Is MyMagic+ Bob Iger’s Folly at Disney?

Lasseter

All of the talk about MyMagic+ and Bob Iger’s efforts to re-invigorate the parks with new technology came to my mind the other day when I recently came across a June 30th, 1983 internal Disney news publication. It was for Cast Members and was entitled, “Experimenting with Computer Graphics.” It featured a photo of John Lasseter and Glen Keane doing a computer graphics test based on the Maurice Sendak’s award winning children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are. The article talks about the challenges of using computer-generated graphics in the wake of TRON which had come out earlier.

Of course the irony of this internal company promo is that shortly thereafter John Lasseter was let go from the studio. Not only did studio heads like Ron Miller think it wouldn’t work, but so did some of Disney’s most legendary artists, to include Frank Thomas, one of the Nine Old Men and an artist admired by Lasseter himself. David A Price in his book The Pixar Touch noted that Thomas at one point wrote a lengthy essay in which he seemed to argue that computer animation was a dead end. “Even today there is no electronic process that produces anything close to Snow White quality,” wrote Thomas.

Of course we know the “rest of the story” with John Lasseter along with Ed Catmull leading Pixar to becoming the animation giant it has become today. We now look back and think how stupid it was to think that computer graphics wouldn’t succeed. But do we limit our own thinking about what technology can do for us in the future?

When Bob Iger came aboard, one of three goals he had was to advance the use of technology in the organization. He not only saw to the purchase of Pixar, but embraced Steve Jobs a member of the board of directors. More recently he has added other high-tech leaders to the board like Jack Dorsey (Twitter and Square) and Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook).

But that high-tech effort is more than simply board room presence. For instance, the Disney Interaction group has recently invented a touchscreen that lets you feel textures. It’s a tactile rendering of 3D features allowing you to feel the contour of a map or the sharp points on a picture of a pineapple.

Tactile-Bump-image4b

In another project they have created a special microphone that you can whisper into and then transmit that whisper directly to someone else’s ear through one’s fingertips.

Interesting as these may be, none of these technology efforts are as well known as MyMagic+, an enormous undertaking utilizing Magic Bands and other features into the theme park experience. In the Disney blog community this has become a very controversial project. It was judged and condemned before it has even fully launched.

In New York City the common practice is that critics don’t judge a play before opening night. They don’t catch a rehearsal and then condemn it before its premiere. But critics sure are ready to dismiss MyMagic+. Remember, this initiative has yet to be fully introduced. Even among those who have already tried the Magic Bands (though views on it have largely been favorable), it still isn’t fully implemented. At the time of writing this article, one of the key components involving the interactive magic itself hasn’t even been introduced.

A Disney Cast Member helping non-resort guests with their FastPass+ choices. Photo by J. Jeff Kober

A Disney Cast Member helping non-resort guests with their FastPass+ choices. Photo by J. Jeff Kober

Since the utilization of sound with Mickey Mouse in Steamboat Willie, Walt Disney has embraced technology. People who love Disney know that the word “folly” was attached to several of Walt’s projects, Snow White and Disneyland being two big examples. Was he always successful? No. Just look at his efforts to create an immersive experience when Fantasia was released. That effort–creative as it may have been–didn’t succeed. But it did spawn what we know today in 3D efforts such as Captain Eo and Mickey’s PhilarMagic. More importantly, Walt wouldn’t have experienced near the success if he didn’t embrace technology. So why fault Iger and the rest of the company for trying MyMagic+? You have to take chances.

I’m not trying to pour the company kool-aid. I don’t know if this MyMagic+ will have a perfect outcome. It may not work. Or, it may even work, but still not be worth the price tag. But whether it succeeds or not, you have to admire a company that isn’t ignoring technology. “We keep moving forward, opening new doors” is the mantra of this company. Let MyMagic+ have its day. Judge the experience after it premieres.

WestJet = MyMagic+ Plus A Year of a Million Dreams

Screen Shot 2013-12-13 at 11.10.00 AM

If yothere’s a wonderful video on YouTube showcasing a very special Christmas surprise made possible by WestJet airlines. If you haven’t seen it yet, you simply must–but then come back and read further on!

An Amazing Christmas Experience From West Jet

As you can see this is a great example of what I refer to as a High Tech/High Touch experience. It’s what hasn’t happened yet for Magic+ at Walt Disney World, but I think is what it will soon become. The same kinds of technologies that allowed Santa to know the names of its passengers is no different than MyMagic+.

Screen Shot 2013-12-13 at 11.23.33 AM

Note the surprise and awe on the faces of the passengers when they realized that Santa knew them by name. That’s a big part of MyMagic+. We experienced it some years ago when Turtle Talk with Crush opened at Epcot’s Living Seas. We were so impressed by our first visit–watching our daughter ask Crush questions–that we turned around and got in line again to see another show a half hour later. What blew us away was that in the second show Crush called on our daughter remembering her name, having spoken to her earlier. It was really magical–even though no technology was used–simply a performer who remembered our daughter. That’s the power of what will happen in MyMagic+.

Of course there may be cynics that might be saying–wait a minute–what made the WestJet experience so cool is that when they got back to their destination, they got presents coming toward them at luggage. That was fantastic, but Disney can do something similar as well. Think of the Year of a Million Dreams campaign. Think of how you might combine the MyMagic+ technology with that sort of year-long giveaway.

Another StoryMaker experience just added over at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Another StoryMaker experience just added over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Again, it hasn’t happened yet–but there’s all sorts of possibilities that eventually may occur when the magic arrives with the MyMagic+ program. Right now that sort of interactivity is being tested right now. Not everyone at Disney has the same kind of band. One unusual color is being handed out to pilot groups who are walking around and testing some of this magic. Disney’s not a fool–they’ve come up with what I think will be a high-tech/high-touch experience. This tool isn’t something that will simply make it more efficient to get on a ride. It’s intended to create magic.

Disney’s MyMagic+ Initiative: Where’s the Magic?

A turnstile for Disney's MyMagic+ presented at Epcot when it was rolled out to Annual Passholders. It's interesting, but where's the magic?

A turnstile for Disney’s MyMagic+ presented at Epcot when it was rolled out to Annual Passholders. It’s interesting, but where’s the magic?

It’s been talked about–so what is Disney’s MyMagic+? A recent Walt Disney World Eyes & Ears described Disney’s MyMagic+ program by summing up  by these main touch points:

  • Set up My Disney Experience online and plan your vacation
  • Receive customized MagicBands
  • Make FastPass+ selections
  • Receive the MagicBands
  • Check in Online via My Disney Experience
  • Breeze through the airport with your MagicBands
  • Receive a personalized curbside experience upon arrival at the resort
  • Check in at the resort setting up their PINs for payment
  • Enter the door of your Disney resort room with your MagicBand
  • Enter the parks with your MagicBands
  • Link Disney PhotoPass to your MagicBand
  • Touch to pay food and retail with your MagicBand
  • Redeem FastPass+ selections
  • Enjoy photo products through their My Disney Experience or via PhotoPass.com

There are a number of activities in Disney’s MyMagic+ initiative that make a trip to Walt Disney World more hassle free. But there’s just one problem:

Where’s the Magic?

And not only that, but where’s My Magic? After all, it’s in the title. MyMagic+ suggests an enhanced magical experience catered to you. Sure the other things help make the experience more efficient–but where’s the personalized magic in Disney’s MyMagic+?

Well I’m here to say it’s almost here. Not that most people have talked about it recently. It was hinted way early on in the promotion of this innovation. But it hasn’t been mentioned much throughout this year as the project has been unfolding. It’s one of the last pieces of this program. They don’t want to promote it until they’re ready to unveil it. They don’t want people expecting the magic until it’s in place.

More than a year ago I mentioned some of the virtual offerings coming to Disney. Over the year I’ve  showcased some of the props being put into place, such as Disney’s Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. Now they’re live and within the days and weeks to come they will interact with guests passing by with MagicBands. Here’s what some of this looks like currently:

Here’s one of the first one that was set up at the beginning of the year. Now it has writing and fan photos displayed on the mirror.

This is one of two additions in the queue area of Muppet Vision. In the reflection of the mirror you can see a "For Rent" sign that is also part of Disney's MyMagic+

This is one of two additions in the queue area of Muppet Vision. In the reflection of the mirror you can see a “For Rent” sign that is also part of Disney’s MyMagic+ experience.

This one does a dandy job of acting like a real Etch-a-Sketch. Imagine what it might etch when you pass by?

Recently placed in the queue at Toy Story Mania, this is two-sided, allowing both queues to interact with MagicBands in Disney's MyMagic+.

Recently placed in the queue at Toy Story Mania, this is two-sided, allowing both queues to interact with MagicBands in Disney’s MyMagic+.

Here’s what Mickey’s Meet ‘n’ Greet looked like last year at the Magic of Disney Animation:

The old archway set at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

The old archway set at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Here’s what it looks like now.

The new arch way set now ready for Disney's MyMagic+.

The new arch way set now ready for Disney’s MyMagic+.

Do you see the difference? Those movie posters aren’t dormant. They’re ready to come alive on your next photo op. I’m not sure how it will be utilized, but it will be part of Disney’s MyMagic+.

There are several of these set up at Disney’s All Star Resorts. Here’s one at Disney’s All Star Movies Resort features Star Wars in its display, but will then change displays and feature you instead when you pass by.

The Hall of Fame at Disney's All Star Movies Resort just added for Disney's MyMagic+.

The Hall of Fame at Disney’s All Star Movies Resort just added for Disney’s MyMagic+.

In a closer look at this one from Disney’s All Star Music Resort showcases Selena Gomez. But your face may be on it when you pass by.

You too can be a star at Disney's All Star Music Resort through Disney's MyMagic+.

You too can be a star at Disney’s All Star Music Resort through Disney’s MyMagic+.

Note this new set of magazine cover portraits at the Brown Derby. They look like they’ve always been there, but they’re brand new. and yes…all of them are part of Disney’s MyMagic program.

Through Disney's MyMagic+, new stars have had their portraits added in this magazine cover shots.

Through Disney’s MyMagic+, new stars have had their portraits added in this magazine cover shots.

But look closer at the date on the magazine, and you’ll see that today’s date is displayed–as of 1933. Each day these magazines are being updated with a new date. It’s all part of what will be displayed and tailored to include you.

This shot was taken on November 22nd, 2013. The magazine shows November 22nd, 2033.

This shot was taken on November 22nd, 2013. The magazine shows November 22nd, 2033.

Not everything will be about screens, though most of the ones I’ve shown will be a part of what has been called StoryMaker. It will allow Guests to build a sort of virtual memories scrapbook as they go through the park. But this isn’t all. There are many things that will take advantage of the technology. For instance, you’ve heard rumors of Mickey Mouse greeting you by name or asking you how your trip from Des Moines went . That’s one way the magic can come alive in Disney’s MyMagic+. But here are some really unusual things that are being implemented:

Disney has ordered a host of chocolate printers. Yes, chocolate printers. It’s a big thing in the culinary world, but with MyMagic+, Disney will take it to the next level. In real time, the dessert you order will come out with your name or favorite Disney character printed on it. These are going all over the resort.

One style of chocolate printers that will be utilized through Disney's MyMagic+.

One style of chocolate printers that will be utilized through Disney’s MyMagic+.

Part of the reason it’s now the Jingle Cruise is that the skippers are getting a big present from Santa this next year. Soon Jungle Cruise skippers will receive tablets. With those in hand, they’ll be able to individualize the cruise depending on whose on board. “Yes, Ginger may snap, but Ginger snaps best at those visiting from Des Moines.” Thankfully, I won’t be writing the jokes, but you get the possibilities through Disney’s MyMagic+.

The Jungle Cruise may soon never be the same again after Disney's MyMagic+.

The Jungle Cruise may soon never be the same again after Disney’s MyMagic+.

This is just the beginning of what Disney could do to really create magic that is individualized and is more than anything experienced before. When it’s done right, it will take the Disney experience far beyond what it has been to this point. Yes, the entire project is somewhat behind, but understand…this is a big project. Once implemented, Disney’s MyMagic+ will really become MyMagic+!

Sam Gennawey’s, The Disneyland Story

Sam Gennawey's new book, The Disneyland Story

Sam Gennawey’s new book, The Disneyland Story

I apologize that I have not posted much lately. Part of the problem is that my real job of helping companies become as customer-savvy as Disney and other great organizations has kept me extremely busy. But the other reason is that every time I have a spare minute I’ve been reading Sam Gennawey’s newest work–The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney’s Dream.

Don’t let the title “unofficial” deter you in the least. This work exceeds anything Disney has ever formally put out. For that matter, in its total form it may exceed everything Disney has put out. There’s just so much. It isn’t as rich in graphics and photos like Bruce Gordon’s and David Mumford’s, Disneyland: The Nickel Tour. But then again, you don’t have to pay hundreds of dollars to get a used version on e-Bay. Moreover, you have a document that takes you to the present–few books get you beyond the mid nineties.

That’s not to say the book doesn’t have its imperfections. It goes on and on for pages describing the Indiana Jones Adventure ride itself, but makes no passing reference to America on Parade, State Fair, or many other entertainment offerings. In discussing the surrounding neighborhood, it keeps coming back to topics like the defunct Melodyland, but no mention is made Stovall’s Space Age Motel or Inn of Tomorrow. Yet that is minor detail to what is already so comprehensive. Could this book really be any longer? There is simply so much!

As an author, the only suggestion I would have made is that it should have been a two or three volume set. That means for you as the reader, you’re getting a great deal getting this for one price. I got more out of it than reading Lindquist, Crump, and Sklar’s books combined. It’s that good.

I know I should be plugging my book–and I will when my new edition of The Wonderful World of Customer Service at Disney comes out next week–but until then, grab a copy of this really terrific work. You will truly enjoy it!

Happy 90th Anniversary, Walt Disney Company

October 16, 2013 marks the 90th anniversary of the Walt Disney Company. If you’re asking yourself, “I thought we celebrated the 100th anniversary a few years ago, then you’re probably thinking of this anniversary:

Logo for 100 Years of Magic Celebration that occurred in the Disney parks.

Logo for 100 Years of Magic Celebration that occurred in the Disney parks.

That was the birth of Walt Disney on December 5, 1901. So it isn’t that date. Nor is it the birthday of Mickey Mouse.

Poster celebrating Mickey's 60th anniversary.

Poster celebrating Mickey’s 60th anniversary.

That happened in 1928, which will make him 85 next month on November 18th. That’s a great anniversary, but it’s not this one.

This is the one associated with D23. So many fans belong to D23, but few know why it’s called D23 and what really happened that year.

Tinkerbell welcomes new members to D23.

Tinkerbell welcomes new members to D23.

D23 is identified with the year, 1923 when Walt and Roy Disney signed a contract with M. J. Winkler for distribution of six Alice Comedies for a price of $1,500 apiece, and six more at $1,800 apiece, with an option for two more series.

It was only a day before on October 15th that Walt had gotten a telegram from M. J. Winkler approving the series. Walt headed over to the West Los Angeles hospital to see his brother waiving the paper in his hand. Roy had been staying there recuperating from tuberculosis. Since being discharged from the navy, Roy had not been feeling well. Eventually doctors had found a spot on Roy’s lung and had required him to stay in the hospital. Hospital stays brought him out west to dry climates until he finally reached California. That’s when he suggested to his brother that he come out West, as Walt’s Laugh-O-Gram business in Kansas went bankrupt.

Walt convinced his brother to join him in business, a potential opportunity for Roy because the stigma of Tuberculosis precluded him from getting a job in a bank or any other business for that matter. They set up shop, borrowed money from their uncle and others, and went into business. The rest is history.

There have been a few milestones during this time. The one I remember most is the 50th anniversary of what was by then Walt Disney Productions.

Disneyland Records 2 LP album, 50 Happy Years of  Disney Favorites

Disneyland Records 2 LP album, 50 Happy Years of Disney Favorites

I remember this well, as I purchased this record back in 1973. The 5oth logo was used extensively throughout the organization.

In 1983 the created this drawing to commemorate the 60th anniversary:

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The painting is fantastic as it captures the entire Walt Disney organization at that time, to include the brand new Epcot.

The 75th anniversary is really the last time there was any logo or merchandise. A number of pieces were done through the Disney Store including Christmas ornaments and even a guitar:

Disney_Strat

This year there is really no logo or guitar. D23 is opening an Treasures of the Disney Archives exhibit on Wednesday in Chicago, which was where Walt Disney was born. But there is little else that has so far been announced. Hopefully, there will be something sizable on the 100th anniversary.

Why do I focus on this anniversary to the exclusion of others? Well, my birthday is also October 16th. I feel a sort of kin to not only the anniversary, but to the entire Walt Disney Company. Therefore I cheerfully provide a big, happy anniversary!

Reflections of AVATAR

Here is what the land of Pandora will look like during the day...

Here is what the land of Pandora will look like during the day…

The D23 conference in Tokyo has released photos of the new AVATAR attraction coming to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. We brought you this article over the weekend, but we have since updated with several important new photos. It is an amazing look at the world of Pandora both day and night.

...And here's what that same land will look like at night."

…And here’s what that same land will look like at night.”

As Imagineer Joe Rhode noted:  ”Above and beyond the key attractions, the land of Pandora itself is filled with experiences. The land comes to life when you interact with it and seem to be a living creature itself.”

On a flight the other day I had a chance to catch a few minutes from Avatar–in particular–the moment when they fly on Banshees through the floating mountains. I thought, if they could create a floating mountain at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, that would be an awesome site.

So it was with great enthusiasm and excitement that this week’s D23 announcement from Tokyo offered a scale model of an Avatar land with a floating mountain.

James Cameron, Walt Disney Parks & Reosrts Chairman Tom Staggs and Imagineer Joe Rohde View a Model of the AVATAR-themed land coming to Disney's Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort.

James Cameron, Walt Disney Parks & Resorts Chairman Tom Staggs and Imagineer Joe Rohde View a Model of the AVATAR-themed land coming to Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort.

It appears that this mountain may be taking it’s cues from none other than Spaceship Earth, which uses support pylons to hold the globe into place. It appears that roots hanging down from the mountain will obscure the sheer steel structure that will keep that mountain in place. This will be so amazing and beautiful that people will be shooting pictures of this for years to come. They will truly feel like they have arrived in Pandora.

The rock in the background of this image becomes a trail of stone that leads to and supports the floating mountain.

The rock in the background of this image becomes a trail of stone that leads to and supports the floating mountain.

Also exciting was the idea that not one, but at least two attractions will be featured in this new addition to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. There will be a boat ride that will sail through a nighttime jungle of bioluminescent plants that are alive with light and sound. Whether this is more Jungle Cruise, or Pirates of the Caribbean or something else remains to be seen. Perhaps it will be more like the boat ride attached to the castle and Fantasyland of Shanghai Disneyland. But the artwork appears incredible in its imagery.

Artist rendering of AVATAR-Themed Land at night, coming to Disney's Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort

Artist rendering of AVATAR-Themed Land at night, coming to Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort

Finally we know that there is some opportunity for guests to “discover what it feels like to soar into the sky riding a Banshee.” This appears similar to the concept that had floated around earlier of a Soarin’ like experience. There are many ways to make this happen, though an earlier drawing suggested a smaller set of Soarin’ type theaters. But that may have only been conceptual. In Imagineer Joe Rhode’s words, ” We know that Disney fans and Avatar fans want to visit this beautiful planet of Pandora, and they will! They will fly across the planet on the wings of one of those giant creatures…”

Guests WIll Discover What it Feels Like to Soar into the Sky Riding a Banshee When AVATAR Comes to Disney's Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort.

Guests Will Discover What it Feels Like to Soar into the Sky Riding a Banshee When AVATAR Comes to Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort.

It's uncertain the actual purpose of the edifice, but below Tom Staags is a building that appears very similar to the Soarin' building.

It’s uncertain the actual purpose of the edifice, but below Tom Staags is a building that appears very similar to the Soarin’ building.

I assume there will be meet ‘n’ greets, retail, as well as food & beverage. It’s my conjecture that this land may still very well connect up with the Rain Forest Cafe. Landry has well-proven it’s ability to do other thematic concepts beyond a rain forest, especially with T-REX at Downtown Disney. I’ve never felt like they needed two Rainforest Cafes at Walt Disney World. Most people have no clue that the restaurant sits only a few feet away from the old Pocahontas theater in Camp Minnie-Mickey. It would be an obvious opportunity to re-theme this restaurant and connect it directly with AVATAR.

If there is disappointing news in all of this, it’s that all of this is expected to open not in 2015 or 2016, but in early 2017. Again, that seems a life-time away. But I am encouraged that this attraction appears to be on track for being of an extraordinary quality. Meanwhile, Construction of the new Festival of the Lion arena is well underway in Africa, allowing Camp Minnie-Mickey to close in 2014 for construction.

Construction for the new Festival of the Lion King show now to be held in Africa at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Construction for the new Festival of the Lion King show now to be held in Africa at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

And we’ve received word of a new nighttime spectacular where live music, floating lanterns, and water screens showcasing animal imagery all combine on the Discovery River. Sounds like something akin to World of Color. Also, Kilimanjaro Safaris will have a new nighttime version as well. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait until 2017 to see these new additions.

This image captures other nighttime entertainment that will be in the parks as well, including live performers on Discovery Island.

This image captures other nighttime entertainment that will be in the parks as well, including live performers on Discovery Island.

There have been many naysayers and critics attached to this project. And more than countless comparisons are being made to the Harry Potter project down the road at Universal. All I can say is bring on the competition! It makes Orlando a great place to be in the years to come! All of this is very exciting!

Is Thursday the 13th as Bad as Friday the 13th?

Friday the 13th? You’re not superstitious are you? Then you might not like Thursday the 13th.

Just a little background to what I mean by Thursday the 13th.

For nearly the entire 20th century, audiences have looked to Walt Disney for the finest in entertainment. In nearly every decade in the last century, audiences have headed to the local movie house to enjoy a favorite Disney film. And for nearly every decade in the twentieth century there was a Disney milestone that propelled Disney toward improving the quality of its cinematic experience.

In the 1920s, there was Mickey Mouse—the one who started it all.

In the 1930s, there was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

In the 1940s, there was Fantasia.

In the 1950s, there was Cinderella.

In the 1960s, there was Mary Poppins.

In the 1970s, there was The Small One.

In the 1980s, there was Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

In the 1990s, there was The Lion King.

“Wait a minute!” you say. “The Small One? You mean the short where the donkey is carrying Mary to Bethlehem? What does that film have to do with quality? Most people haven’t even seen that film!”

From Disney's short, The Small One.

From Disney’s short, The Small One.

That little celluloid event was one of the most critical turning points in the Disney legacy of bringing quality to the screen. Up until that time, Walt Disney persisted in improving the work and quality of his films. But he died, and as a result, that passion for quality fell. So frustrated were many of Disney’s own animators that, a day or two after the wrap party for the The Small One, director Don Bluth walked out of Walt Disney Productions with many of the studio’s top animators to start his own company. He and the other animators claimed to be frustrated with the quality of the work and the conditions at Disney.

That was Thursday,  September 13th, 1979.

That was also Don’s 42nd birthday. Bluth would go on to build his own reputation in animation with works like An American Tail, Land Before Time, and Anastasia. This key event and others like it shook the company to its foundations. In its wake, the leadership of Roy E. Disney, nephew to Walt and namesake to his father, labored to gather new executives that would, in time, reinvigorate not only Disney Feature Animation, but the entire Walt Disney Company as well.

I mention this little story because while the experience may have been terrible at the time, in the end it really was a major turning point for the company. Not too many years after Disney would come into a new renaissance of animation, creating new growth opportunities for the entire company. Don’s own legacy is a “small one” compared to Disney’s, but he was a competitor that forced Disney to do better. And in the end, Disney did much better.

Plan 67 & 17, And The Evolution of a Disney Park

Aulani in model form at one point during its development.

Aulani in model form at one point during its development.

What is Plan 67 and 17?

For our family’s summer beach trip I downloaded a copy of Rolly Crump’s biography, It’s Kind of a Cute Story.

There’s a great little tale about Rolly being asked by Marty Sklar to create a version of what Epcot would ultimately look like. By this time, many versions had evolved under the direction of John Hench. It had long left the idea of being part of a city, and had evolved into the idea of being a world’s fair type experience. John’s designs at this time were largely buildings that were crescent shape in design, not too different from Innoventions today, but still somewhat sterile from an exterior view.

John apparently was caught by considerable surprise when he saw Rolly’s version. Part of Rolly’s design was to create a World Showcase as a series of islands, each with its own country on it. You would use boats and bridges to move from one pavilion to another. While not practical, it was a very “out of the box” approach to building Epcot.

I only wish I had been a fly on the wall to watch the exchange between the two–whose artistic style and vision couldn’t have been further apart. John countered that Rolly had no clue about building a theme park. Rolly was so bold as to declare the look of John’s project as being a bunch of condos.

Clearly Marty was looking to break up the stale look and feel. I imagine it wasn’t too long after this that World Showcase and even future World started to evolve in a very different way. Make no doubt about it–The design of the Epcot we enjoy today is John Hench’s signature more than any one else. But I don’t think he would reached further and created the “travel around the world showcase lagoon” concept we know today, without additional ideas from Rolly and others.

Disney’s 1976 annual report shows Marty Sklar, John Hench and John DeCuir of what was then WED Enterprises discussing the key concept at that time, which was merging World Showcase and Future World into one major exposition. This was a major “aha” that saved the company substantial money in only having to build one infrastructure to serve the park rather than two infrastructures for two parks.

Canada in model form at a later stage of development.

Canada in model form at a later stage of development.

In defending the ongoing work the report went on to say, “This evolutionary creative process is natural to any development of any project at Walt Disney Productions. For example, it was ‘Plan 67′ which was finally built at  Disneyland, and it is ‘Plan 17′ that you see at Walt Disney World today.”

I would love to know what the number was on Epcot when it was finally built.

There are many projects going on throughout the Disney parks and resorts. Occasionally a few miss the mark–and I can be the first to be a critic as any. But by and large, the quality of the work in such projects as Radiator Springs and Mystic Manor and Aulani is very exciting. And guests are responding enthusiastically with their feet and wallets to the quality of the work. But the work takes time and investment. It takes time to think out of the box, and sometimes it takes time to break out of the bureaucratic issues that hold back the possibilities of a project. How many versions does an Avatar project take? How many versions will a Shanghai Disneyland take? How many versions will there be before we even know what is happening at Disney’s Hollywood Studios? We don’t know, but it’s a very exciting time, and I think that guests will eventually respond enthusiastically.

A model of Radiator Springs showcased at D23. I wonder what version this design was at?

A model of Radiator Springs showcased at D23. I wonder what version this design was at?

Is Disneyland Paris in Decline?

 

small world

In recent weeks a team of Disneyland Paris fans have been petitioning Bob Iger of the Walt Disney Company to address four major problems facing the park:

1. Maintenance. Where attractions, theming, and decor are falling apart or deteriorating.

2. Budget Cuts. Here a number of shows and parades have been cut, while attractions are opening and closing at much later and earlier hours.

3. Food. Guests have seen a decline in the quality of offerings and the hours for enjoying sit-down dining.

4. Walt Disney Studios Park. Whereas Disney California Adventure has had a major renovation, this smallest of all Disney parks has little on the horizon other than a Ratatouille attraction currently being built.

I asked Guillame, host of Le Parcorama some questions about what he sees is going on at the park.

Question: ”Disneyland Park in Paris is considered to be one of the most beautifully built parks of all the Disney parks, and yet it has always struggled with upkeep. Do you think the challenges in quality and maintenance and upkeep are even more obvious now than say 5-10 years ago?”

Answer: Definitely. A simple stroll around the parks makes this statement obvious. Disneyland Paris itself is well aware of it because a large multi-year plan to fix or update the aging hotels and outside theming is going on for a couple of years. But it’s clearly not enough: aside this big rehabilitation plan, today more than ever day-to-day maintenance proves to be insufficient to keep the resort in good condition.

Question: ”In 2012 Disneyland Park in Paris was the fifth most popular park in the world, even ahead of Epcot, Hong Kong Disneyland, and Disney California Adventure. Even the Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris, while the lesser visited of all Disney parks, did better than Sea World San Diego, Efteling in Netherlands and Tivoli Gardens in Denmark. Yet your impression is that the maintenance/upkeep is worse. Why do you think that to be the case?”

Answer: ”I think the Disney brand, thanks to its famous and beloved franchises, makes Disneyland Paris attractive whatever the good or bad upkeep for many people. And let’s not forget the original design from 1992 is still stunning. But Disneyland Paris seems to have difficulties to reach several local markets that have strong competitors such as Europa Park and Phantasialand in Germany or Efteling in the Netherlands. These local theme park resorts aim at a high quality standard,  they’re closer and above all, much cheaper than DLP. Which proves that the power and attractiveness of the Disney brand itself is limited. About the studios, I’d be curious to know how many visitors it would draw if it was not located next to the main park.”

Question: Bob Iger says that he doesn’t stay up at night thinking about how much something costs. Do you think this is about spending at the very top, or do you think that this is more a leadership issue in the management of the park itself–in other words–it’s about Phillippe Gas and his team as opposed to George Kalogridis earlier and his team?

Answer: ”I hear many DLP insiders saying the french management is the cause of numerous operational issues. I could hardly confirm it. On the other hand, it’s well known that the financial structure of DLP does not allow the resort to make profit, while it brings lot of money to The Walt Disney Company (through royalties and Walt Disney Imagineering – among others). Go figure.”

Question: Do some areas of the park or resort look worst than other areas?

Answer: ”I would put it this way: older locations suffer the most. So at this point, the Studios park suffer less of the lack of upkeep than its other problems : the lack of attractions, the bare environment, the unclear overall theme, the poorly designed master plan and the low capacity of the new attractions. Disney Village is also showing its age.”

Question: Disneyland Paris is investing in improvements at the Disney Village, in new entertainments such as Disney Dreams, new attractions such as Ratatouille, and a co-investment in the Villages Nature project. Do you think they are “robbing Paul to pay Peter” or in other words, taking money away from maintenance and operations in order to fund these newer endeavors in hopes of getting more people to come?

Answer: ”From what I understand, Disney Dreams costs a lot of money to operate: due to the necessity to perform it at night (otherwise video mapping projections won’t work), the park had to extend its opening hours later every day. Then again, there is a strong rehabilitation plan going on. I assume this plan, along with Disney Dreams and the expensive construction of the upcoming Ratatouille attraction is a little bit too much for Disneyland Paris to afford.”

 

I personally think the Walt Disney Company is trying to make a careful investment strategically in Disneyland Paris. I think that’s where the cash from Burbank goes–into new rides and attractions. But there may not be enough generated from the operation to really proactively keep things up. I also think economic challenges in the last little while in Europe along with bad weather this year has made it difficult for Disneyland Paris to keep from doing serious budget cuts.

What we all can agree on is that Disneyland Paris park is perhaps one of the most beautifully designed parks ever created. It’s important that the park continue to not only build new attractions, but maintain its current beauty. Whereas Walt Disney Studios Park is in need of a major transformation Disney California Adventure style, Disneyland Paris park is in need of the kind of quality overhaul Disneyland received just before its 50th anniversary. And that requires a lot of cash.

If you want to sign the petition, please visit Change.org. I don’t know that Disney really listens to petitions per se, but I do believe they take very seriously the comments they receive. There are some terrific comments on this site. Hopefully management will find some way to approach these issues.

What Walt Disney World Cast Members Are Being Told About MyMagic+

MagicBand

It can be a little overwhelming trying to sort out the MyMagic+ program and all that it implies. Moreover, what does it mean for the Guest experience? Walt Disney World Eyes & Ears–the newsletter for Cast Members–has been updating its employees on the progress of MyMagic+. Here are some quotes to give you further insight as to what is being emphasized to the Cast Members:

What has been the Guest feedback about the My Disney Experience app?

“Overall, Guests really like the app and want everything faster. The latest release has been a big improvement for our Guests–faster access to information is something we are always focused on. Guests never want to wait so we are making sure the app is as fast as possible.” –Gary Daniels, Director, Product Management

Relative to the park’s entry, how did the team come up with the V-shaped design?

“The overall goal was to create as open of an entrance as possible while still keeping appropriate controls in place. We went through several tests and designs to get to what you see today. We not only wanted to create an open and inviting feel, but it was also important to maintaing the theming and tailor each set of touch points to the specific location.”–Scot Reynolds, Director, Experience Development

Park Entry

Since making enhancements to the payment experience, what has been the reaction?

“As you’d see in the test-and-adjust phase for any new product or service, we’ve been able to learn, make adjustments and improve the experience. We eliminated the need for Cast Members to take a Guest’s credit card and enter the last four digits, enhanced Wi-Fi in support of Outdoor Vending and reduced reboots. One of the biggest wins is the ability for Cast Members to see the number  of meal coupons available on a Guest’s meal plan with a simple touch Cast Members enjoy having that information available for the Guests instantly.” –Snehal Desai, Director, Information Technology

What does Disney FastPass+ Service mean for the overall theme park experience for our guests?

“They’re going to have lots more choices! We’ve been talking about how we’re more than doubling the number of experiences available with [Disney]FastPass+[service], and we’re seeing that take shape as new signs are being installed across the parks. But the biggest change is that Guests will be able to enjoy our parks at a more relaxed pace. They’ll have reserved access to some of their favorite attractions, shows, parades, character meet-and-greets and nightime spectaculars, and their exepriences will be organized in a logical, leisurely flow around the park. Our Guests will be able to spend more time together just having fun.” John Dent, Director, Park Operations Development & Integration

Tea Party

What puts the “+” in Disney PhotoPass+?

“Guests can now get all of their photos in one package-not just the ones taken by roving photographers but also those captured at character meet-and-greets, attractions and dining experiences. Including attraction photos is a big win; people love to see their reactions during key moments, and there isn’t a way for them to truly freeze those moments in time for themselves. By purchasing Disney PhotoPass+, now they get to keep all of their attraction photos along with the rest of their memories.”–Beth Patterson, Director, New Media Experiences

Will this be rolled out to Disneyland and other Disney parks around the world?

“While we’re currently focused on rolling this out at Walt Disney World, we’re also exploring ways we can use what we’ve developed to continue to raise the bar on our Guest experience at our parks and resorts around the world. Each of our destinations is unique so how we incorporate these elements won’t be a “one size fits all” approach; it will look different at each of our sites.” Tom Staggs, Chairman, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts