The Farce Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released on Blu-Ray and DVD today. Naturally, I stopped by my local Target to pick up a copy for myself.

Immediately upon entering Target you are assured that THIS is the place to scratch your Star Wars itch. If a product even bears passing resemblance to something (anything!) in the Star Wars Universe it has received a Force Awakens treatment. For example, Target will happily sell you C3PO coffee creamer and BB8 oranges.

Nevermind that, after this particular orange has been removed from its clever packaging (BB8 is cute, round, and orange… just like an orange!) it’s just an ordinary piece of citrus fruit. Unless you plan to drag that netted bag around with you – proudly displaying your on-trend styles – what you’ve got is an everyday, run of the mill, coated with food-grade lac-resin based wax, naval orange. Just like all those poor schlubs who bought the unhip non-licensed fruit.

On that note I will segue into the real topic of today’s blog entry.

Target is currently offering two versions of the Force Awakens Blu-Ray.

The model on the left will set you back twenty dollars; while the option on the right sells for $25. The difference? The packaging.

In truth, in addition to this “exclusive collectible package” Target’s version of the Blu-Ray claims to have “Over twenty minutes of bonus content”… which was already available on the [free] Star Wars mobile phone app. If these interviews and making-of featurettes aren’t already all over YouTube – be patient – they will be (likely before you can rush home and watch/re-watch this summer’s biggest blockbuster with your ultra-chic BB8 orange at your side).

By all means, feel free to spend an extra $5 on 20 minutes of video you weren’t going to watch anyway. When comparing the price-per-minute seeing the entire movie opening day in IMAX 3D cost less but don’t let that stop you.

And I’m totally sure you had HUGE plans for that exclusive collectible package – like, you were going to have it framed (behind archival UV-resistant glass) so you could properly show it off. There’s no way you were going to shove that box to the back of your entertainment center or let it gather dust on a media tower. Who even has those anymore, anyway?! Um, 1992 called and it wants its nestable disc organizer back. No, you’re hip and forward thinking. You plan on downloading the movie to your networked media server and safely storing (ie: shoving in a box under the stairs) the physical disc as a back-up in the unlikely event your entertainment drive would fail.

Either way – let’s face it – you’re never looking at that Blu-Ray clamshell ever again.

And I take particular offense with Target’s desperate use of the word collectible. These Blu-Rays are just about as collectible as the glut of comic books released during mid-90s. When everyone owns something the perceived value falls – because you can obtain another one literally anywhere. If these discs were numbered and limited to a very small print run (like Disney’s Treasures DVD sets) that would be one thing, but they’re not; making Target’s “exclusive” package the equivalent of DC’s Death of Superman. Worthless.

Target’s not the only retailer offering “exclusive” versions of this highly anticipated Blu-Ray. Best Buy, Walmart, and Disney all have their own over-priced versions… but Target is the only retailer offering extra content on the disc (the aforementioned 20 minutes).

Please, don’t let the hype fool you into paying extra for worthless extras.

Chronological Star Wars Canon

As you may (or may not) know, shortly after the purchase of Star Wars, Disney and JJ Abrams made the landmark decision that everything that existed outside of George Lucas’ six movies – something referred to as the “Expanded Universe” – was no longer canon. This meant that literally decades of stories were wiped clean; freeing JJ Abrams to tell his story without the burden of continuity errors sure to be brought up by nerds not unlike myself.

Naturally, this enraged quite a few people… but not me. My opinion was that the vast majority of the Expanded Universe was pretty awful. The one rare gem is Timothy Zahn’s excellent “Heir to the Empire” trilogy (colloquially known as the Thrawn trilogy). Zahn basically knocks it out of the park – proven by the fact that most Expanded Universe stories reference characters and events in this series as canon.

Well, not anymore!

Disney was quick to fill this void with new “officially in-canon” stories – and I’ve listed the major entries below. Enjoy.

Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Episode II: Attack of the Clones
The Clone Wars (ABC TV)
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Lords of the Sith by Paul S Kemp
Tarkin by James Luceno
A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller
Star Wars Rebels (DisneyXD)
Rogue One
Episode IV: A new Hope
Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne
Battlefront: Twilight Company by Alexander Freed
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
Battlefront (PS4)
Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
Bloodline by Claudia Gray
Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Armchair Imagineering: Hollywood Studios Edition

As of this last Saturday you are no longer able to ride the Backlot Tour at Disney Hollywood Studios theme park in Orlando – as it has now officially closed and is certainly slated for demolition.

When the Disney/MGM Studios opened on May 1, 1989 the Backlot Tour was an expansive two-hour behind-the-scenes excursion through multiple sets, prop and wardrobe warehouses, special effects workshops, soundstages and more. Over the years it has been reduced to a tram ride past rotting props, the park’s former icon (the Earful Tower), and a trip through Catastrophe Canyon.

Frankly, I’m glad to see it go.

The theme park stopped pretending to be a real working studio many years ago and has since transformed itself into the mish-mashed disaster we know and “love” today.

MGM

Here we see an aerial view of the park (found on Google Maps). It looks like an impressive amount of space… but not very much is actually used for the theme park.

The park was originally conceived and intended as a really-for-real movie and television studio that just happened to also be a theme park. Most of the buildings you see are [were] actual sound stages used for creating actual filmed entertainment. Newsies was filmed on location before the park even opened. The New Mickey Mouse ClubThunder in ParadiseLet’s Make a DealWheel of Fortune, and portions of Passenger 57 were all filmed on site. Additionally, some feature length cartoons were animated on-site in the now defunct animation building (most notably Mulan and Lilo & Stitch). If you’ve seen the humorous “How Did We Make Frozen” musical feature on the Frozen Blu-ray you’ve seen the inside of the Team Disney Orlando Feature Animation Building.

In this picture I have indicated (in red) some of the larger off-limit backstage areas. Please note the size difference between the Backstage Tour (purple) and the park’s actual backstage areas.

MGM2

There’s actually quite a bit of real estate back there currently occupied by ghosts of this theme park’s past (currently used as storage and offices for theme park middle-management types).

What if, by some small miracle, Bob Iger gave the green light to reclaim not only the Backstage Tour but also the really-for-real backstage areas. That sheer expanse of land might look something like this:

MGM3

Still with me?

Well, you may want to sit down because I’m about to propose something close to heresy. Disney dissent. An unorthodox plan sure to ruffle many feathers. On par with what happened over at California Adventure: a near-complete park overhaul.

It begins with saying a (fond?) farewell to Lights, Motors, Action

(I’ll take a moment to allow some of my Disney purists to regain their composure)

…and then moves swiftly into razing the never-truly-realized and somewhat-out-of-place Muppet area.

MGM4

Naturally, this means the New York and San Francisco facades would also go; after all, they were originally part of the Backstage Tour. Other than being home to the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights what other purpose does this area serve?

I understand that this [garish and ostentatious] Holiday spectacle is very likely Hollywood Studios most popular and most lucrative events but, surely, if need be, Disney could find another spot for all those twinkling lights. At one time – obviously before its demolition – there were plans to light all the home facades along residential street.

Besides, over the last eight years Disney has acquired properties (namely Pixar, Marvel and StarWars) that aren’t truly being leveraged in Orlando. If done right (i.e.: following in the quality steps of Disney California Adventure’s makeover) those three resources must be more valuable than two blocks of fake buildings strung with 10 miles of Christmas Lights.

MGM_NewLands

I imagine the image above is probably what you’re visualizing.

The new Star Wars land begins at the current Star Tours show building… the Pixar expansion stretches out from behind Toy Story Midway Mania and Pixar Place… and somewhere, sandwiched between the two, is a half-hearted Marvel area.

Disney can’t do much with Marvel anyway, right? I mean, Universal Studios already owns the theme park rights to ALL the good characters – plus they have some sort of 250-mile rule regarding the use of those characters (and Orlando is well within those 250 miles).

And that’s all true – and that’s also, I believe, exactly why Disney has been dipping deep into the back catalogue of Marvel characters and stories.

At the writing of this blog entry Disney has just banked $645 million of Guardians of the Galaxy. They have Big Hero 6 coming out this Christmas and AntMan coming shortly thereafter.

It is my opinion that Disney is preparing content to fill a theme park land.

Imagine walking through the Pixar Place expansion. An Incredibles attraction flows seamlessly into the Big Hero 6 attraction in the Marvel area. At the other end the Guardians  attractions blends nicely with the Star Wars area.

Exciting stuff, right?  …but what about the Muppets?

I actually do have a plan for them as well. Stay tuned! My next blog entry will detail my ideas for that valuable acquisition’s possible new home as well as expanded details on potential attractions for Hollywood Studios makeover.

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.

A Brief History of Disney’s Frozen

Now that Frozen has become the top grossing animated film of all time it may be hard to believe that this box office juggernaut was plagued with problems, and trapped in development hell, dating all the way back to World War II.

It’s true. Disney’s animation department always saw great cinematic possibilities with the source material, but Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen proved to be quite problematic.

The story begins sometime in 1943 when Walt Disney and Samuel Goldwyn met to discuss the possibility of collaborating to produce a biography film of author and poet Hans Christian Andersen. The original idea was that MGM’s studio would shoot live-action sequences of Andersen’s life and Disney would create animated sequences of Andersen’s stories (including The Little Mermaid, The Little Match Girl, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Thumbelina, The Ugly Duckling, The Red Shoes, The Emperor’s New Clothes and The Snow Queen).

Right away Walt’s team of storytellers and animators encountered difficulty with many of Andersen’s stories but, for the sake of this blog entry, most notably The Snow Queen. Simply put, they couldn’t find a way to make modern audiences relate to the Snow Queen’s character. This, among other things, eventually led to the cancellation of the Disney-Goldwyn project.

Interestingly, MGM did go on to produce its very own live-action film in 1952 starring Danny Kaye in the titular role. The film was extremely successful; receiving six Academy Award nominations the following year. Meanwhile, back at the Disney Studios, development work on all of the Andersen fairy tales, was suspended.

The Snow Queen – a concept sketch by Marc Davis.

After the smash success of The Little Mermaid in 1989 Walt Disney Feature Animation reassumed work on their adaptation of The Snow Queen but, shortly after Glen Keane quit the project in 2002, the project was completely scrapped. Apparently, at some point Michael Eisner even offered his “support” to the project – suggesting that The Snow Queen should be handed off to Pixar Animation Studios (which may very well be the reason Keane threw in the towel).

The next attempt started in September 2008, after Chris Buck pitched The Snow Queen to John Lasseter (who by then had become Chief Creative Officer of Disney Animation); ironically, a story Lasseter had been extremely interested in pursuing as far back as the early 1990s when Pixar was working with Disney on Toy Story. John has since commented that he was “blown away” by some of Disney’s prior attempts at preproduction art (some of which are on display in this blog).

Development began immediately for a traditionally animated film under the new working title Anna and the Snow Queen. Anna’s name was added to the title because one of the major hurdles that Disney faced was that their main character, who happened to also be the title of the movie, was the villain!

Think about it: never before had Disney created a feature-length animated movie where the antagonist was the centerpiece of the film. Snow White, Cinderella, Hercules, Tarzan, Aladdin, even the Hunchback are all heroes and heroines. No villains in any title role and they weren’t about to start.

It didn’t matter. This small change in the film’s name had nearly no effect on the writing team.

By early 2010 the project entered development hell once again. With the success of Tangled Disney’s marketing team – concerned that an emphasis on the word “Queen” would have discouraged young boys from seeing the film – believed the best way to capture a wide audience was with another single-word title. At their advice, the movie’s name was changed to Frozen; but the writers were still stumped on how to make people care about Snow Queen’s character. The story they had developed was fun and light-hearted… but the Queen’s character just didn’t resonate. She wasn’t multi-faceted and test audiences were never really able to connect.

Using test-audience feedback, the production team drafting several different variations on The Snow Queen until the character and story felt relevant. At that stage, the first major breakthrough was the decision to rewrite Anna (the protagonist) as the younger sibling of Elsa. This one simple change established a family dynamic between the characters and changed the entire course of the film.

Regardless of the many changes throughout the story I find it striking how much the Snow Queen’s character design remained mostly consistent throughout the years. Marc Davis’ drawing (displayed at the top of this article) originally served as the inspiration for the never-built Ice Palace, a winter wonderland proposed for Walt Disney World. The sketch was one of the very last drawn by Davis before retiring in 1978. Most would agree that there is more than a passing resemblance to Elsa, from Frozen.

Truly, there are no such things as bad ideas at Disney – just good ideas whose time has not yet come.

Is Anything Free at Disney?

If the internet has taught us anything it’s that total ignorance of a subject is no obstacle to having an immediate opinion.

Two articles regarding so-called Freebies at Disney Parks were recently posted to a very popular Disney-Fan website. As an over-analytical person I took issue with the use of the word “free”, posted a comment, and suffered an instant backlash for my dissenting opinion.

I take no offense to these retaliations because I know that the counter blasts were less in defense of Disney than they were the offended trying to justify the price of their recent vacation in the Costliest Happiest Place on Earth.

I would like to take this opportunity, on my very own website, to flesh out my point of view a bit further. If you disagree with the assessments expressed in this blog entry, please, feel free to flame on in the comment section below!

Let me begin with the only two items from the aforementioned article that I would mostly count as free: the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom (the Magic Kingdom’s trading card game) and Celebration Buttons. The buttons truly are free to anyone celebrating a birthday, anniversary, bar mitzvah, first visit, or simply being at the parks for any reason other than just enjoying your Disney vacation. Buttons are given away on the honor system (Disney’s not checking anyone’s ID).

To play the trading card game all anyone has to do is locate the appropriate cast member where you’ll receive game instructions and a free packet of playing cards. If you enjoy the game you can purchase more cards (or trade the ones you have for potentially better cards). Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom targets multiple fan bases (the collector, the completist, the gamer, the Disneyana, etc), it’s well made and it’s fun. Obviously a lot of time, energy, and capital went into its creation and implementation. The game is very popular – and probably would be even if that first set of cards did cost something.

I say those two “mostly count as free” because admission for a single day is $100. Believe me, at that price, you ARE paying for those paper cards and little metal buttons.

Others will argue, “Nobody pays $100 a day! Everyone I know gets a multi-day pass and that lowers the price to $50 or $60 per day”.

First of all, there are a significant number of people that purchase single-day tickets at $100 per person.

Second, if you’re buying a multi-day pass… please don’t assume that you’re catching a break by purchasing more guaranteed time on Disney’s property. In this case Disney is the party who’s truly benefiting from this deal. By adjusting their ticket price on a sliding scale they’ve just enticed you (and your wallet) to spend more time within the 47 square miles they control.

If you happen to belong in the group of 89% of guests who visit Walt Disney World from out-of-state I bet you booked your trip in advance. Well in advance, too… because you know if you wait Disney will just raise the price. You definitely gave Disney your final payment 3 months before stepping foot on their hallowed ground; because that’s what they demand. It’s also required that you make a down payment of at least $200 at the time of booking. Now Disney has placed your money in a bank where they’re earning interest off of your “discounted” tickets.

When you book your vacation a year in advance (and don’t tell me no one does that – just try to book a Disney cruise) your $200 down payment – compounded monthly at 0.95% interest – suddenly becomes a paltry $201.90. Big deal! Except, Disney isn’t getting only your money.

In 2012 Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom saw 17,536,000 visitors. If only a tenth of them booked their vacations 12 months in advance that’s still 1.7 million people. If each person comes from a family of five people that’s 340,000 down payments each year or about 28,300 each month (if that number broke out evenly across each subsiquent month).

28,300 families multiplied by $200… with another 28,300 families depositing their own down payments for each of the following eleven months… compounded at 0.95% monthly interest… is about $403,000 worth of interest on down payments alone ($1.5 Billion NextGen initiatives don’t pay for themselves, you know).

Now tell us all about what a great deal you got by booking your multi-day vacation in advance.

Typically, when faced with this sort of information, people resort to the argument, “Well, do you know how much I paid to go see Lion King on Broadway? And that’s only two hours of entertainment. Compared to that paying $100 for ten hours in a Disney theme park is a bargain!”

Trust me, I understand the “perceived value” sales strategy.

Make no mistake, comparing the price of a Disney Theme Park ticket [specifically] to a Broadway or Sporting Event ticket price was a carefully crafted Eisner-era dynamic marketing tactic that has been extremely successful. You don’t have to look very far to hear others joyfully repeating this comparison as proof (to themselves just as much as others) that they received value for their hard earned dollars.

Let me be clear: paying $150 to sit in a molded plastic seat at a 3-hour sporting event is absurd. Paying up to $300 for two hours of Broadway entertainment (in a slightly more comfortable seat) is equally ridiculous.

Comparing those over-inflated prices to something else and then calling the comparison a “value” is preposterous.

That’s like having $10,000 to spend on a car. You go to the car lot and the salesman shows you $20,000 vehicles. After a bit of time and negotiation you finally settle on a $14,000 car. You then proceed to tell everyone how you got a real bargain and saved yourself $6,000.

No… you overpaid by $4,000.

I also understand the basics of market demand. If companies raise the price higher than the public is willing to pay… people just stop paying. From all apparent evidence people are happily willing to part with their hard-earned cash and receive less and less each time. The Theme Park’s soaring attendance records is all the proof anyone needs.

Now let’s move on to some of the more ridiculous claims of “freebies” on Disney Property.

The Art Class at Hollywood Studios: an in-park attraction. Claiming that’s free is like saying, “Boy isn’t it wonderful how Disney doesn’t make you purchase a train ticket to ride the locomotive around the park?”

Of course, people will argue that it’s not the actual attraction that’s free (duh!). The value is in Disney allowing you to keep your drawing of their character when you leave. Well. Bless. Their. Hearts! Disney’s actually allowing my child to keep her own pencil drawing! It was Disney’s paper and pencil lead after all… and I suppose they could find a way to monetize that…

It might be worth mentioning at this point that you’re unable to obtain this “free” drawing your child has made without first paying admission to their park.

Tell you what… your little Mouseketeer can come to my house and draw three circles and a smile on a sheet of paper all day and I won’t charge you either.

How about the All You Can Drink 4 ounce cups of soda at Club Cool? It’s FREE (again, after you pay to get past the front gate). Yeah, that’s great! You know who else doesn’t have to pay for it?! Disney. I hope you’re not surprised to learn that Disney doesn’t even pay for the paper cups. In fact, they charge Coke a substantial lease on that little spot of prime real estate. In short, Coke pays for everything from the product to the electric bill. Why? For the same reason bread companies pay to have their product at eye level in the grocery store: product placement. Disney is one of the world’s most easily recognized brands. Epcot’s average yearly attendance alone is around 11 million. What would you be willing to pay to place your product in such a prominent location?

There’s also the free Chocolate Samples at the Ghirardelli shop in Downtown Disney – which happens to be something that every Ghirardelli in every mall in every city does. Please do not confuse this as an act of Disney’s benevolence. This is a sales tactic that eateries have employed since man began paying for food – and it works. Most analysts agree that handing out free samples is the best way to introduce your product, collect feedback, entice customers to buy, and get repeat business. At the very least, companies handing out free samples hope the recipient will now feel rewarded (appreciated even), think warm-fuzzy thoughts about this company, and then go out and tell other people about the product. Word of mouth is always the best form of advertising and handing out bite-sized morsels is a pretty inexpensive way to jump start this campaign.

What about Resort Tours? Yes, I can’t begin to describe how grateful I am Disney doesn’t charge me extra to follow them on an hour-long sales pitch sprinkled with “facts” surrounding the “historic” hotel/lodge/watering hole we happen to be “touring”. As a Disney geek I will admit that there are some interesting stories about the real-life locations that inspired the resort’s design and how Imagineers work in an authentic look and feel. But don’t be fooled – these tours are designed to do two things: 1). entice those not already staying to book a hotel room in the near future and 2). reassure those who’ve already paid 3 times more than they would have at the Marriott down the street that they made a wise purchase. That sounds an awful lot like a commercial to me.

There’s no cover-charge at Atlantic Dance Hall… and it would be a joke if Disney started demanding a cover charge at this deserted hole. When was the last time you stepped foot in there?

Resort Campfires, Movies and Sing-a-Longs. Really?! What about the elevator in your Resort; is that not an A-Ticket ride? How about the pool? They’re already gating them. Should we be relieved Disney’s not charging resort guests extra for use of the themed pool area?

Regarding ANY of the Resort specific offerings: at an average of $400 per night… trust me… you’re paying for these bonuses. In fact, I’d go so far to say if you’re not using these resort benefits you’re getting ripped off.

We’ll finish with my personal favorite… ice water. Have we really reached the point where we’re thankful that Disney is giving away free water? Hardees does this! Why are there no money-saving tips posted in various vacation forums advising travelers to stop into Sunoco to load up on all the water you can drink from their free water fountains? Because it’s ridiculous!

In fact, name me one major (or minor) company that charges people for a glass of tap water! Target, Chipotle, Costco, the place my wife gets her nails done, H&R Block. I can go to my BANK and get a drink of water with nothing being debited from my account. Disney offering free water is nothing new or special.

What’s really happening here is, due to the overwhelming number of up-charges expected during a typical Disney vacation we’ve reached the point where if Disney hands us something and doesn’t expect payment we stare back in disbelief. The customer then returns from whence they came in a daze, mouth agape, breathlessly telling their friends and family and internet chat room buddies all about it.

“I asked for directions and it was FREE! I was willing to pay – had my trusty MagicBand ready – and the Cast Member said there was NO CHARGE!”

Disney is in a very unique place and they’re taking full advantage of it. They raise their prices and attendance goes up. So they double-down and raise their prices again. Even more people show up. Who’s to stop them? If I were in their place I’d keep raising prices until the market slowed (people stopped showing up). That’s just smart business. Why work harder when you can work smarter?

Let’s say you sell widgets. You work hard, probably 60 or more hours a week, and you charge a fair price.

Your competitor also sells widgets. He makes just as much money as you do (sometimes more) and works only half as hard. HOW? Because he charges more.

“I can’t charge more!”, you claim, “I’ll lose business!”

Yeah, you might. But on the business that you keep you’ll be making more money and you won’t have to work as hard. Isn’t maximizing your profit the main idea? Why did you get into business in the first place; out of the goodness of your heart? No. You got into business to make money.

All I’m saying is… don’t fool yourself into believing free ice water is some sort of magical bonus or that Disney is benevolent for “giving away” tiny little cups of soda or samples of chocolate. Disney is a business. They’ve been around for a long time now and they’re VERY good at math.

Florida Project: Then and Now

A recent Facebook comment inspired me to write this blog post.

One of my friends had commented on how much larger Disney World is when compared to Disneyland. This person went on to detail the often repeated rumor that someone could fit three Disneyland parks inside the Magic Kingdom’s parking lot and still park 300 cars – which, of course, is not true.

Compare these two pictures of Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom’s parking lot (both taken at identical scales) and decide for yourself.

compareBy no means do I intend to imply that the Walt Disney World Resort property isn’t impressively large – because it is! It’s just not nearly as big as some of the urban legends (perpetuated by Disney bus drivers, no doubt) make it out to be.

The property is also not anywhere near as impressive at is once was.

Many people are probably familiar with the image above – Walt Disney, in October of 1966, showing off all the Floridian property he and his team had acquired.

Through “The Florida Project” (previously known as “Project X”) Walt’s team had come up with a way to make full use of the Florida property. EPCOT, the city, would be Disney World’s central attraction.

Arriving at the Disney World Airport (slated for the portion of property currently occupied by the town of Celebration) guests would be shuttled by monorail to the Disney World Welcome Center (shown just above-right of Walt’s pointer).

This Welcome Center, located on the acreage currently used by the All-Star Resorts and the World Wide Sports complex, likely would have resembles something closer to our current version of Epcot, the theme park. Here guests would be welcomed by a Disney host – fluent in the guests’ own language – who would then aid in planning every detail of the guest’s stay.

The next stop on the monorail route would be EPCOT’s Industrial Park. While your local city’s Industrial Park may not seem at all interesting or welcoming it was here that The Florida Project’s core concepts would be made real. It was Walt’s mission that many major American corporations would use these facilities to develop brand new technology for use in EPCOT, the city. Guests who chose to visit the Industrial Park would be allowed to go on guided tours of the facilities and given hands-on opportunities to see how many never-before-seen technologies worked. In much the same way Pinterest works, this facility aimed to jump-start the imagination of the visitors. Call it Walt Disney’s own version of crowd sourcing: inspire today’s tourists to create the technology we’ll all use in the near future.

Shown below, in the central green shaded area, is the current outline of the entire Walt Disney World entertainment complex. This area covers 25,000 acres (39 square miles) and resides in two different counties (Orange and Osceola).

Now, let’s compare that same property to a rough approximation of the original property lines Walt was showing off in 1966.

This considerably larger red property line occupies nearly 30,000 acres (47 square miles)… or, about twice the size of Manhattan Island.

It’s truly striking how much land was sold off during Michael Eisner’s time at the helm. The Magic Kingdom was never intended to be the main focus of The Florida Project – it was just Walt’s way of funding it. Walt knew that building EPCOT the city, plus all of the other things mentioned above, was going to require a LOT of capital. Therefore, the theme park was only a vehicle necessary to pay for all the really cool things he wanted to do.

Don’t misunderstand: the current property is pretty amazing. I’ve even written a blog entry detailing one of the amazing aspects of the property’s construction. However, I can’t help but wonder how much more awesome it could have been had Disney management carried on with Walt’s original plan.