Walt Disney's Magic Touches All of Us

Posts tagged ‘Animal Kingdom’

Reviewing Disney Reviewers

disney logosThe Disney company gets a tremendous amount of media coverage, much of it focused on financials and movie products.

As someone who cares more about products like animated movies and theme parks, I’m concerned that as the company continues to diversify, coverage of those topics will become diluted. I’ll expand on that, but first I want to talk about some recent coverage that inspired this post.

I still get most of my news from print media. In national papers like the NY Times, a typical mention of Disney is usually related to review of a movie, an acquisition or financial reporting. To my surprise, this week there were two NY Times articles related to Disney that were not about movies. One was on Disney Springs and the other was a cruise on the Disney Magic. It‘s interesting that while the subjects of the articles are focused on very different parts of the Disney World, I think there’s a common underlying point of view.

disney-springs logoThe Disney Springs piece which you can read here is part of the Times “52 Places to Go” series. There was a sincere attempt to be evenhanded by breaking down the article into highs and lows. I’ll leave you to form your own opinion of whether you agree with the reviewer. I definitely differ with the  characterization of Disney Springs as a 4th attempt at a shopping and dining area. It makes the previous versions sound like failures. Would it follow that the local mall that got a face-lift and brought in new stores was a failure after being around for decades? Redoing the underlying story of the area breathes new life into the large retail and dining area. The reviewer sounded somewhat disappointed that there were no costumed characters or attractions. If you have the option, I think there’s nothing wrong with some down time on a vacation, particularly a Disney vacation, when visitors are very much on the go.

The reviewer strays from discussing Disney Springs and, for some reason, comments on the difficulty and cost of getting into Animal Kingdom. It’s a little unclear, but it sounded like she paid $120 dollars and expected some kind of VIP treatment. All she wanted was to ride the most popular ride on the property right now, Flight of Passage, and eat a churro. Not being offered instantaneous access to either, she gave up. Strange that a travel reviewer had done no research to insure that she would be able to get the story she wanted to write.

Then there’s a section spent on a hotel near Disney Springs. Seems she failed to make a reservation and was unable to get a room at either the Poly or AKL. So, rather than find a room at another Disney resort, she gives us a review of, what I’m sure is a very nice hotel near Disney Springs. Not sure what that has to do with Disney Springs itself. The excuse was that the three days at “Disney” were being used to also plan for a more complicated trip to South America. I would have said, then don’t present the article as a review. There’s a difference between a visit someplace and a stopover.

This is being written by someone who has traveled to 52, sometimes very exotic, places around the world, and she thought it wouldn’t be an issue to show up to one of the premier vacation spots in the world and find a room available in a premium resort hotel. Perhaps she was trying to show us how not to get the most out of any part of a Disney theme park vacation.

The other sections include statements from one guest, that since there’s alcohol being served dancing, and the Edison is adults only after 10pm, then the area is only for adults. Nothing like taking one point of view and using as a blanket for all opinions. The reviewer adds that what she thinks makes a trip to Disney Springs worthwhile, is not restaurants, shopping or entertainment, but the adult energy. She doubles down on this idea by saying that Disney World is for two kinds of people, annual pass holders who come in groups to drink and be merry and families who have been planning their trip for months, even years. How did Disney Springs become all of Disney World?

She finishes up the review by stating that her best food experience in the area was a food truck somewhere outside of Disney Springs. No mention of her food experiences in Disney Springs, other than dropping names of chef’s who have restaurants there. I guess she couldn’t get in without a reservation.

The reviewer, who up front said she didn’t like Disney Springs, is the kind of diluted coverage I alluded to at the top of this piece. It would have been fine to do a review of the new Disney Springs. Many people have done it already. But, by trying to make it about “Disney” the reviewer has oversimplified what a Walt Disney World vacation is about for many people. Disney Springs is a part of the overall Disney World resort. But, as I said in Disney Banks on Broadway, Disney is  trying to make money.  Keeping people in the vicinity of the resort means they capture more vacation dollars. Disney Springs was designed by Imagineers in the same way they design the parks themselves. But it was designed as a shopping and eating destination, not as a theme park. No one should confuse one with the other.

The second review of a cruise on the Disney Magic, uses “stressful” in the title and statesDisneyMagic at Port that it was written by a “cruise skeptic”. That’s like having a vegan review a steak house. Expectations are already low. And they don’t get any higher when he feels his worst fears are borne out when he finds the ice cream machine empty before the ship leaves the dock. Sure, that’s not something that should go in the plus column, but, it hardly seems like a harbinger of doom. He seems to have been forced on the cruised by bad weather where he lives and his Disney “obsessed” daughter. That seems like a tough word to use for a 5 ½ year old. Most children that age are preoccupied by something. I’m sure that had they not gone, his daughter would have continued to enjoy Disney and not gone into a deep depression. Children are often more resilient than adults.

While his “worst” fears, he says, were realized, his daughter proclaimed it her best trip ever. Part of his problems seem to stem, like the previous review, from a lack of planning and understanding of what things might cost. For example, he did schedule a visit to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. But the appointment time was right before they went to Castaway Cay. So, he felt the money was wasted because the girl had to take everything off to enjoy the water. That doesn’t seem like a Disney created situation. Another crisis arose when he had not done enough research to find that a pirate costume party would be thrown. Instead of finding something thrifty at a local party store or making something, he moaned about having to shell out big bucks for something bought on board.

I don’t care who’s cruise company it is. Everything’s more expensive once you are a captive audience. Disney is just adhering to well practiced supply and demand, free market economics. The comments about every activity ending with an upsell, is no different on any type of resort vacation. We’ve gone to reasonably priced Club Meds where photos taken during the day are prominently displayed near the dining rooms each night. Disney may have invented or perfected the gift shop at the end of the ride. But, every, I mean every spa in the world offers the products they use on you for sale as you pay. Nothing specific Disney here.

Later in the review he admits that he likes some parts “Disney” , but is “unnerved” by the company’s ubiquity. Like the previous article, this reviewer strays from the vacation he’s supposed to be reviewing to comment on the Disney as a company. Perhaps he should have done a financial piece. There is some detail given for each day including short reviews of restaurants and ports of call. Finally, at the end of the cruise, it seems he was finally enjoying himself.

I believe everyone is entitled to their opinion. I don’t agree with all reviewers on any topic. I enjoy a good debate. Even if I convince someone to come around to my point of view, I’ve usually learned something from them. But, you can’t convince me if you’re all over the place with your arguments.

My problem with both of these pieces is not that they didn’t enjoy their Disney experience. But, in the final analysis, both pieces didn’t stick to the topic they were supposed to be reviewing. Part of their problem, I think, is that they look at their topics through a wide angle lens that includes everything in the Disney universe. I think that makes it difficult for them to make a case for or against either experience.

Spaceship Earth Death StarI encounter many people who have the same reaction to anything Disney. I’m concerned Disney is playing into the hands of people like these reviewers. For decades, Disney has been the gold standard for entertainment products. But, the more they gobble up, they more they run the risk of having Spaceship Earth look like the Death Star to some with Disney as the evil empire. Success can bring out the competitive nature in people. Everyone would like to be number one. But, once you’re there everyone is either trying to take it away or fault you for everything with which you’re associated.



Should Disney Have Opened Pandora’s Box?

pandora announcementI get excited about new things Disney will bring to the theme parks. But, I was both confused and troubled by the 2011 Avatar announcement. Universal Studios had just opened The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which had become an immediate success. It looked like the Disney Company was feeling the heat in a way that had not happened in the history of their prized theme park franchise, which contributes a significant amount to the corporate bottom line. The country was still coming out of the recession/depression, which, I’m guessing, didn’t help Disney World attendance. So, rather than simply accept loss of market share in the Florida area, Disney was going to put up a fight to maintain its position as the world’s pre-eminent purveyor of theme park entertainment. But, the longer Harry Potter remained strong, without a new wow Disney experience, the more likely that more theme park dollars would go to Universal. Thus, time to market was going to make it hard to find something organically Disney which would get the public’s attention.

As first movie to earn more than $2B worldwide the Avatar had sold a ton of movie tickets. Director/Producer Cameron had already announced sequels were already in the works. Disney may have seen this as an opportunity to build on an already successful franchise while they were building the new park area. Looking in the post-LucasArts acquisition, rearview mirror since, Disney may have even tried to buy Avatar, before settling on a partnership with Cameron. I must admit; I was not all that excited about the prospects of having Imagineers working on a product that didn’t come from somewhere inside the world of Disney. Yes, they did acquire The Jim Henson Company and create the very popular Muppet*Vision 3d. But the Muppets were more about a collection of wonderful characters that Disney could use in a variety of ways. The movie Avatar was more than just interesting characters; it was a wholly imagined world. In the meantime, the expected Avatar sequel or sequels have been delayed numerous times, including most recently in March of 2017.

Walt-in-Jungle-2-Placing Pandora inside Animal Kingdom seemed like a workable idea. I’ve been doing some planning for a trip to Disneyland this summer, and realized that I had never been on the Jungle Cruise there. Originally, Walt had wanted to populate the attraction with real animals. But, at the time, it just wasn’t possible, so, Animatronics were used instead. In a way, Joe Rhode’s Animal Kingdom fulfilled one of Walt’s dreams — to give guests an opportunity to come face to face with the wild kingdom, which Walt had once quipped were “some of the most fascinating people I ever met. . “

joe rohde

Imagineer Joe Rohde

Disney’s Animal Kingdom was never meant to be about Disney films or characters. Rhode wanted to offer guests an immersive “edutainment” experience in a faraway land, filled with adventure, mystery and mystique. Uncle Walt would have been completely behind all those ideas. And, his often quoted belief that Disneyland would always be changing has been taken to another level through the creation of a living theme park, where the animals are unscripted and unpredictable. How many of you have been on the Safari and had to wait while an unhurried rhino or other tenant blocked your truck? And, while it has seen a reduced presence, Animal Kingdom was meant to help raise environmental awareness.

Now, after 6 years of work, Disney, with marketing hoopla commensurate with the effort, is about to unveil Pandora – The World of Avatar. And, while I still think it was an

Pandora-Commericial-600x338odd and unexpected direction for Disney to take, my initial negativity toward the addition has been tempered by putting Pandora into the Animal Kingdom context. I recently re-watched Avatar, and without a doubt, Pandora is very far away and very alien to us. It delivers a movie experience filled with adventure, mystery and magic. We’re being told that guests will enter this strange world and encounter much of the environment in an interactive way. I experienced the Imagineers’ immersive approach long before the area was completed when I went through the Pandora exhibit at the 2015 D23 Expo. The Cast Members were presented as employees of Alpha Centauri Expeditions, a company organizing tours to the planet. There was a salesy video commercial of what would be included in the trip and then we got to view a detailed model and other items we would see there. In typical Imagineer fashion, Pandora Cast Member name Itags, will include, not just origin city and state, but “Earth”, as well.


I think some of the central themes of the movie are exactly in line with the themes and messages conveyed during a visit to Animal Kingdom. Avatar presents a world and its people that are in tune and interdependent. The respect for one another that the inhabitants demonstrate on Pandora is the same as the edutainment messages we get from It’s Tough to be a Bug and Kali River Rapids as well as reminding us of majesty of nature and the connection between animals and humans in the Rivers of Light show. By allowing guests to get closer to the animals in their natural habitat than most Zoos, Disney gives us the opportunity to get to know creatures with which we share the Earth. They don’t remain obscure images, but take on reality after which most people can no longer resist the temptation to want to insure their survival.

Once past the entrance gate of Animal Kingdom, we are immediately immersed in the1024px-AnimalKingdomEntrance greenness of the Park and all the traditional park trappings maintain the sense of being in a place for away geographically, culturally and societally. Aside from the basic plot, Much of the Avatar movie is spent, in great science fiction fashion, world building. We learn about the native Navi’s religion, family structure, myths, government as well as the world’s rules which maintain harmony within Pandora’s circle of life. The movie stresses what can happen when the balance of nature is upset and how nature will fight to maintain that equilibrium. Animal Kingdom guests can get a look at how the animals are cared for, explore Conservation Station, animal encounters and other interactive, educational areas to learn more. Riding Expedition Everest offers a cautionary tale of the dangers that lurk in unexplored parts of any world.

So, a match that, at first glance, did not seem to make sense, looks different when evaluated against the backdrop of what Animal Kingdom represents. Being transported to Pandora is no different than climbing Everest, going underground with bugs, crossing an African reserve or stopping off at a 1950’s roadside attraction created by an dinosaur bone dig. Walt not only loved natural beauty, but by almost single handedly creating the wildlife documentary format in True Life Adventures, he showed his respect and admiration for our beast, bird and fish neighbors. I’m not sure when I’m going to get there to see Pandora for myself. In the meantime, I’m trying to avoid all the Fan generated video and “reviews” so I can experience it without spoilers or other people’s ideas in my head. I not only expect to be amazed, thrilled and entertained, but reminded that it’s up to us to care for the fragile, little planet Earth that we call home.


Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: