The Future Ends Today

The list of Top Ten Disney Theme Park Controversies continues today with #2.

If you just joined us click HERE for the first 8 entries on our list.

2) Horizons is shuttered and demolished

Take a beloved fan-favorite attraction. An attraction built on a huge scale. An attraction designed by some of Walt Disney Imagineering’s greatest. An attraction that showcased everything Disney does best. Then suddenly shut it down… permanently. And then for good measure demolish the building in full view for the world to see. No problem right? It’s a perfect storm for fan frustration.

horizons-ryman

Herb Ryman could capture the essence of an attraction in concept art like no one else ever could.

If EPCOT Center was an exploration of our optimistic future shared by a united world then Horizons was a crystallization of that future. It was the crown jewel of EPCOT Center. It was the single attraction that represented the spirit, the hope and the goals of EPCOT Center (and Walt Disney’s personal ideals) more than any other.

horizons 1 bis

The marhcing bad of the future, here today (or in 1984 at least)

Each of the other Future World pavilions focused on a singular idea or industry: Communications, Agriculture, Imagination, Transportation and so on whereas Horizons encapsulated them all into one glorious mega-attraction. Poised like a spaceship on the brink of take-off Horizons was architecturally unique, a beautifully detailed and skillfully executed vision of the future. It was an exciting and unifying vision of things to come and a knowing nod at our past visionaries. Using a side facing Omni-mover ride system Horizons picked up where the Carousel of Progress left off. Guests explored the future of life on Earth, both on land and under the sea, before leaving terra firma and venturing into outer space. It was a long attraction with an abundance of technology and deft storytelling… in other words it was classic EPCOT. Though Horizons debuted a year after the park’s grand opening, and had its budget and scope reduced along the way, the end result immediately made it a classic and the first attraction many think of when discussing EPCOT Center… and then it was gone.

horizons-01

Horizons had a bit of everything, from comedic robots to Omnimax screens to Pepper’s Ghost “holograms” to orange scents, it showcased everything Disney did so well.

The exact reasons for the closure are murky at best. We know that Horizons lost its sponsor (General Electric) and that is never a good sign for an attraction. But there is a lot more to it than just that. The most popular theory or excuse is that the building was collapsing upon itself and that the land beneath it was hiding a sinkhole necessitating its removal. Some say that Disney management felt the attraction was corny, old-fashioned and passé. Others claim that it simply came down to dollars and cents and that Disney needed the space and a fresh start in order to attract a new sponsor. No one outside of Disney really knows the true reasons why Horizons was so unceremoniously dismantled but we do know that it sent fans into a tizzy.

Horizons_Full_767

Horizons_Full_768

Horizons_Full_770

These are honestly hard for me to look at… just so sad.

This was the first time in history that a marquee “E-Ticket” attraction was not only shut down, but the entire building was razed erasing any trace of its existence. A new version was not being created, the building was not being re-used, and instead the entire shebang was simply being deleted.

Horizons

Perhaps more than any other now extinct attraction fans have kept Horizons alive in their hearts. Fan-made DVDs, tribute web pages and even fully recreated interactive virtual rides have been created to keep Horizon’s message optimism for the future going strong. If you are old enough to know the original spirit of EPCOT Center then you know that the loss of Horizons was almost unimaginable. It was ripping the very heart out of the park and in fact Epcot has never been the same since.

wallpaper

You should check this out if you have not already.

Horizons was closed in December of 1994. A year later it suddenly re-opened unchanged (thwarting many theories that it had to be closed due to pressing safety issues). Horizons remained open while both World of Motion and Universe of Energy were closed (due to a bad mismanagement of refurbishments brought on by major design issues with the new Test Track ride) but by 1996 was no longer operating on any regular basis and by the start of 1999 was closed for good. In 2000 the Horizons building is slowly, painfully demolished.

hae220128LARGE

Roomba my ass!

Today Horizons lives on in the memories of the legions of fans that so fondly recall the power of the message it carried. Far more than a thrill ride or a cavalcade of special effects, Horizons had a soul. A few relics of the attraction have survived and Disney occasionally trots out the robotic butler figure for display on special occasions. Most of the attraction found it’s way to a landfill and a few parts oddly ended up rotting in the Parisian sun (click here to see what I mean).

tumblr_m50vo7q61m1qg25aio1_500

I have no tattoos… but if I were ever to get one…

I recently met a park enthusiast in his twenties, he considered himself a fairly hardcore fan. He had visited the parks annually since he was a kid; I could relate. Then I found out that he had never even heard of Horizons… it meant nothing to him, that was a bit sad for me to hear. Sure he was probably 7 or 8 when it shut down and likely never rode it, but to never have heard of it at all was a shock. We all want our heroes and our most vivid memories to live forever… but they cannot.

Horizons 01

As loud and sustained as the fan community complaints may have been Disney knows that eventually they will all subside and that new generations of fans will come in replacing the jeers of the old guard with cheers for the newest and “best” attraction to come along. Such is the theme park circle of life.

Did you ride Horizons? Do you miss it?

For the next entry click HERE

One Misguided Spark of Inspiration

Our march through the Top Ten Disney Theme Park Controversies (T.T.D.T.P.C.) continues as we cross the midway point with #5.

Click HERE to cath up with the first 5 entries.

5) Bye-Bye Figment:

One little spark of inspiration is at the heart of all creation… so goes the catchy tune that served as the theme song not only for Epcot’s Journey Into Imagination pavilion but in many ways also for all of Disney in the 1980s. It is upbeat, optimistic and eminently hummable. Yet despite the broadly loved song and the royal purple dragon (the aforementioned Figment) who sang it, someone within Disney had a very different type of inspiration and decided to remove both the song and the singer in 1998.

imagination-pavilion-epcot

Bright and optimistic was replaced by dark and insulting

In 1999 an all-new version of the attraction opened, creatively titled “Journey into YOUR Imagination”. In this version guests entered “The Imagination Institute” which was a tie-in with the 3-D movie Honey I Shrunk the Audience. After boarding ride vehicles (now red instead of the original purple), guests were scanned and immediately insulted (the scanner states that the entire audience had no imagination whatsoever). Visitors then proceeded through a series of dark rooms featuring rudimentary optical and aural illusions. These basic tricks were said to energize guests’ imaginations until the final scene, when they were scanned once again and found so full of creativity that the machine exploded with light and sound. Figment, his human partner Dreamfinder, and all the original music were absent (save for a few throwaway cameos from Figment).

Figment

Hit the road, Jack

Fans were seriously outraged. Figment and Dreamfinder were not only beloved characters but also the faces of Epcot. They were original creations of the park and managed to gain such popularity that they grew beyond being simply a ride or even park mascots and stood shoulder to shoulder with some of Disney’s most famous creations. Figment and Dreamfinder plush dolls, key chains, picture frames and merchandise of all sorts flew off the store shelves; Figment was a star. Yet in a move nearly on par with the New Coke debacle Disney decided to remove them both, erasing them from memory.

nwa5bn

Still selling the Figment merch

Perhaps even worse was the fact that what replaced the attraction was a shallow shell of the original. The new ride was considerably shorter and much less grand than the original (a ride many considered one of Disney’s best). The changes did not stop with the ride itself either. In what is still one of the most head-scratching moves Disney has ever done, the Image Works — a playground of sorts located on the second floor of the pavilion — was shuttered. Here guests could explore sight, sound, touch and other creative elements using interactive exhibits. Dreamfinder and Figment were featured in many of these installations and acted as your hosts and cheerleaders. It was a fun, immersive experience that was especially well suited to young kids. Today the stairs sit roped off and the second floor still has many of the exhibits rotting in place, unused for many years.

tumblr_l55ea1GLj01qax4aeo1_500

Now both are gone…

Though this happened prior to social media, enough people complained online and via mail that Disney was forced to take notice. In a virtually unprecedented move, they closed the attraction after just over two years and retooled it again. Fans took a deep breath of relief and some even speculated that the original ride would be recreated in a new souped-up, high tech form. It appeared as though Disney recognized their mistake and was now making it right.

tumblr_mbkmm7ZgxS1r337tvo1_400

One or more of these characters is now seriously annoying

In 2002 Disney joyously announced the return of Figment and re-opened the attraction. Wanting to be very clear, they named it “Journey into Imagination with Figment”. The original Journey Into Imagination had Figment and they did not feel the need to call it out in the title — but they are the marketing masters, not me. Maybe they should rename all the rides? How about “Pirates of the Caribbean with Pirates” or “The Haunted Mansion with Ghosts”?

Anyway, fans wanted Figment so here you go folks… all the Figment you possibly can handle. It was as if Disney was telling fans to go choke on Figment.

6a00d8341c3d8153ef010534da842d970c-500wi

Choke on it, suckers….

Suddenly he was everywhere; in the queue, in every show scene, and in the finale he is seen a dozen times. They also added back a new version of the original song and yet Dreamfinder did not make the cut and is still MIA today. In many ways this newest version is the worst yet. It loses the one or two nice special effects of the previous version (such as a legitimately surprising ending) and replaces them with cheaply done overdoses of Figment. Figment’s existence is not explained and he is not incorporated into the attraction in any sort of organic manner. Rather he is just slapped on every show scene as a sort of unexplained pixie host / instigator. To me it is a worst of both worlds experience; the very definition of “neither here nor there”. While the second version was a travesty, the current version does little to improve upon it. Fans by and large were not thrilled by the ride, but the fact that Figment was alive and well quelled many of them.

glass_pyramids_of_imagination-wallpaper-1920x1440

Though the original purple color scheme was better, it still looks nice from the outside.

This is yet another example of Disney removing something that people loved and replacing it with something that was clearly inferior, smaller in scope, and less expertly executed. The original Journey into Imagination set a very high standard; it was fun, creative, optimistic, memorable and original in every way. It was replaced with a cheap, dark funhouse featuring a small handful of effects and significantly less heart than the original. It was the equivalent of a modern day special effects film (Hello Transformers)… just loud and with little reason to exist. Yet at least that second version had a few interesting visual or audio twists. In its haste to satisfy the calls for the return of Figment, Disney managed to take even those few interesting tidbits away and instead created what is in essence a cavalcade of Figment dolls mixed in with some neon paint and nonstop droning of the Imagination song. It is overkill… and who would have thought Figment drives a pick up truck and uses a human toilet… info we did not need to know.

journey-to-imagination-figment

This photo is not upsdide down… Disney thinks that will blow your mind!

Disney failed to realize that it was not actually Figment or Dreamfinder that fans missed, but rather the spirit of fun, hope, excitement and pure joy that those characters brought to the original incarnation of the pavilion. Sure, a purple dragon is great, but he can also be annoying if not presented with care and love.

Figment_1_Cover

Figment and Dreamfinder are still popular enough to have spin-off new comic books based on them

Today it is one of the least popular Epcot pavilions, and having lost its sponsor (Kodak) in 2010, it is likely to be renovated into something totally new sometime soon. Was this a rare win for fans or simply a way for Disney to shut them up with an inexpensive alteration? You can probably guess how I feel.

It is incredibly difficult to create an attraction on the scale of Journey into Imagination and tougher still to make it a success. It is catching lightning in a bottle. Disney was fortunate enough to have had that happen with the Imagination ride and had stellar and long-lived characters come along with it to boot… and yet still decided to rip it out… go figure.

Decide for yourself:

Click HERE for the original ride video (unfortunately edited, but the best I could find)

Click HERE for the misguided second version

or Click HERE for the current version

To see #4 click HERE

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.

9-16_castle3

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.

Stitch_at_Walt_Disney_World

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.

2231407438_4062f2986d_o

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).

spaceship_earth-1440x900

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!

Sorcerers Hat

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.

hollywood_boulevard_at_disneys_hollywod_studios_by_the_consortium

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.

The Great Movie Ride at DisneyÕs Hollywood Studios

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.

7782221210_1f561d19ee_z

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