First of all, let me compliment you on your podcast. I’ve been listening to a couple of your latest episodes now, and it’s really refreshing and interesting to hear someone who’s not an American talk about and discuss Disney and Disney theme parks. Especially from a European perspective and with Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney Studios Park as the main focus, while at the same time having a good amount of knowledge about the American and the Asian parks as well. Your love and dedication, not to mention your knowledge about the history of the different parks and attractions, really shines through, and I highly appreciate that. I tip my Mickey ears for you!
Pleasantries aside, my main reason for writing you this email is to expand upon and clarify some aspects of my comment on the upcoming changes to Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris, posted on Instagram.
First of all, although my post might have come out as mainly negative, I just want to clarify that I’m really happy about the fact that Disney has finally taken full ownership of DLP and that they’re spending some well-needed money and attentiveness to Europes only Disney Resort – a resort that has been highly neglected since its initial years, and one that might, in a way, be considered the black sheep of Disney theme parks.
I do however have some concerns about all of this. First of all, as I mentioned in my original post, I’m a bit sceptical to these three announced/proposed lands. The reasons for this are multiple. I genuinely feel that the main appeal of the different Disney parks around the world is their relative uniqueness to one another in terms of different lands and attractions. While DLP and Walt Disney Studios Parks will still have many things that set it apart from other Disney parks, I feel that the decision to put at Star Wars themed land in WDS is a big step in streamlining the Disney experience and take away a lot of what sets the different parks apart from one another. I also fear, like I mentioned in my post, that this will be made on the cheap. Two billion euros might sound like a lot of money, but spread out on three different lands that will in essence double the size of the park, I’m not sure it will be nearly enough. Especially not if they want to be as immersive as possible and include one E-ticket attraction, and a couple of other attractions, shows, restaurants and stores, in each new land. And, as I’ve also mentioned, if the Toy Story area in WDS is any indication, I’m concerned that these new lands won’t be as big and as detailed and immersive as they deserve. But that is yet to be seen, I’m just being cautiously sceptical.
I also think that all of these announced lands feels kinda expected and like safe bets. I have no doubt that any of these lands could look amazing – I have 100% trust in the Imagineers ability to create magical and astonishing experiences – it all just feels a bit boring to me. I’m not saying that I was expecting Disney to expand WDS, just that if they were going to create new lands in any existing Disney parks, my money would probably have been on these three IP’s.
And talking about IP’s, I want to acknowledge what you said in your pod about IP’s being used in the Disney theme parks. I’m not against Disney using IP’s in the parks. I’m well aware that that has always been the case. I do however feel that it’s a difference between using Disney created properties like their animated versions on classic stories and fairytales, and acquired properties like Marvel or Pixar. Walt’s original Disneyland used – and still does, of course – rides and attractions based on their animated and live action movies and shows. But they did so mainly in Fantasyland, and while some versions of Fantasyland – like the one in the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World – have expanded to give more room to certain characters and movies like the Little Mermaid and Beauty & the Beast, not a single park has devoted an entire land to one specific movie only. Recently that has been done with Toy Story in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and it has also been done to the Muppets (even though the original plans for a much bigger, much more immersive area with a lot of different attractions, including a Muppets version of the Great Movie Ride) – but none of those are really stand-alone movies in the same regard as Frozen, but rather big franchises with many years of popularity supporting such a venture. And while I’m well aware that there’s a sequel to Frozen in the making, we still don’t know if it will turn out to be as acclaimed and beloved – or hated – as the first movie, and therefore deserving of an entire land of its own. And even if it would turn out to indeed be deserving of a whole land of its own, I feel that there’s a lot of potential getting lost by focusing entirely on a single animated movie.
During Disney’s long history in the theme park buisness, there has been many proposed and possibly revolutionary ideas for attractions based on movies that has eventually gotten scrapped, not because they were bad ideas or impossible to make, but because the movies that they were to be based on didn’t make as much money that Disney was hoping for (one that comes to mind is the propsed Dick Tracy attraction, that would have been similar to Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin attraction, with a ride vehicle that was eventually used for the Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye in Disneyland) And by dedicating an entire land on a single movie rather than on a specific theme or genre, I just feel that a lot of potential is getting lost, as well as a lot of guests being alienated if they don’t care for that specific movie. At least Fantasyland has plenty of attractions based on different movies to choose from.
I also feel like certain IP’s doesn’t go well together, or that they can be put into any park or any land. There’s a reason why Walt didn’t put Tomorrowland right next to Frontierland, and why most of Disney’s IP’s were put in Fantasyland – while the other lands were mainly filled with original content. So while Star Wars and Marvel might open up for smooth transitions between their respective lands, I don’t think that they belong in the same park as Frozen and Ratatouille. Maybe Marvel, Star Wars and Pandora would have made a better fit? Although I’m personally not a big fan of either of these three IP’s. Because here’s the thing though, while I love to read Marvel comics and have enjoyed some of the movies, and for many years I was a huge Star Wars buff, I go to Disney theme parks for classic Disney. I want lands and attractions based on original content or movies and franchises that have been developed from within the Disney corporation and not through acquisitions. I’m not really against any of these IP’s – like Pixar, Marvel and Pandora – but that’s not what I want to experience when I go to a Disney theme park (if I want marvel, I might as well go to Universal’s Islands of Adventures). Especially not when they’re seen together with classic Disney properties like Mickey Mouse, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and Winnie the Pooh. Now, before you say anything, I know that Disney didn’t create characters like Winnie the Pooh and Mary Poppins, but they bought the rights to make movies based on those properties – not the properties themselves, like they did with Star Wars and Marvel – and to me that is a big difference: Disney Disney-fying something or Disney simply buying it entirely and just cashing in on what is already established. And I also think that there are properties and IP’s that doesn’t really fit well with Disney, and especially not with the Disney theme parks – no matter how great a land or an attraction the Imagineers may be able to do with that specific IP or franchise.
So while I’m not against IP’s in the parks per se – not even those acquired through purchase – I really feel that’s important to be careful with which IP’s is being used, and where. As an example, I think that the Indiana Jones attractions in Disneyland and Disneyland Paris fits perfectly in Adventureland, but they shouldn’t do it. One attraction and maybe a themed store or restaurant is enough.
I’m a bit conflicted when it comes to IP’s being used in Epcot, however. While I prefer the original version of the park, I can see Marvel properties being used in Future World, as long as they use them to explain and promote current technology and scientific progress while maybe giving us some hints of what might be in store for us in the future, in relation to the technology that is available to them in the MCU. I also think that IP’s might have a place in World Showcase, but I would much prefer to have them coming up with original attractions that have a clear connection the land and the culture that they’re representing. For example, I don’t think that Frozen Ever After belongs in the Norway pavilion, since Frozen really doesn’t have anything to do with Norway, albeit Arendelle being inspired by Norway and the story being based on a Danish fairytale set in Norway. The Grand Fiesta Tour starring Donald Duck in the Mexico pavilion, however, makes a lot of more sense, since it’s based on a movie that was made with the purpose of highlighting the South American culture and to help establish good connections between the US and South America. Building the Ratatouille ride in France also makes sense, since the movie that the ride is based on it’s actually set in France – and they pavilion currently don’t have an attraction, and that is really a shame.
I do believe that there needs to be some balance when it comes to what kinds of attractions are being placed in a land/park, how it’s themed, what the purpose of the attraction is, and how many attractions based on the same IP is being used in that particular area. Walt Disney Studios Park – much like Disney’s Hollywood Studios/MGM Studios – were meant to be about the process of filmmaking, therefore shows like the Armageddon Special Effects show or the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! is a perfect fit for those parks, albeit not originally being movies or franchises created by Disney. But when making an entire land based on Star Wars or Frozen, it’s no longer about filmmaking – and that’s why I feel that it doesn’t really fit, no matter how well made they will be or how beloved and popular those IP are. Now, a couple of attractions that focused on the special effects, stunts and so on from the Star Wars movies, that would have been another thing entirely – as well as unique in contrast to the Star Wars themed lands currently being built in Anaheim and Orlando.
Lastly, I want to acknowledge what you said in the show about some attractions that are being represented in the different Disney parks around the world – attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion – are similar to one another, yet very different. That is mostly true, especially when it comes to the different incarnations of the Haunted Mansion – although Walt Disney World’s version is actually a copy of the one in Disneyland, but with some changes and a very different exterior design. But when it comes to PotC, that attraction is more or less the same in every park, aside from a few things. The thing that I always loved with the version in Disneyland Paris was that it was basically a copy of the one in Disneyland, without all the changes that were made to it in order to implement the characters from the movies. Now that is a thing of the past as well, and I find it sad. The other big difference between the various versions around the world is the length of and the number of drops in the attractions – which is attributed to the fact that the water levels in Anaheim, Orlando and Paris are different. I know that there are a few other details that sets the different versions apart, but those are the main aspects. So to me, that attraction, in particular, isn’t a very good example to justify Disney basically streamlining their different parks to include more or less the same attractions. Then again, the guests are expecting certain things from a Disney theme park, so I’m not that surprised that Disney decides to “clone” things like the Ratatouille ride or Star Wars land. I can’t even say I’m against it, just a bit disappointed that they don’t seem as willing to take risks and go into as many new directions as they used to – and that they seem to abandon many of their parks original themes and identities. I also think that there’s still a lot of other things to do in order to enhance the experience of the parks, aside from adding new lands and IP’s, like further refurbishments and updates of existing attractions and areas; doing something about the excessive smoking in the parks and (even in the queus!); ending the collaboration with companies providing food and snacks, like Nestlé, and bringing more iconic Disney themed snacks, like the Mickey Ice Cream bar, the Mickey ice cream sandwich, and Dole Whips; getting rid of those cheap, carnival-like balloons and instead get the same type of balloons sold at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, and so on. And maybe they should have put some of the money towards that end, and focus on only building one or two new, bigger and more immersive lands.
Wow, this really turned out to be a longer response than I initially intended for, but I really felt the need to further explain and expand on some of my original thoughts. Thank you for your time and for your extensive work on your podcast, I’m already a hardcore fan.
Dennis – aka the Disney Swede