Thrilla in Parkzilla Round 1

Which park is best?

Six years ago I wrote a series of articles for our friends at The purpose was to evaluate and compare each of the Disney parks to see which one truly reigned supreme. In a tough fought brawl to take it all one park emerged as the ultimate victor.

But six years later lots has changed.  Huge expansions are going on in some parks, lots of new attractions have opened while others have been shuttered, even a whole new park has been born.  It’s time that we revisit the topic, pit these parks against each other in a no holds barred ultimate fight to see who is DEADLIEST

Oh wait… strike that.  We want to know which is truly the best park in the world and to do so we we will carefully evaluate the parks on a range of topics. None of our normal snarky type of stuff here folks… this is the real deal, a deadly serious topic and one that demands our respect.  No rules, no safety, no mercy this is the…

Who is Deadliest?

First we will take a look to the past and re-run the previous three part series.  We will reveal who was the champion last time around, then in round four we will re-evaluate all the parks as they stand today and see if a new heavyweight has emerged.

The combatants are ringside, the smell of this savage bloodsport is in the air and without further ado we will let the fight begin!

(originally run late 2004 and early 2005, some facts have changed over that time and will be addressed in round four.  This is the original series):

May the Best Park Win:

Some questions haunt man; Why are we here? What is the meaning of Life? Are we alone in the universe? Meaningful subjects that keep scholars up at night.

And then there are the really important questions for discerning readers such as yourself, like which Disney park is the best?

I have been fortunate enough to visit all of the Disney resorts the world over and more so I have been to each within the last two years. It’s about time we tackle a serious subject, the answer of which has eluded mankind for decades and so once and for all we will answer the burning question: which is the best Disney theme park in the world?

Judging the parks fairly takes more than just a casual poll or a throw away opinion. There are thousands and thousands of elements that must gel together in order for a theme park to click into high gear and fire on all cylinders. All of these must be considered. It is also important to have some sort of level playing field for the judging. I’ve only taken two trips to Tokyo DisneySea for a total of eight days or so, while I have been to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World dozens of times and hundreds of days. It’s only human nature to start to become bored with a park you have seen so many times. On the other hand a newer park holds all sorts of possibilities and potential, if not careful this newness can be blinding and perhaps lull one into an artificial sense of grandeur.

In addition there are factors that change and evolve. Things like the upkeep and maintenance of the parks fit into this category. For example Disneyland endured years of neglect which plunged it into a sad state of disrepair. Currently a massive rehab program is underway which is correcting many of the problems Disneyland has accumulated over recent years. In this case we will look at the most recent changes and judge the parks on not only how they look right now, but also how they will be AFTER current rehab projects are completed.
Keeping Count
In order to keep things fair we have developed a rating scale. This scale takes into account four major aspects of any theme park and weights the scale to the most important factors. The scale the parks will be judged on is as follows:

Read this, it’s important, or click on it to make it big.

While this is by no means a scientific poll I have asked several people (as well as myself) to rate each park. Only those who have been to the parks have rated them so there is no speculation. I have asked numerous people ranging from frequent visitors to first time guests to rate the parks they have experienced. The averages have been calculated and represents the parks final overall score.

So now we have a system to rate the parks, but in a head to head battle, a brawl to take it all, in a clash of world class parks what is the ultimate park? Which park will earn the title as the world’s best?
In round one we pit all the Magic Kingdom style parks against one another in a no holds barred cage match. Which Magic Kingdom reigns supreme?
Calling All Challengers
Lets introduce the contenders and check out the stats:

Hailing from Anaheim in sunny California U.S.A., we have the original, the innovator and the granddaddy of them all, ladies and gentlemen I give you Disneyland!

The old man is tough
Entering the ring next, the east coast cousin of Disneyland, the most popular park 
in the U.S., from Orlando Florida I give you Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom!
Built to be bigger and badder than Disneyland
Next up we have the beast from the far east, the Godzilla of theme parks, the most visited single park on the globe, from Tokyo Japan lets hear it for Tokyo Disneyland!
What exotic fighting style may be lurking up it’s sleeve?
And last but not least, now entering the ring is the most popular tourist attraction in Europe, a technological tour de force and the only Magic Kingdom you can drink wine in, from Paris France it’s Disneyland Paris!
Drunks always fight harder
(What about Hong Kong Disneyland?  Remember, this was written before that park even opened but in round four Hong Kong will have a chance to compete… wish it luck, it will need it)
Lets get ready to rumble and may the best park win.
This is an incredibly close competition as each park has a unique strength and a unique weakness. While many people may dismiss them all as being virtual clones of each other the truth is that each excels in some areas, and falls short in others.

Lets look at Disneyland first. The park delivers a near knockout blow in the attractions category. Featuring ALL of the classics like Jungle Cruise, Haunted Mansion and Space Mountain it also boasts the original and still best version of Pirates of the Caribbean. The attractions are varied and far flung. There is something for everyone here of all ages and all tastes. It is the only Magic Kingdom style park with the Indiana Jones Adventure and has more Fantasyland attractions than any of the others. However Disneyland has faltered with it’s latest version of Tomorrowland. The removal of the Submarine Voyage (rumored to return but we don’t know that yet) and the removal of the Rocket Rods has made Tomorrowland into a mere shell of it’s former self. All is not perfect, but overall Disneyland does very well with it’s selection of attractions (when they are all functioning) and so the park manages to pull down a near perfect 14 out of 15 for attractions.

However Disneyland takes a bit of a beating in the atmosphere category. While it is a beautiful park full of old growth trees it is by far the smallest of the parks, roughly 50% the size of the others. No matter how hard it tries Disneyland gets caught on the ropes because of the tight spaces. Odd relationships pop up like Haunted Mansion nearly touching Splash Mountain, and Sleeping Beauty castle is Lilliputian when compared to the competition. There is no doubt that Disneyland has a wonderful atmosphere but it’s size works against it and it comes up short of the other combatants with a score of 10.

Watch out though because Disneyland battles back with a vicious series of jabs when it comes to intangibles. Here the park really shines. It has all the history any one could want. It has transcended being simply a theme park and has become a true American icon. it is the only park Walt himself worked on and walked within. It oozes charm at every corner and has a brilliant layout that has become the template for all the others to copy. Disneyland rocks back with a 5 out of 5 in this category.
Finally Disneyland comes in the middle of the pack when it comes to dining. With the wonderful environment of the Blue Bayou restaurant the park delivers a solid body blow, but sadly it’s big gun, Club 33 is not open to the public and therefore does not count here. Other options include a variety of counter service and fast food establishments as well as Churro and pop corn carts. Disneyland pulls out a respectable 3 out of 5.
So as the bell rings Disneyland comes away with a 32 out of 40… very solid, but is it enough to take the title?
Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom

Coming on strong and chomping at the bit is the Magic Kingdom in Florida. Bigger and flashier than Disneyland it may have the raw firepower to take down it’s older brother.
In the attractions Department the Magic Kingdom is solid, but cannot go toe to toe with Disneyland. While it matches Disneyland with most of the classic attractions it’s version of Pirates pales to the original. More over it is missing the Matterhorn and Indiana Jones entirely. Sure, it counters with a solid combination of Stitch’s Great Escape (just opened) and Buzz Lightyear (Being added to Disneyland as you read this) but it has far fewer attractions and comes up slightly shy with 12 points.

The Kingdom rallies back in the atmosphere category. It is bigger than Disneyland and takes great advantage of that space. The castle is majestic, the building facades more encompassing and the mountains stand taller. The Magic Kingdom avoids the cramped spaces of Disneyland while still creating an engrossing and enveloping experience. It stands tall and pulls down an impressive 13 points for atmosphere.

In the intangible category the Magic Kingdom comes in with a solid score. It shares the same theme as Disneyland and is well laid out. However the Magic Kingdom does not have the history nor quite the same charm as Disneyland… it gets a 3 in this category.
Finally the dining, The Kingdom comes out swinging with A restaurant right in the castle as well as a couple other sit down affairs. However no Blue Bayou hurts it’s chances. It rallies back with a nice selection of counter service options and ends up with a 3 out of 5.
Dazed but still standing the Magic Kingdom pulls down a total score of 31.
Tokyo Disneyland

Tokyo Disneyland is a fierce competitor. It draws a larger attendance than any other single park the world over for good reason. In the realm of attractions Tokyo Disneyland is a powerhouse. Unlike the stateside parks Tokyo Disneyland has had virtually nothing removed, yet has added rides and shows at a constant pace. The result is a plethora of options with a wide range of appeal. One of the newest attractions at Tokyo Disneyland is Pooh’s Hunny Hunt and it packs a mighty wallop. This state of the art attraction blows the doors of of any similar dark ride found in the other parks. Pooh crushes the competition and along with top notch versions of Splash Mountain and Buzz Lightyear as well as all the classic attractions delivers a big 13 out of 15 in this category.

Tokyo Disneyland is clobbered in the atmosphere category though. While it puts up a good fight it is ultimately over powered by the rest of the combatants. Many may think that Tokyo Disneyland is a virtual clone of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World but they would be wrong. First of all all of main street is covered in a glass canopy (and rechristened World Bazaar). This feels a bit like being in a mall, much of the charm is lost. Furthermore most of the park lacks the level of detailing found in the challengers. Facades on Main Street are greatly simplified and detail is stripped away. The same cannot be said about Tomorrowland which features an elaborate version of Star Tours which from the exterior outshines the attraction anywhere else. However Tomorrowland has not been updated and while it is in like new condition it feels like in belongs in 1977, not 2077. Some odd placements happen as well such as the Haunted Mansion being located in Fantasyland with the Walt Disney World facade that feels out of place here.

Perhaps its biggest weakness is that the park lacks the defined separation of lands that the other parks enjoy. This was done to allow for a feeling of openness for the often crowded Japanese, but it hurts the park in the atmosphere category. While it is not knocked out Tokyo Disneyland can only pull a 9 in the atmosphere category.
The park rallies back in a big way when it comes to the intangibles. It is immaculately maintained and the cast is impeccably trained and go far out of their way to be helpful. Tokyo Disneyland also enjoys an intangible that no other park here can match, it is lucky enough to be located in Japan. The Japanese guests have a very different approach to the parks that those in the states or Europe. Rather than attacking what they see and feeling the need to touch and destroy everything around them they are respectful of their surroundings. The result is that the park is pristine and feels new. Tokyo Disneyland takes a big swing and knocks down 5 out of 5 for this category.
Finally in the dining category Tokyo Disneyland holds it’s own. The park features it’s own version of the Blue Bayou as well as the wonderful new Queen of Hearts Banquet Hall in Fantasyland. It has a wide selection of both sit down and counter service restaurants and all are nicely themed. 4 out of 5.
When the dust settles Tokyo Disneyland is standing tall with yet another score of 31.
Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris comes roaring out of the corner, gloves flying. It has the advantage of being decades younger than the competition and all the technological improvements can be seen in it’s attractions. Space Mountain crushes the other versions and Pirates features cutting edge dueling swash bucklers. The attractions in Disneyland Paris have a tendency to be even larger and more elaborate than those featured in the other parks. However just when it looks like the park will score the TKO it runs out of major rides and shows. Disneyland Paris is missing Splash Mountain and the Jungle Cruise (found in all the other parks) and has a pale coaster based imitation of the real Indiana Jones Adventure found in Disneyland. Further injury is inflicted because for some odd reason the Parisian version of Haunted Mansion loses most of the humor and charm of the others and comes up as the weakest version out there. While most of the attractions at Disneyland Paris are wonderful, it is sadly missing a few key attractions and slightly misses the mark with an 11 in this category.

The park is certainly not out for the count though, it stages a major comeback in the category of Atmosphere. Everything in this park is insanely detailed and meticulously laid out. This is arguably the prettiest of the parks in this competition and it is a pleasure to stroll the grounds. Adventure Isle is a cinematic combination of Tom Sawyer Island, skull rock and the Swiss Family Robinson Tree house. It adds a tremendous amount to the atmosphere of Adventureland. Big Thunder sits majestically on an island and all of Tomorrowland is a cohesive, and beautiful tribute to past visionaries. Main Street has more detail than any of the other parks plus two covered arcades. In fact every corner of this park is pretty and makes you feel good to be in it so Disneyland Paris throws a powerful roundhouse and lands a 14 in this category.

For intangibles Disneyland Paris has run into some recent troubles. In general it is well run, however its financial woes can be seen in lowered maintenance standards. On one recent visit I observed a piece of wood trim work fall lose of a display on Main Street and nearly hit me on the head! It also does not have many old growth trees or the history of either of the American parks. It almost feels too designed and everything is positioned a little too perfectly. It does not yet have the charm that comes with age and therefore feels a bit prefabricated. The park lands a wobbly body blow with a 2 out of 5.
Finally Disneyland Paris is rock solid in the dining category. It has it’s own version of the Blue Bayou, re-themed to a more logical Caribbean setting and dubbed the Blue Lagoon (no sighting of Brook Shields as of yet). The park also is home to Walt’s, a wonderful tribute to Walt Disney that has each room themed to a different land of the park. In fact Disneyland Paris would have scored a perfect score if not for several closed locations no longer in operation. The designers perhaps overestimated the need for dining and it has since been scaled back. Still, it has a wide variety of generally high quality food and comes in at a very strong 4 out of 5.
Disneyland Paris has survived the bout and comes away with a very impressive 31 out of 40.
Scoring the Round

The final bell has rung and all the parks are locked in a virtual tie. There is no single one that blows the others away. Each park has individual elements going for it, and working against it. Any of these destinations is worthy of being called one of the best in the world and they each offer a unique twist on a shared theme. But as in a title fight there can be only one winner and today, despite being nearly 50 years old, Disneyland in California comes away the winner, the other three parks are tied just one sole point behind the ultimate champ.

It is worth repeating that this margin is so close that it is a near tie. However Disneyland offers the best combination of strong, varied and numerous attractions, history and charm, pretty atmosphere and varied dining opportunities.

Disneyland finally won because it has the benefit of real history. Fans of the parks can sense Walt’s personal touches and the way it fits so much into such a limited space creates a charm that the larger and better designed parks cannot match. However for many first time visitors Disneyland feels small and cramped and the history is lost on them. Through the surveys we took it became clear that fans of the parks preferred Disneyland while average visitors leaned towards the other parks.

The bell has rung on round one and a winner has been titled… but the fight is not over. Waiting in the wings are six other parks, all ready and willing to take the title form Disneyland. Next time we will pit all of the non Magic Kingdom style parks against one another in a vicious bout which will leave only one park standing.

Which park will take on Disneyland in the final battle to claim the ultimate title of Worlds Greatest Disney Theme Park?

Stay tuned for Round 2…

Post fight analysis:

So sure, some things have changed since this war was originally waged. Disneyland has had a huge improvement in maintenance and has opened some major attractions.  Hong Kong Disneyland has joined the fight and Tokyo Disneyland continues along it’s impressive course of constantly adding attractions and AMAZING upkeep.  Meanwhile both the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland Paris have languished along and the Stitch attraction has tanked.  But is any of this enough to have tipped the scales or changed the rankings?  We shall see.  But next time we will continue with the re-post and watch as all the non Magic Kingdom style parks climb into the octagon and battle to the death.

Top 10 Name Changes That Changed Nothing – Part 2

Before we begin Part 2, I just want to say that I could have changed the title of this article to something different, just to trick you into thinking that you are getting something brand new, when it’s really just more of the same.  That may be good enough for Disney, but I always look out for my readers.

For those of you that missed part 1…  You’re late.  Where have you been?  I love your hair…

Without further ado, here are what I consider to be the 5 Strangest Renaming decisions from Walt Disney World history.

5. Frontierland Pen Name Rotisserie

If there’s one writer that Disney theme parks absolutely love, it’s Mark Twain.  This guy is a like a Dot-Com marketing exec at a college bowl game naming rights auction.  If you have an attraction up for grabs, Mark Twain wants his name on it.

He owns practically all of Frontierland at Disneyland.  He’s got the island based on Tom Sawyer, plus the Riverboat based on himself.  It’s oblong, it smokes, and it has a pasty white covering, just like Mark Twain’s head. 
Can you tell them apart?  I’ll give you a hint:  The real Mark Twain has a detachable smoke stack.

Ironically, when the Magic Kingdom opened, they kept the island, but renamed the Riverboat after a senior Disney executive named Admiral Joe Fowler (what kind of parents name their kid “Admiral”?).  Not to worry.  Mark Twain got his revenge.  He promptly inserted himself as co-host of the American Adventure, while Admiral Joe Fowler was relegated to a bit part as famed naturalist John Muir.

Can you tell them apart?  I’ll give you a hint:  One is an obscure Disney legend.  The other is the most famous naturalist who ever lived.

Admiral Joe was many things, but he was not a great American novelist.  So when his Riverboat was damaged during a rehab in 1980, there was no public opinion to worry about and his boat was scrapped.  The strange thing was that at the time, the Magic Kingdom actually had two Riverboats.  The other was known as the Richard F. Irvine (another Disney legend), and it could handle the demand just fine.  Thanks, Admiral Joe.  Don’t let the paddlewheel hit you on the way out.

In 1996, the Richard F. Irvine went down for rehab.  And here is where things take a turn for the surreal.
When the Riverboat reopened, it had a new name:  The Liberty Belle.  In an uncharacteristic display of imperialism, Liberty Square had actually annexed the boat dock, leaving Frontierland a ride short.  Poor Richard F. Irvine found himself literally kicked to the Magic Kingdom curb along with Admiral Joe Fowler, forced to ferry the newly dead across a sea of lost souls.

“Welcome aboard the Richard F. Irvine.  Please keep your hands and arms inside the… ah, forget it.”

Both men had their names slapped onto existing ferries that traverse the Seven Seas Lagoon to the TTC, replacing the original, wonderfully creative names of Magic Kingdom I and Magic Kingdom II.  Around the same time, Tom Sawyer Island went down for rehab.  When it came back up, sharp eyed visitors noticed another name change.  Which leads us back to Mark Twain.

Mark Twain isn’t even the guy’s real name.  His true name, as everybody knows, is Larry McMurtry, but  his birth certificate calls him Samuel Langhorne Clemens. When he bought the naming rights to Tom Sawyer Island’s frontier stockade in the 70s, he named it after himself:  Fort Sam Clemens.  But when the stockade emerged from its refurb tarps in the late 90s, it had changed names again.  This time it was Fort Langhorn.  Yes, it was Mark Twain’s middle name, minus an “e” (Prince Charming must have handled the spelling).

In one last bit of naming confusion, we circle back to Disneyland, home of the Mark Twain Riverboat and the original Tom Sawyer Island, which has since been renamed to Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island.  They have a frontier stockade on their island as well, only it isn’t named after Mark Twain.  Instead, it is simply Fort Wilderness.
Which just happens to be the name of Walt Disney World’s giant campground.  Good luck keeping all of this straight.

No burning cabins or rifle nests!  Hopefully.

4. Deaf People Have Land Too
When EPCOT Center first opened, the Future World part of the park was very cohesive.  Sure, today it is a mishmash of Pixar megahits and puke-inducing centrifuges such as Eric Idle, but back then, every industry had a place at the table, every show building had chrome, and every ride had a theme song.

They even released an EPCOT Center Official Album, and with the exception of the Living Seas (which was late to the party anyway), pretty much every pavilion was represented.  Spaceship Earth gave birth to Tomorrow’s Child.  Energy made the world go round.  Imagination came from one little spark and made memories on a magic journey.  Kraft’s Land pavilion not only had an entire Kitchen Kabaret, but they would also teach you to listen to the land.

Pictured:  Pure awesomeness.

In fact, that was the boat ride’s original name:  Listen to the Land.  Don’t remember it?  Just picture the boat ride as it is today. Now toss in a twangy, feel-good country song.  Exact same ride.

At some point in the last decade or so, Disney decided that you shouldn’t just listen to the land.  You should actually try to live with it.  I guess this was to put us more in touch with our relationship.  The boat ride became Living With the Land.  It was like the pavilion had suddenly gone to marriage counseling.

“Honey, it makes me uncomfortable to make believe I’m a tiny little seed.”

However, very little about the ride actually changed.  The opening scene depicting the growth of a plant was dropped in favor of a rainstorm, some greenhouse exhibits were rearranged, and that was pretty much it.  Oh, and they eliminated the awesome theme song.  Jerks.

3. Cat Fight in the Castle

Ever have problems getting a reservation for your favorite restaurant?  All you Disney Dining Plan fanatics know what I’m talking about.  All little Sally wants to do is have one measly little breakfast with the princesses, and because you refused to get up at 5 a.m. sixty days before your vacation to endlessly speed-dial WDW-DINE, that chance is now gone forever.

The restaurant in Cinderella Castle is by far the most popular place on property.  Bird’s eye view of Fantasyland, a sumptuous banquet hall, gorgeous princesses roaming from table to table.  Who wouldn’t want to eat at Cinderella’s Royal Table?

I’ll tell ya who.  Sleeping Beauty.

Like this, only with princesses.

It’s always been Cinderella’s Castle.  No argument there, and Aurora shouldn’t be too snippy about it, since she has her own castle in Disneyland.  But before Cindy began her Fantasyland land grab, the banquet hall on the second floor used to be owned by Sleeping Beauty.

These two locations have sparked more wars than any other spot in the world.

Well, technically it was her father’s.  The restaurant was known as King Stefan’s Banquet Hall, from opening day all the way up to 1997, a span of more than 25 years.  And then some genius in Disney marketing realized that nobody knew who the heck King Stefan was.

Not even Sleeping Beauty herself knew who the King was.  She was raised in the woods by three fairies, and then fell asleep for a few years soon after returning home.  How could you expect little girls raised on a steady diet of Disney princess power to give a flip over King Stefan?  Can you name even one other Disney king (besides Simba)?

Even when I show you a picture of him, I bet half of you guess wrong.

So the restaurant changed names and Sleeping Beauty and her family left in a huff.  I hear she once tried to get revenge by hitting on Prince Charming, but when she saw how obsessed he was with his Regal Carousel, she backed off.

2. Same Park, Four Names

It’s a single word today.  Epcot.  It seems like we’ve always known that word.  As far back as the 1960s, Walt was using it to tout his Florida Project, which then became known as Disney World, and then later changed to Walt Disney World.  But to most of us, Epcot has always referred to a theme park.

There was a time when Epcot stood for something. A unified vision of the future, a harmony of all lands, an impossibly large parking lot.  All true.  But I was speaking more literally.  Epcot is an acronym.  Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.  And as we all know, acronyms should be capitalized.  Hence, the name of the park was EPCOT Center.

Despite all his accomplishments, Walt never quite learned the proper way to salute.

In 1994, EPCOT Center became the first Disney theme park in history to change names.  I’m not talking about shortening it to simply Epcot, as it is known today.  No, to get there, we have to dive into a dark period of Disney history that brought us pirates chasing food and the transformation of Cinderella Castle into a giant pink birthday cake.  I’m speaking of course, of the 1990s.

When King Stefan wants revenge, then by george he gets it.

In 1994, EPCOT Center changed its name to Epcot ’94.  Don’t ask me why.  I think the reason is that Disney was trying to shake the “boring”, “educational” taint of EPCOT Center.  They figured that the best way to do that was to rename the park like it was the caption to somebody’s senior picture in a yearbook.

Looking back at Epcot ’94 is a little like catching your favorite theme park dressed up in pegged jeans and a mullet.  It’s painfully awkward.  This is an EPCOT Center that is trying to be hip, in-the-now, relevant to today’s audiences.  Only it still has movies about oil rigs, Walter Cronkite on the soundtrack, and Michael Jackson doing the moonwalk.  Very cool in many ways, but definitely not High School Musical material.

Business in Future World, Party in World Showcase.

But there were problems on the Horizons.  After finally making a clean break from the stodgy image of old EPCOT, after months of changing signing and promotional materials and an ingrained corporate culture, Disney watched with horror as the calendar somehow rolled over from December 1994 to January 1995.

Just like that, Epcot was out of date.  Again.

They scrambled around and updated everything all over again.  Epcot ’94 became Epcot ’95.  But the jig was up.  Now it looked like Epcot had flunked a grade, and they had to bump its graduation year.  Most of us were hoping it would be able to get into community college, but it was looking more and more like it might be Cosmetology school.

When 1996 rolled around, Disney marketers were ready.  Epcot ’95 became Epcot.  Just one word, like Madonna.  Now there’s a woman who has never re-invented herself.

1. A Colossal Flop

At last we come to my personal favorite on the list.  Maybe you’ve noticed some trends with some of these renaming decisions.  Need to beef up attendance at one of your rides or restaurants?  Just slap some popular movie character’s name on it, and voila!  Instant boost!

Or maybe not.

But only once has Disney done the exact opposite, and the more you think about it, the stranger it seems.

I’m sure they thought it would be a great idea at the time.  Nobody can predict which movies are going to be flops ahead of time, and the feature film division had certainly invested a lot of money and effort into making a tentpole franchise adventure movie in the summer of 2000.  And judging by the box office, you can’t really call Dinosaur a flop.  It still broke the $100 Million mark.

But it quickly faded into obscurity.  The movie was visually impressive, but dreadfully boring, and the dreams of hooking generations of kids on Aladar toys and Carnotaurus Halloween costumes never materialized.

The kind of heartwarming children’s fare you expect from Walt Disney animation.

Too bad, because Disney had just undergone a major renaming of Animal Kingdom’s biggest thrill ride.

The ride opened with the park in 1998, two years before Dinosaur hit theaters.  It was the East Coast debut of the wildly successful Enhanced Motion Vehicle (EMV) ride system that had been a runaway hit for Disneyland in the Indiana Jones Adventure.  The Animal Kingdom ride was a duplicate of Indy right down to the track layout.  Only with, you know, dinosaurs instead of archeologists.

Countdown to Extinction, as it was called, never generated the kind of buzz that Indy had.  It was hampered by factors outside of its control.  For one thing, Animal Kingdom was woefully short on capacity.  If the Magic Kingdom was Takeru Kobayashi, Animal Kingdom was Mary-Kate Olsen.  It was often empty by lunchtime.

Also, Countdown to Extinction was buried way back in the corner, away from all the live animal attractions.  It wasn’t looking good for the park’s big dinosaur blockbuster.  They thought that if they could just ride the coattails of a popular summer movie, Countdown to Extinction (CTX in Disney shorthand) would get the respect it deserved.

So began the transformation to Dinosaur.  Signs were swapped out.  Aladar replaced the Styracosaurus in the entry fountain.  A very brief clip appeared in the pre-show video.  And, um, that was it.

“Hmm, what would be a really clever name to call this dinosaur ride?  Wait!  I’ve got it!”

Today, they still call it Dinosaur, but it didn’t make one lick of difference to the ride’s popularity.  It was only after Asia and Everest came online that the ride finally started doing some business.  By then, everyone had forgotten about the movie.  You won’t find any movie-related merchandise in the gift shop.  In fact, except for the shared names and the fact that they both feature Iguanadons and Carnotauri, you’re not likely to notice any similarity between the two of them.  One of them has awkward references to a “love monkey.”  The other one actually delivers Wallace Langham.

Friendly controller and a heck of a paleontologist, if he does say so himself.

So they share the same name.  I think they can live with it.  Just because you share the same name doesn’t mean you can sing in a squeaky voice or become president.

Top 10 Name Changes That Changed Nothing – Part 1

This post is part of the Disney Blog Carnival.  Head over there to see more great Disney-related posts and articles.

“I think I’ll go meet the boys for a cold sasparilla.  Oh I forgot, we’re calling it root beer now.  Same kind of thing, different name.  Well, that’s progress for you!” — Carousel of Progress

Remember those hallowed days of childhood, where you had your own special group of friends?  You were all in the same class, you sat together at lunch, you played during recess.  You’d lose track of them over the summer, but when August rolled around, there they were, waiting to resume your old games as if those three long months of vacation had never happened.

Then one year, you showed up on the first day of school and one of your friends had changed his name.  He no longer wanted to be known as Buzzy.  Instead, he was now Robert, and he had forsaken Transformers for Megadeth.  He wore his hair a little longer and had lost the glasses.  Same kid, but not the same at all.

And then years later, maybe at the 10-year reunion, you ran into Robert again, and he was balding underneath a buzz cut, the glasses were back, and he was sort of a Michael Bay geekazoid.  And it was like those 10 years of life had never happened.

This is a long way of saying welcome back, Peoplemover.  We’ve missed you.

If you read the Disney blogosphere lately, you know that the Tomorrowland Transit Authority recently underwent a name change to become the Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover.  It’s the best of both worlds, both nostalgic and forward thinking, like “Disney/Pixar” or “Sarbanes-Oxley.”

There’s just one problem.  The ride is the same as it was 30 years ago.  Sure, there’s some new signage and different narration, which probably cost about $1000.

Or an hour’s profit from one of these babies.

This isn’t like going from Honey I Shrunk the Audience back to Captain EO.  This is just your kid brother insisting that you call him Shazaam for a week, even though he’s still the same snot-nosed pest he always was.  TTA, Peoplemover, Captain Klactuu’s RoboCubeTrain… It doesn’t matter.  It’s a boxcar on magnets, and has been since Nixon was president.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the WEDway TTA NRA DorisDay Peoplemover.  But Disney has a strange habit of renaming things just for the sake of renaming them.  I thought it might be fun to recap some of the biggest changes that changed nothing, in one of those famous internet Top 10 lists.

What, you think Disney doesn’t do this on a regular basis?  Well look no further than…

10. The Revolving Carousel of Names

I didn’t even have to go back more than a couple of months, and already I’ve got a major renaming hit!  Yes, think back to those heady days of anticipation, when Summer Nightastic had everyone salivating for Walt Disney’s World’s brand new offerings (leading to three months of mournful disappointment).  Before it even really began, Cinderella lost her fairy tale Golden Carousel to her ex-husband, who promptly changed it to Prince Charming Regal Carousel.  Guess she should have insisted on that pre-nup.

Their marriage went south shortly after this hit the market.

Out of everything on this list, this one might be the most ridiculous, for one simple reason:  Disney invented a “backstory” to go along with it.  Every fan knows that the best Disney rides have stories, and Disney tried to tap into that sense of moral superiority by offering one for the Carousel.

The only problem is, it’s a freakin’ carousel.  It’s been a carnival mainstay for 150 years, as common in amusement parks as cotton candy and popcorn.  Disney has never offered up a backstory for cotton candy, but for some reason, they felt the need to trot out some overwrought story about stables, a horse grooming competition, and Prince Charming’s desperate need to earn his stern father’s acceptance, or some such nonsense.  It was literally the worst idea you could ever think of for why there were wooden horses running in circles in the middle of a theme park.

My idea was drunk horses failing the “straight line” test.

I guess Disney thought all the fans were too dimwitted to see through the obvious reason for the name change, which is that Fantasyland was becoming a little too princess heavy.  And because everyone knows how much boys like A) white prancing ponies, and B) mamby pamby princes who spend their time swooning over glass footwear, Prince Charming scored his own ride.

He then proceeded to mess it up by forgetting the possessive apostrophe-S after his name.  They didn’t have that problem back in ’94, when the creators of the new Tomorrowland changed the Carousel of Progress to Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress (‘cuz, ya know, he built the whole thing himself).

9.  The Movie Park

Okay, at least this one was a contractual thing.  Once the agreement is up, you can’t use somebody else’s name.  And while it’s doubtful that MGM would have complained about the free publicity, the Walt Disney Company (which has itself changed names 3 or 4 times in its history) decided that it was worth the extra expense to change all the signage in the Disney/MGM Studios Theme Park to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Think about all the places where the park name appears.  Besides the obvious marquees, you have to go change all the road signs as well.  And the bus station labels.  And the giant water tower.  And the tram spiels.  And the paper napkin logos.  Thousands and thousands of changes across property.

And what really changed?  The Wicked Witch still threatens you in the land of Oz.  Bogey still tells Ingrid to get on that plane.  The only MGM character that got the boot was Leo the Lion, and he got his own Regal Carousel out of the deal, so what is he complaining about?

8. Primate Confusion

Show me a bold new vision in zoological parks, with a heavy emphasis on conservation and natural habitats, and I’ll show you a park that can’t decide when the use of monkeys is appropriate.

When it comes to the Bibbity Bobbity Boutique, the answer is “never”

When Imagineers invisioned concepts for Animal Kingdom, one of the first things on the drawing board was an Epcot-style pavilion devoted to conservation and education.  It would house open veterinary operating theaters, interactive exhibits, and bathrooms with wonderful factoids about poop (all of these ideas made the final cut).  The name for this breathtaking exhibit combined the stodgy, school-marm quality of “Conservation” with the old-fashioned, railroad-buff nostaligia of “Station.”  It was a can’t-miss name for today’s on-the-go, forward thinking families.

Surprisingly, no one showed up.

After analyzing the problem, Imagineers quickly realized that the problem was not with the fact that the proposed “See a Vet Cut Open a Cheetah” exhibits were usually empty (or at best contained a groggy, drugged wild duck).  Nor was there any concern that a talking Grandmother tree was not exactly the stuff of childhood adventure.  No, obviously the problem was the name.

Enter Rafiki, and his zany bag of hoodoo monkey tricks.

Not frightening in the least.

Hey, kids love the Lion King, and if you’re going to entice them to learn about conservation, you could do far worse than have a popular character from the movie lend his name to the billboard.  Conservation Station became Rafiki’s Planet Watch — leaving all the original exhibits in place, and adding a Rafiki statue near the train.  Imagineering flung open the gates and waited for the hordes to descend.

They’re still waiting.

Last Call for the Boredom Express!

Meanwhile, another band of Imagineers set up camp in Africa and dreamed up new and exciting ways to sabotage the guest experience.  One of the great selling points of Animal Kingdom was the up-close encounters with the animals.  Gorillas were a major draw, and the park offered a walking trail where you could visit these primates in their natural habitat of cramped jungle acreage surrounded by human video cameras.  To make sure that guests knew what they were getting themselves into, this adventure was called Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail.

Eventually, somebody (maybe the Gorillas themselves) decided that the name was a little too on-the-nose.  After all, we don’t want to make it easy for guests to find out where the gorillas are just by looking at the guide map.  It would diminish their sense of accomplishment if they weren’t encouraged to slog around Disney’s biggest theme park, peering in the bushes and pulling their hair out to find the primates.

So the name was changed to Pangani Forest, for no reason other than to screw with guests’ minds.  And it works.

Pangani sandwiches are my favorite

7. Racist Resort

Many people don’t know this, but the Polynesian Resort, one of Walt Disney World’s original hotels, was once known by a very different name.  When the resort opened in 1971, it was called the Polynesian Village Resort.  But as you no doubt learned in grade school, people from Polynesia find villages to be very offense (they prefer “towns” or “seaside communities”).  So in the 1980s, the “Village” was dropped from the title.

The Resort hotels thought their days of angering people were over, but wouldn’t you know it, history repeated itself.  In 1992, Disney opened a pair of moderate hotels:  Port Orleans and Dixie Landings.  One had a classy, welcoming style.  The other was based on New Orleans.  Both resorts are still there today.

By 2001, the word “Dixie” had taken on some slightly racist overtones in connection with the Old South, and Disney decided to just rename their hotel rather than to try to explain their pure intentions.  Dixie Landings became Port Orleans Riverside — sparking outrage among Polynesians, who prefer the term “Waterfront.”

Just looking at the hatred in this picture makes me sick.

6.  If Sponsors Had Wings

The ride currently known as Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin has had a troubled past when it comes to renames.  It was originally a glorified commercial for Eastern Airlines (its sponsor), called If You Had Wings.  And if you think “it’s a small world” has a repetitive theme song, then you obviously never rode this Tomorrowland classic.

As fate would have it, Eastern Airlines severed its relationship with Disney World while in the midst of ongoing labor problems.  Four years later, they were bankrupt.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Captain.  I know this is probably your first flight, and it’s — ha ha — mine too.”

Disney left the ride, but cast about for a new title.  They came up with If You Could Fly, which turns out to be not very Tomorrowland-ish, since airplanes have been around for a hundred years.

Whereas If You Had Wings predates X-Men 3 by 35 years.

In 1989, If You Could Fly was replaced with a new ride-thru pop-up book known as Delta Dreamflight.  It was essentially a glorified commercial for Delta Airlines (its sponsor).  As fate would have it, Delta severed its relationship with Disney World in 1996.  Roughly 10 years later, they were bankrupt.

Disney promotional image.  Seriously, why are they all fascinated by the propeller?

Disney cast about for a new title and settled on Take Flight, which isn’t very Tomorrowland-ish, since pretty much every Disney guest took flight in order to get to Orlando (as opposed to a Dreamflight, which would have taken them to Tokyo DisneySea).

Heaven help you, Buzz Lightyear, if you ever pull out of this location.  You’ll be broke within a month, and we’ll all be riding Planetary Commando Rotaters.

… To Be Continued in Part 2.