile, the themepark formerly known as MGM Studios continues to decline into obscurity, with everyone clamoring to ride what equates to Nintendo 128 3D, while the rest of the park fades into irrelevence.

    Sure, Magic Kingdom is getting some love (that was 100% unnecessary), but really, come on Disney…understand that your flagship property, Walt Disney WORLD, is losing to an upstart movie themepark with a magic obnoxious kid as it’s mascot.

    Disney needs to pick up the ball and run with it, they own Marvel, the made a mint from the Avengers movie, and now, it is time for them to step up to the plate and show the world that they are still the kings of theme park magic, not just also rans.

    • Oh I agree totally. The reason they’re messing with Test Track, though, is because GM finally renewed their sponsorship and with that came contractual obligations to freshen up the ride. It’ll still be pretty much the exact same ride, it’ll just look a lot nicer. It’s not TRON-themed, but the look is pretty clearly TRON-inspired. The idea is now you’re testing cars virtually, but it’s pretty much just a “make it prettier” makeover, not a change of the ride itself.

      You’re right about the rest, though – Wonders of Life still empty? Ridiculous. Imagination? Awful. Energy? Out-dated. And dude, it’s been 24 years since the last Showcase country opened! As to MGM… geez. Call in the bulldozers.

      They do need to up their game on a major scale, because Universal is bringing it to them for the first time ever.

  • HockeyPlayerX – I am in some agreement with you re: TestTrack refurb. We have discussed before that senior mgmt (Bob and Tom??) appear addicted to franchise – which means everything gets linked to movies – regardless of the history or current value. I am happy Test Track gets upgrading but it is starting to be tenuous to link it to tenuous movies like Tron – which they are so desperately pushing us all to like.
    I would like to see a return to some originality – I am hoping dwarves mine ride brings some of that.
    Nice to see you back Michael – and here’s hoping DCA (or DOA as I used to call it) gets strong life breathed back into it!

  • Sean O

    Would you rank the DCA disaster level above or below WDW’s MGM at this point?

    • Ooh that’s a tough question. I’ve seen people discussing this. I think the deal with MGM is that its highs are really high, and its lows are really low. DCA just had a consistent level of mediocrity with some real lows thrown in.

      Now… I’m not sure sure. There’s nothing at DCA that grabs me like Hollywood/Great Movie Ride and Sunset/ToT like at MGM. MGM still has Echo Lake, and the cool area leading from Hollywood Blvd around to Indy. But… DCA won’t soon have anything as awful as alllllll of MGM’s backlot area.

      So I go back and forth haha. MGM still has the potential to be greater, but they need to tear down and rebuild half the park to get there.

  • Gary

    Welcome back, Michael. I was worried you’d become ‘Twitter’pated and had given up the blog for the instant gratification of simple tweets. I’m glad that isn’t the case.

    Bye the way, loved your cameo on “A Musical Souvenir of Walt Disney World,” but if you were trying at all to disguise your voice, it didn’t work.

    As for the bustle of activity, I was recently out in Disneyland, though I live in Orlando, and was a little sad to have been too early for all the changes happening in DCA (as well as missing out on the Matterhorn). I can only hope to have another opportunity in the next few years to make my way back. Meanwhile, the ever-changing skyline of WDW’s Fantasyland is exciting, to say the least. Big changes like this don’t happen every day down here. And as for Test Track, I welcome a change. I always thought the ride very bland and boring, save for the race at the end. If they can make it even slightly visually appealing, I’m all for it.

    And one more thing: Hooray for Orange Bird and the Citrus Swirl!

    • HA! Twitter does indeed appeal to my lazy side, it’s true. Gotta focus!

      Glad you enjoyed my vocal cameo hahahahaha… My brief experience with showbiz.

      I’m also excited about all the changes – and I’m sooo ready to have my first Citrus Swirl in YEARS.

  • beaglelady

    SO good to see you back here, Michael. I was worried…

  • Mark W

    Also glad to have you back, Michael!

    Re: Test Track – the prior version didn’t “work.” It was just as much a failed attraction as almost everything else in Future World. Sure, it processed lots of guests, but it was embarrassingly dated and had almost nothing to do with the goals of EPCOT Center Future World. It’s certainly not the only attraction in Future World that really, really needs help, but it’s one that does, and it’s getting help, so IMHO, that’s something we should be glad for. By all accounts, the focus of the attraction is moving in the right direction.

    I also don’t believe that Disney is trying to tie TT in with TRON. If Disney really wanted to force the TRON franchise on us, they wouldn’t be nearly that subtle – it’d be called “TRON Track” or something of the sort. I think the new aesthetic is just what the design team (which includes some original EPCOT Center Imagineers btw) settled on because the attraction at least partially takes place in virtual reality.

    I’m also optimistic about the future of Imagination. Anyone who follows Imagineer Jason Grandt on twitter knows that lately he’s been doing quite a lot of drawings of Figment. And prior to that, he was doing quite a lot of drawings of the Orange Bird, who has recently been restored to rightful glory in the MK. I’m not saying, I’m just saying…

    • Agreed about Test Track. It was ugly, ugly, ugly. Ugly aesthetic, ugly set dressings, ugly soundtrack. And kind of pointless aside from the final loop.

      I agree that they’re not doing a direct tie-in with TRON, it’s merely a visual code for “cyber”, and far prettier than Matrix-style green.

      • Adam, "MarkTwain"

        Do we know yet whether the “scaffolding” roof is coming down from the ride entrance? That’s probably the most offensive piece of Future World architecture right now, IMO.

        • Unfortunately I’ve been told it’s staying. I was REALLY hoping it would go, but I heard that WDW mandated that it stay. You’re right; it’s awful. Maybe someday…

  • For what it is worth, I didn’t mean to suggest that I thought they were doing a TRON overlay on TT, just that it looks an awful lot like TRON Legacy, and I stand by that. Not that there is really anything wrong with that per se, I am huge TRON fan, and I have always felt that if Disney was going to create a ride around a movie franchise, that they have missed (and are still missing) a great opportunity to do something really interesting with TRON. I wouldn’t say that a TRON ride would really belong in EPCOT, but then again, neither does Nemo, Soarin’, or Donald Duck.

    My primary point was that while Test Track was not perfect, by any stretch, it was at least popular. Granted, I know of lots of things that are popular that are not good…Country Music, the McRib, America Idol, etc. etc. But, my complaint is that there are several attractions in EPCOT (all of them really besides Soarin’) that “work” far less than Test Track at what they are *actually* designed to do…which is attract paying customers. Meanwhile, the competition is building newer, more technologically advanced, and more popular attractions. How long can that continue before WDW starts to slide into obscurity? 2 decades? 3? Now, I know fully well that there will be people that visit WDW, I will until I die most likely, but Disney needs to take a really hard look at what “works” (attracts customers) and what doesn’t, because in the end, WDW…like all other theme parks…is not a non-profit museum meant to preserve the past or to push some ideological agenda.

    Disney has to keep up, and by just refurbing the draws, while allowing attractions that do not draw to fade even further into relative dust, they are not adding guests.

    • Mark W

      Thanks for clarifying. I agree with this 100%, including the part about country, ha!

    • Oh I totally agree – I definitely got what you meant. And yeah the vibe will TOTALLY be TRON-like. But the “fix” was driven by GM sponsor $$$, and not by Disney up and deciding to spruce it up.

      That’s really the big problem with the way Epcot is funded – Disney puts all the burden on sponsors so we get tumbleweed-ready Imagination, Health and Energy pavilions. Disney puts the bare minimum of cash into things. But while Fantasyland is going to be nice, they need to get REALLY serious about Future World, DHS, and DAK, and be willing to bite the bullet and pay up if they can’t force a sponsor to shell out. Future World is just shabby, and the development cycle is so long these days for new attractions, it’ll be even more shabby by the time they get anything done.

  • The Manimal

    Michael,

    Will you be doing a big SNOW WHITE’s SCARY ADVENTURES send off?
    I still feel like it is not getting the attention/love it deserved.

    • Yeah I want to talk about that, but it’ll probably be more links than anything; I feel almost unqualified to talk about it, and there are some folks who know it far better than I. But you’re right, it deserves a shout-out.

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