Big, ugly “temporary” things

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

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

8) Cakes and Wands and Hats OH MY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Click here for #7

Say it ain’t so Mr. Funmeister

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Looks good… on paper

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

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

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

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‘Sup… Welcome to Pleasure Island

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

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

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

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A beacon of light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for number 8 on the list.

T.T.D.T.P.C.

Crowds cram into a small courtyard. The tension is as thick as the air on a hot and humid Florida morning. Tempers flair. An uneasy balance of civility could easily slide into mass chaos at any moment.

Something is amiss, boiling points are being reached and red-faced protesters are eager to let loose their ire. A collective uproar has been corked in for far too long; no longer able to placate the suddenly boisterous masses officials scurry into damage control mode. Things could get ugly and heads will roll. It’s a very serious situation and those in charge likely had no idea what giant they were awakening when they started down the path that led us here.

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yea… we have used this image before… but if its new to you you really need to click here

The dragon has been unleashed.

We all deal with daily struggles and we each have our personal convictions so it is rare to have such a unifying outcry of passion, dismay and concern from such a divergent group spanning such a broad cross section of the public. Yet with matters this grave even the most passive souls find their convictions and confront their keepers. We are mad as hell and we are not going to take it any more…

We sat idle when we went to war, we did nothing when our taxes were hiked, and we were silent when our freedoms were stripped away but we will sit idle no more! How DARE THEY remove Figment, our beloved purple avatar representing childhood whimsy and delight from Epcot? NOW YOU HAVE GONE TOO FAR!

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Do whatever you want but do NOT mess with Figment

OK, so in the scheme of world affairs, or really in the scheme of pretty much anything else, removing a cartoon dragon from an aging theme park attraction ranks pretty low on the scale of things to be concerned with. Yet that decision made sometime in the late 90’s by potentially clueless Disney executives caused quite a stir among the Disney’s faithful. Those who live and breathe the parks and grew up with fond memories of Figment’s catchy theme song could not imagine a world without him. Petitions were signed, web sites were created and then CEO Michael Eisner was directly confronted about such matters during the open mike session of the annual stockholders meeting. Clearly Disney made a PR misstep and in a rare concession to fans added Figment back into the ride (more on that later).

Sometimes it’s the little things that mean the most. Over the years Disney fans have reacted (perhaps over reacted?) to changes made to the parks and have caused all matter of trouble for those operating them. With the creation of social media reaction to even the smallest of changes is swift and widespread. People don’t like change, especially when it revolves around beloved child-hood memories.

These uprisings tend to occur when a much loved (and often original) attraction is removed or altered for what is perceived as an inferior replacement. They also tend to be fairly recent as it is just in the last 20 years or so that the Internet has made these concerns blossom from small local outcries to worldwide fan hysteria.

Plus we admit it; Parkeology.com has been slow this summer. We should be writing more.Or we can be lazy and simply stretch a longer post out over several days.

With that said we are kicking off a series searching through the Top Ten Disney Theme Park Controversies (or T.T.D.T.P.C. if you like useless acronyms). One new entry a day for the next 2 weeks or so.

Finding an actual order is tough, at the top of the list they all created quite a stir, but lets kick things off with a seemingly great idea (if you are CEO of a fortune 500 company):

10) Mickey meet Ronald.

Back in 1997 Disney started a 10-year agreement with McDonald’s to sell the fast food giant’s offerings on property at Disney resorts and even within the parks. It seemed like a powerhouse combo with both companies dominating their respective fields and both having a longstanding family friendly image. However as with most things Disney related some fans thought differently. They did not take kindly to the idea of Ronald McDonald gallivanting around hand in hand with Mickey Mouse. No one wanted to see Grimace take up residency in Fantasyland or Mayor McCheese lord over the Magic Kingdom.

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it was mostly just stuff like this… nice wheel BTW Disney.

Ultimately the initial fan reaction was overblown. In reality McDonald’s had a fairly small presence limited mainly to one small location in each park selling McDonald’s fries and sometimes McNuggets. When Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened in 1998 McDonald’s had not only a fry location (the pun-rific Petrifires) but also a somewhat expanded menu at the largest restaurant in the park the Restaurantosaurus (they were really reaching for names back then). McDonald’s logos were not all that prominent on the food locations limited to discreet locations and small sizes. However McDonald’s also sponsored the major thrill ride at the park then named “Countdown to Extinction” later pointlessly renamed to the much more obvious “Dinosaur” (which today with it’s namesake movie long forgotten just seems idiotic). As it’s sponsor a McDonald’s logo was a prominent part of the attraction marquee for many years.

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The logo remianed small even when the name was changed

Two full menu locations were opened on property but not in the parks. One near the All-Stars resorts )featuring a hideous mash-up of McDonald’s characters along the exterior) should of raised fan concerns based on nothing more than the eyesore it caused. The other was located at Downtown Disney. Today only the All-Stars location remains and fortunately was remodeled in 2009 to become a modern and almost sleek rendition of the chain’s brand.

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This was the Down Town Disney location… the nicer of the two full service locations. Photo courtesy of yesterland.com

McDonald;s agreement ended in 2008 and they are no longer present in the parks. Today we are seeing a similar outcry as Starbuck’s continues to roll out into the parks and resorts. Again they are being done in a low-key and fairly tasteful manner and fans have grown to accept it. Of course the Disney parks have a very long history of corporate sponsors including food and beverage sponsors dating back to the very opening of Disneyland in 1955. Perhaps this was a controversy that never should have been?

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Many fans did not appreciate being invaded

With time we forget the concern and even outrage than was present at the time of this and most of the other events on our list. Nevertheless there was fear that somehow McDonald’s would cheapen the Disney image. Fans seldom like to see outside interests infiltrate the parks… something we will see again in future entries.

Click here for number nine as we continue the countdown.

In the meantime do you remember when McDonald’s invaded the Magic Kingdom?