Lucasland

We are up to #7 on our countdown of the Top Ten Disney Theme Park Controversies.

To read the earlier entries click here!

7) Lucasfilm comes to Disneyland

In the mid-eighties Disney was no longer connecting with it’s once core audience: Families. It had been years since Disney had a hit movie on the scale of something like Mary Poppins. Meanwhile George Lucas had completed the original Star Wars trilogy and was in the midst of the Indiana Jones heyday. In many ways Lucas had usurped Disney in the public consciousness.

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Giving Lucas equal billing made fans even more upset

Keen to capitalize on the success of the Lucasfilm franchises Disney secured a deal that would allow them to build park attractions based on Star Wars and Indiana Jones, it sure seemed like a win-win situation and it led to both Star Tours and the Indiana Jones rides in Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea. These are some of the most universally loved attractions of the last quarter century. And yet as hard as it is to imagine today at the time many fans were in a complete uproar.

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This was pre-internet and so the outcry was more localized and a bit muted by today’s standards but nonetheless many old-school fans could not fathom the idea of a non-Disney owned property being inserted into their hallowed park grounds. It’s not so much that they did not like Luke, Han, Leia or Indy as much as they were not created by Disney and therefore had no right to be in a park bearing Walt’s name. Of course those fans may have been turning a blind eye to the fact that Disney at the time had very little to draw from in it’s own stable; a Black Hole simulator was probably not going to be a big hit!

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The Lucas deal led not only to Start Wars and Indy rides but also Captain Eo, the original 3-D movie starring Michael Jackson. Because this was viewed as unique to Disney fans accepted its addition much more readily than the Lucas specific properties. Likewise Star Tours going into Disney-MGM Studios was not frowned on but Star Tour going into Disneyland was a big deal. It was the first time major attraction was built based on an outside companies intellectual property.

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It looks great in PR photos but it’s really the same ride Six Flags has

A few years later Disney made another move that Made things worse; the slapdash (one might say half-assed) addition of an Indiana Jones themed roller coaster to Euro Disneyland (now Disneyland Paris). Short on attractions and buried under debt Euro Disneyland needed some sort of quick fixe and so in 1993 Disney bought what was for all intent and purposes an off the shelf small rollercoaster, threw some rock work around it and attached the Indiana Jones name to it. It was in some ways the worst of all possible worlds; not well themed, not custom created, not unique and not even a Disney property!

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Now this type of stuff is the norm

Time has mellowed those who complained the most and now Disney owns Lucasfilm bringing it all back into the family. Few fans think twice about Lucas properties being incorporated into the parks and most are in fact looking forward to some sort of major Star Wars expansions soon. We now see Pixar, Marvel and even non-Disney owned properties such as Avatar being added to the parks all the time. But the first time that happened, the time Star Wars and Indy dared show up at Disney parks it just did not sit right with many.

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Shockingly the ride came before the movie… who knows what they could come up with next if given the chance?

Have the parks benefited from this? It’s a tough call. I tend to view Star Tours and the Indy rides (Paris coaster excluded) as some of Disney’s finest. The Pixar additions have played major rolls in many of the park around the globe. The Marvel properties open up a world of park possibilities (where they are contractually allowed to be built). However I cannot help but to wonder what Disney could do left to it’s own accord. Could they create the next Pirates or Mansion or Big Thunder? Are they working backwards starting with existing ideas instead of creating their own?

Big, ugly “temporary” things

We have made it to number 8 on our top ten list of the biggest park controversies.To catch up on the earlier entries click here.

Today we look at a trend that started in the late 1990′s and in one case still plagues us today.

8) Cakes and Wands and Hats OH MY!

Back in 1996 in order to celebrate the resorts 25th anniversary Cinderella’s Castle at the Magic Kingdom was painted pink, covered with faux fondant, mock candles, synthetic sprinkles and turned into something roughly emulating an 18-story birthday cake. Shane hated it… a lot… but most people actually enjoyed it. While it lasted a bit too long (15 months) Disney did return the castle to its original appearance in a fairly timely manner and all was well. Very few normal (***cough***Shane) people minded it and many quite enjoyed it.

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Garish? – yes… but it was only short term. Sadly it created a monster.

The park was setting attendance records during this period and Disney assumed at least a portion of the popularity was due to the novel idea of defacing a park icon. BING! A light bulb went off and suddenly desecrating the resorts most cherished landmarks was all the rage.

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For a while they really got off on vandalizing park icons… in this case literally.

In 1999 a colossal, unsightly, exposed raw steel structure most reminiscent of an industrial construction crane was erected arcing over Spaceship Earth. It loomed above the park; it dwarfed the once majestic sphere now cowering below the crane. Somehow the edifice was made even worse when a primitive Mickey Mouse hand holding a magic wand was bolted to the side. Shockingly Disney was still not done; above the flat glove fashioned out of sheet metal Disney added the number 2000 covered in red glitter, sparkly red stars sprinkled off the wand onto Spaceship Earth itself. It was horrific.

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Gorgeous! You can hardly see the supporting structure at all.

Fans were told that this was a temporary salute to the turn of the millennium. It was ugly, out of scale, out of place and really a slap in the face to all EPCOT Center was originally intended to be. But the worst offense was that Disney’s idea of temporary was roughly eight years. For the better part of a decade this unsightly mess lorded over the park as jolly park managers congratulated themselves (no doubt slapping each other on the back while hoisting glasses of aged scotch served neat).

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Yea, it looks like we should start screwing around with this…

The wand was finally, begrudgingly removed in 2007 once a new sponsor took over the attraction. For that eight-year stretch many fans vocally complained about the monstrosity… but not only did Disney pay them no heed… they actually upped their icon destroying game!

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In and of itself it is “OK” but as they say in real estate… location, location, location.

In 2001 high on the “success” of the massive wand Disney constructed a 122-foot tall Sorcerer’s hat at the end of Hollywood Boulevard in what was then called Disney-MGM Studios (Disney’s Hollywood Studios). Not unlike the Epcot wand this structure features a flat simulation of Mickey’s hand this time grasping a massive three-dimensional clone of the hat he wore in Fantasia. One could argue that the execution of the hat was better than that on the wand. It is not ghastly, executed slightly better and very little of the supporting structure can be seen. The problem is less about the actual hat and more about the placement.

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Ah yes, Hollywood of the 30′s, romance, glamour, oversized metal cartoon hats… it’s all here.

Disney decided that the only logical place for a twelve story, metallic cartoon hat  housing a pin trading station was directly in front of what used to be considered the flagship attraction at the park; The Great Movie Ride.

The Great Movie Ride is housed in a painstakingly detailed recreation of Grauman’s Chinese Theater. This replica of the famous Hollywood landmark was meant to serve as the main icon for the park; it’s Cinderella’s Castle. It sits perfectly at the end of Hollywood Boulevard and is a sight to behold… that is if you could actually see it.

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It’s stiull hiding back there obscured from view… you just need to look for it.

A couple years back we wrote a sarcastic article about the new Carthay Circle Theater at the rejuvenated Disney’s California Adventure being obscured by a similar mess, it was a joke (read it here). However no amount of sardonic commentary can truly do justice to the actual reality still being played out at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Imagineers worked for years to design and build a temple to the movies. They wanted to create an idyllic representation of a Hollywood that never was but should have been. The perfect image of the entertainment capital of the world captured at a very specific time… the 30’s and 40’s. The structures, the streets, the lamps, the vintage cars, the themed characters it all is there to develop a sense of time and place that Disney does better than anyone else. And then in one incredibly idiotic move the marketing team destroyed it. There is no way to explain away this clearly modern (or perhaps post modern) monstrosity. It not only does not fit the theme of the area but it actively hides one of the prettiest parts of the park… it is a massive failure on every level.

Fans were upset to varying degrees about all of these moves and fortunately the idea of ruining years of careful work for easy short term promotional gain seems to have fallen out of favor. Since the hat no other icon destroying gimmicks have surfaced and we only have one remaining. Sadly unlike Spaceship Earth there is no sponsor for the Great Movie Ride and until the day comes that they overhaul that attraction and want to call attention back to it the hat will likely remain.

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One more look at this beauty (seen here post 2000 when the numbers gave way to some horrible script font).

As a side note I understand that some fans enjoy the wand and the hat. They find them playful or enjoy the added Disney connection. I would argue that virtually all of those fans enjoy these things simply because they were in place when they were first introduced to the parks. If the wand or hat was there when you were a child and you never knew the parks any other way then the removal of these things may ironically feel like a loss of a beloved memory. But this is not the same as removing original attractions; this is in fact destroying the original attraction for nothing more than a marketing stunt.

Shane may not like the cake but man… I hate that hat.

Click here for #7

Say it ain’t so Mr. Funmeister

Today we are continuing our list of the Top Ten Disney Theme Park Controversies.If you missed the first entry click here to get caught up to date.

We are slightly obsessed with at least one aspect of the former Pleasure Island around here but the Funmeister is not the only thing we miss about Pleasure Island:

9) Goodbye Pleasure Island… good riddance… but not the Adventurer’s Club!

In the late 80’s a nighttime destination spot at Walt Disney World seemed like a no-brainer. Ever since opening Walt Disney World tended to be lively and bustling during the day but oddly quiet with little to do come sun fall. Non-Disney competition popped up to fill this void and suddenly Disney was watching their guests load into rental cars and head off-property to nighttime entertainment districts such as Church Street Station in downtown Orlando.

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So retro as to almost be cool again venues such as “The Top of the World” at the Contemporary Resort were doing little to keep guests on site.

Management felt that Disney needed more than a smattering of dated dinner shows and sleepy shopping villages to keep guests (especially young adults) on property and happily spending away into the wee hours of the morning, thus Pleasure Island was born.

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Despite the rare double Funmeister Pleasure Island was doomed from the start.

Named after the all-play and no-work island featured in Pinocchio Pleasure Island boasted nightclubs spanning many genres (techno, country music, classic rock, jazz etc.) as well as a comedy club a 30’s era British explorers club (The Adventurers Club) and several restaurants and shops. It seemed like a very solid idea and covered a wide range of age groups and tastes and yet something also felt slightly off about it from day one.

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Looks good… on paper

Parkeology has never been a huge fan of Pleasure Island in part because it felt very forced and artificial. While one could certainly argue that all of the Disney parks are artificial by nature Pleasure Island felt different somehow. It felt more blatant in its commercial motivations and less organic. It had no history prior to its creation. It did not grow from Walt’s original plan or even his successors interpretation of it. Maybe it was the fact that they held a fake New Years Eve party every night or that 80% of it’s patrons were perpetually drunk but for whatever the reason it always felt off to us.

Nonetheless Pleasure Island had legions of fans and Disney themselves originally tried to infuse it with the Disney touch by incorporating a storyline about a fictional industrialist named Meriwether Pleasure. Clues as to the back-stories and fabricated histories of the island’s facilities were incorporated into several aspects of the grounds but these subtle details were largely lost on guests who often seemed more interested in cheap shots than the Imagineers made up history lesson.

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Pleasure Island was popular and successful but soon became a liability for Disney. It was attracting large crowds of locals who often did not mesh with the out of state families visiting Walt Disney World seeking wholesome family fun. Several admission policy changes made things worse as Disney eventually removed the cover charge to enter the island (originally one ticket to the island allowed guests admission to all the clubs and facilities). Now swarms of local teens used Pleasure Island as a nightly hang out.

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‘Sup… Welcome to Pleasure Island

Disney was stuck with a PR nightmare. Several drug related arrests occurred and Orlando police were a common sighting on the Island. Very little could be farther from the image Disney wanted to project than drunken teens selling drugs outside of nightclubs as DJ’s pretend it is new years in the background and bewildered guests pull 8 year olds through the mess hoping to find some family fun.

In 2008 Disney decided that it no longer wanted to be in the nightclub business, at least not on this scale, and so they announced the closure of all the clubs on the Island (and eventually decided to change the name and entire concept of it).

This is all fine and good and I even think that most fans could accept this as Pleasure Island’s time clearly had come and gone (attendance was down) save for one thing; The Adventurers Club was also being shut down.

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A beacon of light

Of everything that Pleasure Island had to offer, beyond the dance clubs, the BBQ restaurants or the largely leased to outside vendor shops it was the Adventures Club that park fans loved. It was the most original and Disney-like spot on the island by far.

Themed after private explorers club set in the late 1930’s the Adventurers Club featured very elaborate and detailed decorating that rivaled even the best attractions in the parks. The walls were covered with trinkets explorers had brought back from around the world. Animatronics would come to life to tell stories of world travels and an improvisational comedy troop entertained guests while in character as resident adventurers.

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The club was well themed for sure… you cannot take that way from it

Beyond being very well themed (created by Joe Rohde who later went on to head the design of Animal Kingdom) it was the realization of many similar ideas that had bounced around Disney for decades. Walt himself toyed with similar ideas for both the Enchanted Tiki Room as well as Club 33 at Disneyland.

So when the Adventurers Club got lumped in with such venues as Rock ‘n’ Roll Beach Club and 8Trax to be closed for good it’s large fan base was quite taken aback.

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Sure the audience participation could feel fake and forced sometimes but I think thier hearts were always in the right place.

Petitions were circulated, letters were written and for a bit it seemed like there was a possibility that the Adventurers Club could remain open even as it’s lesser brethren closed around it. Sadly that was not to be… the club remained open for private parties but was closed and the interior was largely dismantled late in 2009 (props from the club can be seen in Mystic Point at Hong Kong Disneyland as well as Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel).

While I personally was not sad to see Pleasure Island as a whole go the way of the dodo I was sad to see the Adventurers Club lost to “progress”. Though I often found the shows too forced and the crowds overbearing there was undeniable creativity and incredible execution there and it was worthy of being saved.

Anyone have memories of the Adventurers Club or Pleasure Island in general?

Click here for number 8 on the list.