40 Months

I can’t understand the negativity surrounding this ride.

From one Disney Fan forum to another, across the entire Internet, comments similar to the one above are being made regarding the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Ride at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.

Let me take a moment to explain, in a nutshell, where this general negativity mostly stems from.

For starters Disneyland originally took up 80 acres, not including the parking lot. From the groundbreaking (July 21, 1954) to the Grand Opening (July 17, 1955) was less than a year. The park opened with 18 attractions and cost $17 million.

By comparison, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was officially announced January 18, 2011. At the conclusion of the recent three day press event it was revealed that the ride’s Grand Opening would be May 28, 2014. For those keeping count that’s just over 3 years and 4 months (40 months total) for a single attraction. A single attraction that is measured in square feet – not acreage – and has an as of yet unknown price tag; but is likely well within the seven-digit range.

As an aside, for many fans it really took Disney twenty years to replace the previous bona-fide E-Ticket attraction (20K Leagues, which was permanently closed in 1994) with a ride that most people are referring to as a D+ attraction (not quite good enough to be considered an E-Ticket).

I’m going to go ahead and assume that the people [trolls] making the type of comment I’ve paraphrased above have no real agenda other than adding a modicum of drama to their otherwise dull existence. Or they live in a bubble.

These same people will go on to argue that, “Disneyland didn’t have a single ride that was half as complex as Mine Train.

This is an ignorant comment because complexity is always based on any one individual’s point of perspective. To a kindergartner basic algebra is immeasurably complex while a high school student simply finds algebra challenging. Chances are pretty good that an accountant or a mechanical engineer would describe algebra as relatively simple.

I do suppose, compared to what we’re able to do today, those 54 year old attractions seem somewhat simplistic.

However, what people need to understand is that in 1955 those tasked with creating Disneyland had to build everything without computer-aided drafting programs, the internet, quick-set concrete, pneumatic powered tools, and a whole slew of other modern advancements we take for granted. On top of that, very few people on Walt’s pilot team knew anything about building theme parks – they were all animators, storytellers and special effects artists.

Now, Walt did originally plan on hiring professional architects… but after a few preliminary meetings he concluded that the people who could best design Disneyland were members of his own staff.

If you’re a cartoonist and your boss asks you to design a theme park from the ground up… I bet you’d think that was fairly complex. In fact, your first question might have been, “What’s a theme park?

Numerable books, articles, and essays have been written documenting the fact that Walt’s team had little to no experience in what they were being asked to accomplish. Here are just a few notable members of Walt’s original team:

Herb Ryman – Storyboard Illustrator, Art major.

Bill Cottrell – Animator, English and Journalism major.

Marc Davis – Animator, Fine Arts major.

Alice Davis – Former undergarment designer for Beverly Vogue & Lingerie.

Sam McKim – Child Actor and Movie Extra, Art Major.

Dick Irvine – Former 20th Century Fox Art Director, Art major.

Roger Broggie was a special effects artist with only vocational machine shop training. Because of his interest in 1/8 scale model trains he became the mechanical engineer responsible for building the Disneyland Railroad.

Ken Anderson was an animator and art director for 44 years… but he did study Architecture at the University of Washington. Knowing this, Walt put Ken in charge of designing Peter Pan’s Flight, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, and Storybook Land (among others).

One of my absolute favorites is Joe Fowler – a former rear admiral in the US Navy (retired). Joe was hired while Walt was looking for someone with any working knowledge of paddle steamers. He ended up becoming the construction boss over the entire Disneyland project; then Joe stayed on as theme park general manager for 10 years.

Read that again. Slowly. Former US Navy Rear Admiral becomes the General Manager of the “Happiest Place on Earth” with zero theme park experience.

Bob Gurr was hired specifically to design the Autopia vehicles and was later retained by Disney because of how valuable his design and engineering skills were. Bob went on to design just about every single vehicle at Disneyland and Walt Disney World – including even the parking lot trams!

Some people will point to the fact that it was easier to build Disneyland because it was previously just an open field (orange grove, really) and that the Mine Ride needed to be built in the middle of the most popular theme park on earth!

For as impressive as building a brand new ride in the middle of an operating theme park is… it’s not like this was the first time. Disneyland 1959 comes to mind. Three major attractions built in the middle of an operating theme park. Construction began in the summer of 1958 and was finished by June 14, 1959. One of those three rides just happened to be the world’s very first tubular steel roller coaster; and it also happened to be in the shape of an immediately identifiable mountain.

Lastly, much of the negativity comes from the perceived notion that New Fantasyland was supposed to be Disney’s answer to Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Universal began construction in January 2008 and their Harry Potter themed land was open to the public June 18, 2010 (29 months later).

New Fantasyland was announced September 12, 2009 and construction permits were filed on February 22, 2010. The first major visible milestone wasn’t reached until April 2010 when the large faux tree (formerly located in Pooh’s Playful Spot) was moved in front of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh dark ride.

From February 2010 to May 2014 is four years and three months (52 months total).

In December 2011, Universal Studios confirmed that they were working on a Wizarding World expansion. Construction walls went up around the former Jaws / Amity backlot area on January 3, 2012 and by summer the entire area had been flattened. Support construction could be witnessed as early as July 2012. The Diagon Alley expansion is scheduled to open mid-June, 2014.

Again, from demolition of existing infrastructure to opening day will have been about 29 months.

Keep in mind, during this time Universal also built out the Simpsons area and added the new Transformers and Despicable Me rides. Of those three, Transformers uses exciting new technology (blending 3D film with animatronics and state-of-the-art environmental effects), has received rave reviews, and certainly ranks among theme park guests as an “E-Ticket” attraction. It alone was built in 11 months.

At this point many of you must be saying to yourselves, “Disney had to have done something else during their 52 month construction timeline!

Yes, they did. They shortened the Country Bear Jamboree, built infrastructure for the billion-dollar NextGen initiatives, placated bored and irritated guests who were standing in 150 minute lines by adding some interactive queue elements, repainted every single building up-and-down Main Street USA (twice?), removed a beloved bakery and replaced it with a Starbucks, and (ending on a high-note) undid the Eisner-era travesty that was The Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management.

If you’d prefer I include the significant additions across the entire Florida property Disney also replaced “Honey I Shrunk the Audience” (a 16-year old attraction) with Captain E-O (a 24-year old attraction) and introduced the Wild Africa Trek $150 add-on experience at Animal Kingdom. Disney also updated the Star Tours film, ride technology, and queue.

For those wondering… THAT is where all the negativity is coming from. In short: Universal has built two major expansions and added various other attractions in the time it has taken Disney to build one.

The comparisons are certainly mounting and people are beginning to look less favorably on the Central-Florida juggernaut that Walt built.

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