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!

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

Bold New Worlds – Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

Yesterday I posted about how strange it is for frequent guests to suddenly have new experiences to enjoy. The Seven Dwarfs mountain has been isolated in the middle of New Fantasyland for what feels like a decade. We all remember when it was just a wee bump of steel in the middle of a dirt pit. And now suddenly here it is with a date to the prom and a tennis scholarship to State U.

Like the rest of New Fantasyland (except Storybook Circus), it is exceedingly pretty. And while I found the coaster to be rather disjointed, the ride is not without its moments.

The dark ride section is pretty great. It has one of those quintessential Disney moments, when Doc starts to call Heigh-Ho and the train creeps ever-so-off-kilter up the lift hill, with the music swelling, and Dwarf shadows marching beside you. That’s the kind of thing that Disney does best. It can give you goosebumps when done properly, and this moment is a bonafide goosebump moment. What Disney Magic used to mean, before the term became so watered down.

The ride is not meant to be a major E-ticket attraction, and in fact it is a little jarring to go from nicely themed kiddie-coaster to amazing dark ride to nicely themed kiddie coaster again. The lines should settle down after the initial newness wears off. In spite of some initial trepidation about the project (back when it was mostly Dumbo and princess greets), I’m a fan of New Fantasyland. I think both Seven Dwarfs and Little Mermaid are worthy additions to the Magic Kingdom. The restaurant is a much needed improvement, and though I don’t care for Story Hour with Princesses, the cottage is at least pretty and well rendered. Storybook Circus is not cream of the crop, but at least it’s an upgrade over Toontown. On the whole, this new area significantly improves the ambience of the Magic Kingdom — especially compared to the medieval tournament tents of original Fantasyland. I’m anxious to see where the Magic Kingdom goes from here.

I had the benefit of exploring these Bold New Worlds almost back to back. As strange as it sounds, I probably enjoyed the initial Harambe Theater District experience more. Harambe offered not just a surprising new set of buildings and landscaping to explore, but it gave me a different view of the old stuff — the view back towards Africa, the return of the geyser rocks, that white access bridge beyond which lies Pandora. But this new, fresh glimpse of Disney World from a different angle will soon fade, and I suspect the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train will have the staying power.

As a parkeologist, I was delighted to discover something in the Mine Train queue which I’m sure went unnoticed by practically everyone else standing in the Florida heat with me. Back in the 90s, I bought a collectible CD of the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Soundtrack. It contained two songs on it–scratch tracks of deleted songs from the movie. While listening to the instrumental background music in the queue, I was startled to hear renditions of both “Music in Your Soup” and “You’re Never Too Old To Be Young” mixed in with “I’m Wishing” and “Someday My Prince Will Come.” It shows a welcome attention to the history of the landmark film that inspired the ride.

The Cottage of the Seven Dwarfs

 

 

 

Return to Opening Day: Magic Kingdom 1971

Put on those bellbottoms, grab yourself a bandana, and brush out that Afro. We’re traveling to the groovy 70s, baby, for a date with destiny!

Here age relives fond memories of the past and all that. Opening Day crowds were estimated to go as high as 100,000 people — all of them crammed onto I-4 like a scene straight out of the Walking Dead, in a parking lot to rival the largest ever built (which happened to be the Magic Kingdom’s lot at the time).

As it turns out, the crowds are not as bad as rumored. No need for FastPass+ in 1971. You have your own set of ride reservations, dude! It’s called a ticket book. A, B, C, D, and E — that’s the biggest. So hop aboard that world famous highway in the sky, take a little skip across the Disney-created Seven Seas Lagoon, and step into the grandest theme park on the East Coast.

Welcome to the Magic Kingdom.

Crop out the Orbiter and Big Thunder and it still kinda looks the same

Crop out the Orbiter and Big Thunder and it still kinda looks the same

Opening Day attractions numbered a little over 20 on October 1, 1971. Over the next few months, a handful more were added. But had you been part of that first day, here were your options:

  • Main Street Vehicles
  • Penny Arcade
  • Main Street Cinema
  • Walt Disney World Railroad
  • Jungle Cruise
  • Swiss Family Treehouse
  • Tropical Serenade
  • Mike Fink Keelboats
  • Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes
  • Frontierland Shootin’ Arcade
  • Diamond Horseshoe Revue
  • Country Bear Jamboree
  • Haunted Mansion
  • Hall of Presidents
  • Snow White’s Adventures
  • Cinderella’s Golden Carousel
  • Mickey Mouse Revue
  • Dumbo the Flying Elephant
  • Mad Tea Party
  • It’s a Small World
  • Skyway
  • Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
  • Grand Prix Raceway
  • Monsters Inc. the Laugh Floor (just seeing if you were paying attention)

Not a bad little line-up, right? Especially considering the Disney MGM Studios opened with about a fifth of that. But the Magic Kingdom has been around more than 40 years. How many of these 23 champions are still standing?

Let’s start with some surprises — what’s missing from the list? None of the three mountains, of course. They wouldn’t start to appear until the late 70s. And no Pirates of the Caribbean either! In fact, it wasn’t even on the drawing boards, until everyone showed up and complained that it was missing. Tomorrowland was always the butt of jokes, with people complaining how dated it is. But much like Disneyland, Tomorrowland opened with only one attraction (the Raceway). Two, if you count the Skyway back to Fantasyland. Long time favorites like the People Mover, Circlevision, and If You Had Wings weren’t part of Opening Day.

What about Peter Pan’s Flight or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea? The Riverboat or Tom Sawyer Island? Still under construction for the Grand Opening. They wouldn’t set sail until at least a few months later. And I was surprised to learn that the Swan Boats — the holy grail of defunct Magic Kingdom attractions — didn’t open until 1973. I mention all these things because it’s incredible that even the oldest of the old — those lost and lamented attractions that have been gone for decades — were themselves not even as old as we thought.

In some respects, 43 years doesn’t seem like a horribly long time. The Magic Kingdom pre-dates my existence, but not by much. A lot about me has changed over the years, but at least I still have my gorgeous, piercing blue eyes. So what about MK? Does she still have her eyes?

We can take a pencil and quickly strike a few items off the list. These puppies are gone, wholesale. Mickey Mouse Revue was shipped to Japan (and eventually closed). Mr. Toad was infamously replaced by Pooh. Snow White hung on for a long time, but disappeared a couple years ago to make room for Princess Fairy Tale Hall. The Keelboat dock remains, as does the dock for the Canoes, but neither vessel has plied the Rivers of America in quite some time. The Skyway has been obliterated. The Tangled restroom sits on the site of the Fantasyland Station, while the Tomorrowland Station has had its second floor stripped clean.

Mansion and Keelboat dock... Looks the same, but neither are.

Mansion and Keelboat dock… Looks the same, but neither are.

Other attractions have morphed into retail locations. The Penny Arcade became the Main Street Athletic Club shop. The Diamond Horseshoe Theater is intact, but is used only during peak periods, and only to augment counter-service lunch. Maybe as a character greeting area, if necessary. The Main Street Cinema still kind-of-sort-of exists, but it’s a shop now, brightly lit, with a solitary screen showing old cartoons as an afterthought.

That whittles it down to 14 hopeful candidates. And as we enter the swimsuit portion of the contest, looks start to matter.

Take Dumbo, for instance. The actual ride is effectively the same. Pachyderms going around in circles. But we all know Dumbo’s recent history. He was moved a football field away, to a new spot in Storybook Circus, where he gained water features, a giant themed queue building, and oh yeah, an exact duplicate of himself next door. That’s not the Opening Day experience.

How about the Tea Cups, who have been going around in the same circles for 40+ years in the exact same spot? It may seem cruel, but we need to cross them off the list as well. Riding the tea cups under a shady canopy strung with festive Mad Tea Party lanterns may seem as classic as they get, but the Opening Day cups didn’t have that roof. Swelter in the Floridian sun if you want the original experience.

The Grand Prix Raceway is now called the Tomorrowland Speedway, and it was never really big on theming anyway. Surely that one is as close as they come to Opening Day… except that it acquired some Indy 500 backdrops and racing towers back in the 90s, and a body style for the cars that is just different enough to eliminate it from contention.

A bunch of other attractions are guilty of the sin of omission. The Country Bears remarkably held on for a long time, and there’s not a single bit of the current show that did not appear in the original show… unfortunately, there’s a few minutes of the original show that does not appear in the current show, thanks to some recent tweaks to the running time. Similarly, the Tiki Birds (aka Tropical Serenade) did disappear for awhile, before a triumphant return a couple years ago. But just like the Bears, the show was adjusted for length. The Offenbach sequence was jettisoned, as was the magic fountain effect.

A familiar finale... but shortened

A familiar finale… but shortened

Haunted Mansion made a proud run at the title, but recent improvements (the Escher stairway room, the Cemetery queue, the CGI hitchhikers) knock it out of the running. The Hall of Presidents has added 7 presidents since the debut in 1971, and the narration and film-based portion of the attraction has changed significantly.

The Frontierland Shootin’ Arcade is still (miraculously) around, but the original version used lead-pellet firearms, not the infrared beams of today. And I believe the set was a similar theme, but not an exact match.

The Walt Disney World Railroad looks oh-so-close at first glance… but the narration on the train is totally different, and how can we keep it in the running when 2 of the 3 stations are completely different from Opening Day?

Late afternoon at the Main Street Station can still bring a whiff of nostalgia.

Late afternoon at the Main Street Station can still bring a whiff of nostalgia.

By my count, we’re down to five. Five Opening Day attractions that still look and sound much as they did way back when.

I’m going to be perfectly honest with you. I’m on the fence about Jungle Cruise. The boats have changed over the years, and new jokes have filtered in and out. But it seems to me to be very similar to its opening day incarnation. The queue has gained some set dressing over the years, and maybe there’s a new visual gag or two (the downed aircraft is within the last couple decades). But if you’re looking for the Opening Day experience, this one comes pretty close.

I could also nitpick about It’s a Small World. The loading area’s white facade and mechanical clock are relatively new (within the last 10 years). That last room with all the different foreign words for Goodbye has also changed over the years (most recently to add My Magic Plus screens). But overall, this attraction is very nearly identical to the Opening Day boat ride. Keep it on your list for time travel.

The Main Street Vehicles are hardly worth arguing about. They look the same as the Opening Day, near as I can tell. You still have the horse cars, the fire engine, the jitney, the Omnibus. These are true Opening Day experiences.

And Cinderella’s Golden Carousel — while now called Prince Charming Regal Carousel — has been circling the same path for over 40 years now. Aside from the occasional Aladdin or Pocahontas song, the new signage, and the displacement of a couple horses for a static bench, it’s the same ride.

And then we come to my personal favorite, the attraction I feel best represents the original Magic Kingdom. The Swiss Family Treehouse. Very little about this incredible walk-through has changed over the years. It is truly timeless, and its views are still the best available in the Magic Kingdom. I live in constant fear that Disney will decide to rip this one out and put in a fairy meet-and-greet, so please, if you simply must time travel, make this one your first stop. And your last. And spin the turnstiles a few extra times for good measure. Long live the Swiss Family Treehouse!

The grandfather of them all.

The grandfather of them all.