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
|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.
|“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.
|No burning cabins or rifle nests! Hopefully.|
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.
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.