December 30, 2013

Red Pill, Blue Pill: Disney Parks Edition

I had good intentions- really I did! Planning to write a post "Ten Reasons I Love Disney Parks", my mind started to fill with what I find absolutely great about them. But as with most interesting stories, this writer's thoughts turned dark and foreboding. Sort of like walking into the gardens of that beautiful mansion in Disneyland's New Orleans Square, and discovering once you're inside the house, its a bit creepy, and it's too late to turn back.

Rabid park fans like me tend to fall into two camps: Those who can't see much good in what's happening now but love "the Good Old Days" when Walt himself was alive (founders of the Disneyland Historical Preservation Society), and those fans who seem to relish everything Disney Imagineering does today but have  little regard for the history and richness of the past. Sure, there is a fairly rare middle ground, but truth be told, both sides make compelling cases.

In the spirit of the modern movie classic The Matrix, let's consider our options as we look around the Disney World: Are we more red pill folks- where there's a harsh darkly realistic  underbelly to the current situation? Or do we take the blue pill as we look at Disney parks- where everything is hunky dory? 

Red Pill considerations:
  1. Yes, California Adventure is mostly looking pretty terrific these days. Yet beyond that incredible transformation, there are still areas of the park in dire need. Let's not forget Paradise Pier still has too many carny rides and large empty spaces; Hollywoodland is still a backlot; and the transitions between regions in the park are abrupt, ugly, and out of place. For the gorgeous transition into Cars Land from the Wharf, there's still the unfortunate mess into Cars Land from Bug's Land
  2. Disneyland looks tired. Tomorrowland is a mess- and there's no amount of Star Wars theming that will it cohesive, make it sparkle and shine with a common vision. It will remain a mixed bag until the slate is wiped clean. This includes removing the track remnants of my beloved PeopleMover, demolishing buildings and creating something fully fresh.  How can you successfully tie together Buzz Lightyear, Nemo, and Darth Vader? That is just the right side of the park. Problems also are apparent on other parcels as well. Big Thunder Ranch? A waste of the property in a small theme park. Alice in Wonderland? How about Alice in scaffolding land? Unused Motor Boat Cruise space. Goodbye to Carnation Plaza Gardens and the Market House. Traffic jams in space-locked Adventureland. An out of place Aladdin meet and greet where the Tahitian Terrace once stood. That's just the West Coast.
  3. As we move East, things look worse. Much worse, red pill-ers. Empty promises were delivered to the Magic Kingdom when  New Fantasyland arrived half complete. Granted, I have not seen it myself, but I have seen  Ariel's Adventures on the West Coast. A nice D ticket but certainly not an adequate response to the Boy Wizard next door. Disguising queues, restaurants, meet and greets, and restrooms as attractions. Really!? And why did it take some stiff competition from Universal to up the ante anyway? Regardless, the land is filled with eye candy but little real substance. Adventureland is a thematic mess. The older, poorly maintained attractions (like Carousel of Progress) and the newer Stitch/Monsters mess makes this Tomorrowland a  beautiful looking disaster. Mixed bag at this Magic Kingdom at best.
  4. Epcot- What can I say? The longest list of neglected attractions in one half of this enormous place (Energy and the soon to be closed Imagination) and newer botched "enhancements" hit too close to home. Character invasions replace culturally engaging attractions. (Looking at you, Gran Fiesta Tour!) Future World isn't, and World Showcase is so overdue for new countries and attractions, it's now just a pathetic excuse to make money off the hoards of hard partying masses that descend upon the Wine Festival. The most recent- and the most effective- additions are restaurants. What does that say? Enough already.
  5. Disney's Hollywood Studios continues to underwhelm. The attraction roster is either incredible (the original and best version of Twilight Zone Tower of Terror) or dismal (a once glorious but now outdated and falling apart Great Movie Ride). There's not much in between the whole family can enjoy save for some mediocre and tired shows and an incredibly crowded Toy Story Mania.
  6. Disney's Animal Kingdom- Honestly, it's painful to even go here. It was once a crowning jewel in Florida with potential that outpaced all the other parks. Now, its the world of overpriced restaurants (Yak & Yeti), few attractions, and broken effects on those that do exist. Even the exquisite Tree of Life is falling apart, limb by limb. Disney may say its "Natazu" but when the non animal exhibits are left to rot, that's all that's left. 
  7. My Magic Plus. Data mining at an evil park goers should avoid. Who wants to pre-plan an entire vacation at an estimated 2 Billion Dollar price tag- and at the expense of new attractions?

Blue Pill considerations:

  1. Cars Land aside, Disney proves it can still be the best of the industry. Hong Kong Disneyland's Mystic Manor is a case in point. Original, innovative, and whimsically engaging, this Asian exclusive may be among the best attractions Imagineering has ever created.
  2. Disney Dreams Paris and World of Color- The same descriptions used above could also apply to the nighttime shows. I've seen these first hand, and the crowd response was phenomenal. Fully justified. 
  3. Tokyo Disney Sea is still the cream of the crop. Sure, the character invasion has started to temper the World Showcase meets Magic Kingdom themed park, but there's a reason that ten years later and counting, Disney park fans all over the world consider this the crowning jewel of Imagineering's work.
  4. Disney Cruise Line. Excellence from bow to stern.
  5. Promising a bright future, The Walt Disney Company insists that planned additions themed to Star Wars and Avatar will propel the company ahead of its competition for years to come. Will reality match the sales pitch? Hard to say, but perhaps the suits have learned from the less than stellar response to the New Fantasyland
You've seen the evidence and probably have data to add of your own. Which pill do you swallow and why?

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