6 Things I Can’t Believe Still Exist at Disney World

It’s hard for me to believe that Horizons, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the Skyway, and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride have been gone for 15 or 20 years now. There are readers of this blog in college who never knew what it was like to smell oranges, experience claustrophobic panic attacks, anonymously spit on people from above, or go to hell.

Boom! Suckered you into that one. The L.A. Freeway counts as hell, right?

Boom! Suckered you into that one. The L.A. Freeway counts as hell, right?

My parents’ generation had that Civil Rights movement thing, and even today young people still picket and protest over perceived social injustices, but my crowd staged sit-ins over the right to watch a plywood toad honk at us for three minutes.

It’s been awhile since Disney closed a classic attraction (okay, it was last summer). But certainly nothing as totally beloved as Horizons or Toad. We all have ideas on what should stay and what should go. But ever since Disneyland shut down the Phantom Boats less than a year after park opening, attractions have been fair game for the chopping block, if such a metaphor is even possible.

Still so popular that even when they recreate it in cardboard for a merchandise event, fans get misty eyed.

Still so popular that even when they recreate it in cardboard for a merchandise event, fans get misty eyed.

But attractions are things that Disney can market. The all-important ride count. You can’t just shut down a major animatronics show without a significant capital investment to replace it. So today I’d like to look at 6 things that are not attractions, that somehow still linger inside Walt Disney World, in spite of the world passing them by.

Film and Camera stores

There’s a shop on Hollywood Boulevard called the Darkroom, which still advertises itself as selling cameras and film. I never understood what kind of family would show up at a theme park and plunk down huge retail mark-up cash for a camera, even when people still carried cameras. But nowadays, you’re either a serious photographer (in which case you have your own Canon SLR SuperMax Ultra Plus with a set of matching lenses), or you have a phone.

Now selling cameras, film, typewriter ribbons, and computer punch cards

Now selling cameras, film, typewriter ribbons, White-Out, and computer punch cards

What about the store under Spaceship Earth which is still called the Camera Center? Is there an Amish family wandering in for a day at Epcot, badly in need of a role of 35mm film for their antiquated Kodak point-and-shoot? Even on the off-chance that there are a few luddites passing through the gates, shunning their Magic Bands for the old rubber-stamp paper tickets and the UV ink handstamp for re-admission, they can’t possibly be purchasing enough film to keep these stores in the black.

Yes, I know the camera and film selection at these places has dwindled significantly over the years, but it assumes that not only are there people out there who tote these cameras around on vacation in a giant diaper bag (as opposed to a phone in their pocket), it also assumes that these people, in their absentmindedness, forgot to buy film for their family heirloom. Invest in an iphone, people. You’ll be better off in the long run. Which leads me to…

Pay Phones

The number of pay phones sitting out in the open is incredible. I have not seen an individual use one of these in at least 5 years. And yet at every bathroom, you’ll find a bank of 2 or 3 silver plated privacy cubbies where some relic receiver from a 1950s police show is hung on a braided silver wire, just waiting for you to drop in a quarter or try to call someone collect (do people still do that?)

"Operator? Yes, can you get me Directory Assistance for 1972, please?"

“Operator? Yes, can you get me Directory Assistance for 1972, please?”

There must be hundreds of pay phones across property, and while I’m sure the maintenance budget on those things is small, how much cash can they possibly be raking in? A buck-twenty-five every week or so? What kills me is that each and every one of these phones has a nice shelf beneath it, upon which sits a paper-bound volume the size of an encyclopedia, which I presume is the Orlando Area Yellow Pages. Trees are dying for this, and as proof of how useless they are, I bet half of you don’t know what an encyclopedia is either.

In today’s google-centric world, I can’t imagine how frustrating it would be to page through one of those phone books in search of a good pizza place for after I’m done touring the parks. They should rip every one of those phone banks out and replace them with device charging stations.

The Electrical Water Pageant

Let’s be honest: As much as we might like the old school Disney charm of something that has been a mainstay at the resort for more than 30 years, how has this little water parade managed to stick around? They trot it out every night, with its 1970s tableau of primitive Christmas Tree decorations synchronized to music. It floats past three or four hotels like a funny little ice cream truck, then rolls back into its cave and goes to sleep.

It’s not an attraction. It barely warrants mention in any of the marketing materials. I don’t see it advertised much at the resorts, other than an occasional line item in the standard resort newsletter. There are no Designated Water Pageant Viewing Areas. Nobody is booking a stay at the Contemporary because of it.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the Electrical Water Pageant. But I like it because it is quaint and low-tech and it reminds me of Walt Disney World’s more innocent past. But for a company as forward thinking as Disney, I’m surprised this bit of obvious nostalgia has survived.

Half the Games at Disney Quest

DisneyQuest is the great second-tier theme park experience that tragically remains perpetually stuck in 1998.

When DisneyQuest opened, it was supposed to be a mix of current arcade favorites and several signature attractions that weren’t quite theme park rides, but were unique premium adventures far beyond anything you might find in Dave and Buster’s. The arcade games continued to be updated on a regular basis, but the premium attractions have remained mostly unchanged since opening day.

It’s that whole iphone thing again. Everyday technology blows it away. When DisneyQuest opened, the top video game consoles were the PlayStation 1 and Nintendo 64. Think about that. If you think the Nintendo Wii looks out of date now next to Xbox and Playstation 3, remember that the Wii is TWO GENERATIONS after the Nintendo which was popular when DisneyQuest opened its gates.

Have you taken a ride on the Virtual Jungle Cruise lately? It’s a polygonic forest. What about that Aladdin Magic Carpet ride? It’s like watching a 1950s 3-D. And you can keep going right down the line. Ride the Comix can’t match the performance of Wii Bowling. ExtraTerrorestrial Alien Encounter is — well, okay, the only place you can still experience Alien Encounter. Treasure of the Incas has been paved over and replaced with shooter games. Mighty Ducks Pinball (what’s the Mighty Ducks? Also, what’s Pinball?) is abandoned. Cyber Space Mountain is just a sickening ride through low-res 3-D environments that look like an architect’s slick presentation from 1989. The Buzz Lightyear AstroBlasters is still popular, but ironically is the lowest tech attraction in the building. And the Pirates of the Caribbean game (the ONE attraction that has been updated from its earlier Hercules incarnation) is, I suspect, only trading on the popularity of the Johnny Depp franchise, and not because of its wow factor.

It’s ironic that the most fun part of DisneyQuest today is in visiting all the old arcade games on the top floors. That, and having pay-one-price access to all the current games. The idea of blending an arcade with premium experiences has fallen by the wayside. I don’t know how long they can keep Virtual Jungle Cruise going. Speaking of which…

Specialty Stores at Downtown Disney

Downtown Disney has always had a baffling selection of specialty shops, and a lot of them don’t make it very long. It kind of wants to be a funky spin on the idea of a mall, but I don’t know what some tenants are thinking.

The list of failures is a long one. They had a Magic Shop, for crying out loud. Do kids still buy magic? Especially of the floating-penny and card-trick variety. I loved the charm of the Main Street Magic Shop, but I never really understood why there was a magic store at Downtown Disney. Or what about that shop that was nothing but magnets. “Thousands to choose from, in every shape, size, and color!” An entire building of magnets. It was a West Side staple for years. Whenever I saw it, I was always reminded of that fake Saturday Night Live commercial, about the bank whose business was making change. “How do we make money? The answer is simple: volume.” Magnetron still exists over at Marketplace, in one of those cramped little side booths. I always pass by it and think it should be holding a little cardboard sign and a tin cup: “Lost polarity. Need help. God bless.”

For the life of me, I can’t understand how the Pop Gallery stays in business. I swear they must have a leprechaun minting gold somewhere in there. Who is going to this funky little Disney mall and coming home with thousands of dollars worth of ceramic Elvis hound dogs or Suessian primary color dinosaurs?

Nothing says "classy art" like sticking your store on the side of a multiplex.

Buy our art. Or not. It doesn’t matter, we’re independently wealthy!

A few of the high-end resorts have Wyland Galleries and the like, and that sort of makes sense. The resorts are more upscale, with a quieter setting and usually decorated in the sort of classy sculptures and paintings that are on display, with a clientele passing by who is rich enough to afford them. Half the time, the only people hanging around outside the Pop art store are the people in line for the next Johnny Depp movie at the AMC.

And finally we have…

Postcards

It’s a shame, because Disney postcard art is sort of a classic Disney collectible, like mouse ears or trading pins or light-up spinny gizmos that your kid breaks four minutes into the parade. But I’m just not sure this merchandise is selling anymore.

Certainly nobody is mailing postcards, which renders all those mail drops moot. If kids want to say hi to their friends back home, they’ll text them. They’re not going to carry around the snail mail address, drop 40 cents on a stamp, and dig a pen out of mom’s purse in order to write “Wish you were here!” on the back of a picture of Big Al.

Where once every shop had a little round turntable full of a colorful assortment of postcard options, they’re actually kind of hard to find now. You have to look in the big flagship stores: The Emporium, World of Disney, Mouse Gear, etc. It’s a bit of theme park merchandise that has again been rendered obsolete by that ubiquitous device, the camera phone.

But on the plus side, this little composition at Epcot always makes me chuckle. Mail. Male.

So that’s my list. What other things are still hanging around Walt Disney World well past their shelf life? And please don’t say Eric Idle.

 

The First Disney Pixar Movie

2012 is the Bizarro Year.

This year, we hailed California Adventure, Hong Kong Disneyland, and the Magic Kingdom as shining beacons of incredible theming. Tokyo Disney Sea’s newest rides are a transplanted carnival game thing and a Magic Carpet spinner.

At the box office, Spiderman and Batman got beat up by second tier superheroes like Iron Man and Thor.

George Lucas managed to rekindle the excitement for millions of fans across the globe. And also released Red Tails (remember that? Yay, Disney gets it!)

And Disney Feature Animation and Pixar decided to dress as each other for Halloween.

Back in the summer, Pixar released its first real “Disney” movie: A princess story involving a magical transformation, female empowerment, and jaw-dropping fairy tale visuals. The only things missing were a wise-cracking monkey and Alan Menken.

On Friday, Disney Feature Animation will release its first real “Pixar” movie, about a tall, lunkish character who gets fed up with being the bad guy in his own life story and tries switching careers.

Also called “The Michael Eisner Story”

Brave did decent, but not “Pixar Juggernaut” box office. Meanwhile, I’m predicting Wreck-It Ralph turns out to be the biggest Feature Animation hit in almost 20 years ago. It has all the elements of the best Pixar films: A unique world. A touch of childhood nostalgia. Geek street cred. Strong voice casting. And that killer, killer idea that makes audiences want to see it, such as pairing a multi-Oscar winner with the star of Jungle 2 Jungle.

There’s a buzz around Wreck-It Ralph that was never there for Princess and the Frog (a return to hand-drawn animation!), Bolt (Miley Cyrus is — or possibly has — a dog!), or Meet the Robinsons (something vaguely goofy that kind of has to do with time travel and a genius family but it’s hard to talk about oh just go see it!). One has to go all the way back to the heady days of the early 90s, when Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and Lion King reacquainted audiences with the magic of Disney animation. Oh, and Rescuers Down Under. Mustn’t forget that.

Like any cyclical business, it was feast or famine. After the Katzenberg glory years, Disney started putting out things like Brother Bear, Home on the Range, and Chicken Little. All of which went on to become some of the most timeless classics ever watched by Roseanne Barr. That allowed Pixar to step in and steal the animation crown, along with Dreamworks, which somehow is well respected in spite of releasing both Shark Tale and Bee Movie.  It somehow seems wrong that after 80 years of making animated features, Disney Feature Animation owns only 5 of the top 40 highest grossing animated hits, and one of those is a live action movie starring Bob Hoskins. Only Lion King is in the top 10.

If Wreck-It Ralph can deliver the goods story-wise (and from everything I’m hearing, it does), then it’s a good indication that Disney Animation might be all the way back. Tangled was a very strong effort a couple of years ago, but Ralph has “breakthrough” stamped all over it. It’s the sort of movie Pixar used to make, before they got distracted with movies that were either all about marketing (Cars 2), or impossible to market (Brave). Those movies still did well at the box office, but not up the standards Pixar had set for itself.

If Ralph does blow people away, it opens up a whole new franchise of opportunities for the theme parks. Imagineering already has Marvel stuff ready to go. You just know they’re going to do the same with Star Wars (and of course Howard the Duck). But the world of video games may be the most untapped intellectual property in the theme park universe. And no, Toy Story Mania does not count.

For the first time in history, virtually the entire relevant theme park demographic has grown up with video games. There are still a few older park goers who didn’t, but families and their kids have never known a life without Mario and the rest. I’ve been saying for years that Legoland should have been licensing video game characters for their rides, to define themselves as the true “Toy Land” in the theme park lineup. Now Disney has a chance to do it for real.

Wreck-It Ralph is starting to make the usual “new release” appearances in theme parks. The merchandise is on the shelves. The “making of” displays are up in the Magic of Disney Animation. The character greeting area opened on Sunday. The first “inappropriate touching” lawsuits were filed on Monday.

Fix It Felix game at Hollywood Studios.

But there are signs that this could turn out to be more than just another Up or Wall-E. Those movies came and went with the same character meet-and-greets and art displays. Once the movie disappeared from theaters, so did all the park stuff. You might find an occasional Wall-E for sale at Mission Space, or Dug photo op, but there’s no real demand. Ralph can change all that.

I haven’t seen it myself, but apparently there are rows and rows of “Fix-It Felix” game cabinets dominating one floor of DisneyQuest. If any attraction could use some rejuvenation, it’s DQ. Can you imagine it re-themed as a true “Video Game Park,” with Ralph as its host? Imagine it stripped of its current disjointed levels, replaced with familiar themed environments from Mario Brothers and Zelda and Halo and Skyrim. Get rid of old polygon attractions like Virtual Jungle Cruise, or wildly irrelevant Mighty Duck pinball activities, and replace them with supercharged video game experiences. Why not a FPS (First Person Shooter) Lazer Tag arena themed to the classics of the genre? How about a Mario Kart (or Sugar Rush) go-kart track? Maybe even a life-sized, human-catapult Angry Birds experience?

I know I’ll be in line this weekend for Wreck-It Ralph, and I’m sure many of you will as well. With Carsland, Fantasyland, Lucasfilm, and the Avengers, Disney is already having an incredible year. I think Wreck-It Ralph may turn out to be the icing on the cake.

 

The Diamond in the Rough

One of my favorite topics is complaining about places at Walt Disney World that I’ve never been able to visit.  Ever since my post about the Catwalk Bar, I have been consumed with jealousy for people more privileged than myself.  I think it’s because when I was a young lad, I once begged for pennies outside the Gulf Coast Room, and was spit upon by more affluent parkeologists like Teevtee, whose parents would occasionally take him for a flambé feast before shunting him off to private boarding school in Vermont.

I snapped this candid photo of Teevtee at last year’s annual Parkeology gala, as he scrutinized my attire.  This was just before he and the golf pro got into that big fight over a game of bridge.

To recap, I never got to visit the Catwalk Bar above the Soundstage Restaurant at the Disney MGM Studios.  This is the same building that now houses Playhouse Disney.  Well, technically it now houses construction workers, who are busy installing Disney Junior, which is essentially the same thing as Playhouse Disney.  Much like Playhouse Disney, Disney Junior will not allow access to the Catwalk Bar, since preschoolers do not typically consume alcohol, unless their last name is Lohan.

I do not know why the Catwalk Bar should cause me such fascination.  It’s probably because I cling to the false hope that there are cats up there.  Big, fuzzy, cigar smoking cats enjoying a late afternoon martini before heading out to watch the “Calling Dick Tracy” show.  These sort of closed-door, long hidden areas are the cause of an unhealthy amount of fantasy on my part.  If only I had a time machine…
When I was younger, I could throw a football a quarter mile.  Then I got interested in theme parks.  Big mistake.

Let me share another little bit of history that I wish I had experienced.  You probably wish it too, as it is utterly juvenile and completely awesome.  Much like the Catwalk Bar, I cannot even find a picture of this thing.  But for a few months, shortly after DisneyQuest opened, it existed.  And then it was removed.  We here at Parkeology would never advocate physical violence, but we will not object if you find a lawyer and give her a dirty look.

DisneyQuest is a little heavy on Aladdin.  The genie acts as your host in the elevator on your rise to the top floor.  A painted cutout of the Cave of Wonders arches over the “Explore Zone” staircase.  The premier game used to be the Magic Carpet Virtual Reality thing (which has sadly been eclipsed by such wondrous entertainment diversions as my cellphone, Twilight novels, and waving a string at my cat).
But how many of you know there used to be an Aladdin ride?
In the future, we will all look like complete doofuses as we navigate polygonal worlds filled with four different types of texture.

It was a primitive thing on the top floor, right after you got out of the elevator.  It was named after the Cave of Wonders and it was a tube slide.  Literally, it was one of those things at the Boneyard or Honey I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure.  It probably had that same silly Cave of Wonders cutout over it.  It went from the top floor at DisneyQuest all the way down to the ground floor (home of the Virtual Jungle Cruise, which has sadly been surpassed by such wondrous entertainment devices as picking lint out of my cat’s belly button and making obvious Lindsay Lohan jokes).

Based on my experience with late-night DisneyQuest teenagers, I don’t think I would call any of them “diamonds in the rough.”

The slide lasted only a few months before some kid died a horrible bloody death, falling from 5 stories up, then getting accidentally mauled by sharks that had gotten loose.  Or maybe they just got a rug-burn on the landing.  Anyway, if you want to stick a pin in a voodoo doll of a lawyer, we will not say anything.

Or feed them to a living statue.  Remember when they had living statues at Italy in Epcot?  They were a big hit.  Never ate anybody though.

And I never got to ride the thing, which is the real crime, because I totally would have spent all my time doing that rather than trying to figure out Missile Command.  Is there anybody who is good at that game?  I mean seriously, I am just awful at it.  Pretty good at Burger Time though.

Sega released this video game 18 years ago.  It surpasses all major DisneyQuest attractions in accuracy, beauty, and playability.  It has also been known to give noogies to “Ride the Comix”.