April 28, 2014

Real Imagination Leads the Way in Transforming Walt Disney World

The recent announcement of Imagineering's Tom Fitzgerald and Scott Trowbridge and their roles as primary creative oversight of, respectively, Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios pending Star Wars expansion, left some fans scratching their heads. 

It left some hopeful that Epcot would once again find its way but that may be a pipe dream. It left others excited that the Star Wars universe would actually find its way into a park that needs an infusion of life and excitement. Especially on the eve of its 25th Anniversary, the once promising Disney-MGM Studios needs something to bring it to its potential. (And please do come back to this blog on May 1 for a detailed history of the park. It's filled with my vintage photos from being there May 1989, tons of concept art, trips reports, and insights.) 

Scott Trowbridge could be the perfect man for the job. His work with Universal's at times stunning Islands of Adventure, includes of one the best theme park attractions ever built: The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman. One journey with Spidey tells you this guy knows what he's doing. Given the rich legacy and potentially terrific future with the Star Wars stories, Scott could bring a brand new impetus for guests to plan a flu day of first class Disney magic at the Studios. Will it be the infamous (Harry) "Potter Swatter" the Disney suits are hoping to find? Time, budget, and artistic freedom will determine how the story plays out. 

On the other end of the spectrum, placing Tom Fitzgerald into the role of determining the creative direction of Epcot is just foolish at best and a smokescreen at worst. The man is more known for being an Audio-Animatronic inspiration in Horizons than for designing anything guests and park fans run to when the gates open at any Disney park. Any park. Go ahead, name one groundbreaking attraction, one must-see fan favorite that the man designed. If his placement is a reward for playing the political game well, so be it. But Epcot and its guests will be all the worse for it. 

What will it take to transform Walt Disney World into a place where the suits are not content just living on its legacy and successful advertising? True imagination and real gumption for the executives to invest in it. They must see it as the premier property they claim it to be. Will Avatarland  / Pandora do it for Animal Kingdom? No, but it is a beginning. The same can be said for New Fantasyland and the Magic Kingdom. (In the same way, the beautiful Cars Land is a great first act for a drastically reinvented California Adventure but not the end all, be all.) 

Has Robert Iger put the right team in place to revitalize Walt Disney World or is this just a savvy move to inspire investors while rewarding blind loyalty? It's probably some of both, but 2016 is not too far away. Change may come with the next leader. Let's hope, though, that real change begins with these first steps.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

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