A Whole New World: The Ever Changing Face of Disney

While attending Disneyland’s 60th anniversary or Diamond Celebration, I came to realize that this is no longer my parent’s Disney and in some cases not even my own. I grew up with Captain Nemo’s 2000 Leagues Under the Sea and Space Mountain, with a Pirates of the Caribbean that did not feature Johnny Depp. Most of my favorite rides have been remade or shut down. When you walk around the park in California, the predecessor of Magic Kingdom, you can notice the differences between the past and the present versions of Main Street. Even the castle in Orlando is different than the one in the West Coast. The parks are not meant to be clones: What was once designed to please my parents back in 1955, and adapted to please me in the 80s and 90s, is now being torn down to make way for the younger generation, the children I should be calling my own. Freaky. It is always a work in progress.

Although it was our parents’ disposable income that got most of us to attend Disneyland and Disney World, the experience was still modeled to ensure they had a say in how to deal with the children. Parents felt they had control, not Disney. Now, it seems the paradigm has shifted and the kids are the onces running the show. All we noticed was how the parents shelled hard earned cash on souvenirs and Mickey Ears based on all the characters imaginable just so every child could have a custom experience. It made me feel both fortunate and grateful that my mom saved to get me the traditional ears, without my name embroidered on the back. Those 1980 dollars didn’t allow for a lot of pizzazz; we all got the same treatment and had the same choices. Hehe. There was no competition between the patrons. We were all in it together. No VIP, no fast pass; we were all equal.

Think of it this way. The turkey leg, which is still a classic at the park was so big that my entire family ate from it. We could only afford one meal and that was it. Now everyone in the family gets one and eats it. Locals have annual passes that include food discounts. This staple became an after thought in a society that loves pizza, hotdogs, hamburgers, gluten free and gourmet food. Alll tastes are now catered to. You can tell our wallets, our stomachs and our waist lines have expanded and so has the menu. The mouse wants your money and knows how to get it fair and square.

The nostalgia abounded in this trip as i walked through the remade Tomorrowland, now Star Wars territory. I remember riding Space Mountain with my dad in Orlando (which over in LA is known as Hyperspace Mountain remade in Star Wars The Force Awakens fashion) and hearing him mention how he rode it when he was in college. The prospect of being able to share a similar moment with my son or daughter escaped me because I know that by then the ride will have been refurbished or replaced. Forty years is a long time to leave a classic ride untouched; technology won’t allow it any more. The future is scary and at the same time alluring. If it doesn’t thrill the kids, it won’t last. As part of the last generation they targetted, the last kids they tailored Disney World for, I feel cheated and discarded. Now the magic has someone else in their sights. 😦 🙂

The Boards’s intention is not just to tug at your heartstrings and purses but to keep you wanting and returning for more. That’s why the Disney content is always growing or changing. The Orlando parks were a third smaller when I first visited them in the 80s. Coming soon signs used to be everywhere! I’ve watched them expand to include Animal Kingdom, MGM Studios and ESPN’s Wide World of Sports. In a way I am glad to be one of the few children that can historically curate the swift rise of Mickey’s empire. I knew of Star Wars and Marvel before they were Disney property, before they were converted into Disneyland’s attractions and characters. I am one of the few kids, now grown, that have no need to take a picture wearing Spiderman Ears but can respect the marketing plan’s audacity. It is a small world after all.

My parents first took me to Disney world in 1985, then again in 1988. Back then Simba and Belle were still literally on the drawing board and The Little Mermaid was being released. The park offered a tour that took guests backstage to show the works in progress, part of the behind the scenes look at Disney’s Animation Studios. It was surprising to see the animators work on pen and paper as CGI wasn’t popular then and was being slowly introduced into Disney’s creations. I was sad to learn as a child that the future was in computer animation because I felt kids were being robbed of the art that made the Walt Disney a success. Pixar’s graphics killed the inkers and blotters.

We went back to Disney World in 1994 and 2001 when computers reigned surpreme and the internet was on the rise. We didn’t have apps or smartphones though and if you got lost you were on your own for hours. People used to bring walkie talkies with to the park to ensure their peeps didn’t stray to far away. Any of them can also tell you how the Tower of Terror used to operate before it was retrofitted because of a malfunction and how rumors and urban legends about deaths in the park got disseminated. You had to be there to be in the know! There were no Yelp reviews or Tripadvisor tips. You had to watch a VHS or DVD to know how to plan your Disney vacation. When we went there in 2011, we had smartphones and apps but they weren’t as proliferous as today’s selfie sticks. Much has changed in five years.

One of the things that impressed me was realizing that once upon a time Star Tours was the only Star Wars themed ride at MGM Studios, now Disney studios, and they didn’t have Jedis running around. As of 2011 they did have more Star Wars stuff as they slowly ramped up to the merger/sale reveal. There is an entire generation of fans that will never know a Disney without the proprietary Jedi, let alone live in a world were Disney didn’t own a comic book company. With future parks in Asia, the USA market share is merely an afterthought. Would they sell their souls to collect the Chinese middle class Yuan? You bet they will!

The audience changes extend farther than Magic Kingdom. I fondly remember when the Fast Track at Epcot and Mission to Mars used to be empty lots with keep out and coming soon signs. Sadly, I can also tell you how awesome the science rides were at Epcot before it was reduced to a Food and Wine Festival Pavillion. The kids who grew up loving EPCOT feel ashamed to take their children there because there are no Princesses around. The new generation takes technology for granted. My mom and I had a picture next to the Eatern Airlines sign on Spaceship Earth. Later, I had one on a Segway! It was truly the Experimental Community of Tomorrow, a place that inspired many young children to become engineers, doctors and scientists. Now it is mostly abandoned or left in disrepair. (Disney decided to revamp some rides and add Frozen themes to the Norway Pavillion. Some guests are clamoring for an Inside Out ride, the most scientific Pixar mover so far.)

Part of me always wanted to become an Imagineer to work for the Mouse and design the rides and attractions of the future. I knew the parks would expand and pop up around the world but I never expected the experience to shift so far from what I got used to. To escape the contract with Universal Parks, Disney has to build a Marvel Universe park in China. Disneyland has fallen out of favor and still lags behind Orlando in guest band tech. In that sense it still is very much my parent’s park. The wait time counters in some rides are manual. If it wasn’t for the App with the wait times and closed attractions lists you’d feel you were back in 1955. I’ve only been to Disneyland 2008 and 2016 and can attest to how fast they can change the rides and themes but nothing else has improved. Not even the customer service. My sister worked for Disney World and she can attest to this last complaint. I didn’t hear anyone exclaim “Have a magical day!”.

Bittersweet as it may be, I love to go back to compare the differences. My park in a sense is smaller than yours but in a good way. I only need to check out the new rides because at this point I have seen and done it all. Elsa and Anna are now what Ariel, Belle and Sleeping Beauty were to me; the latest in a long line of Princesses and heroines that taught me to be a strong, independent thinking woman, with power and financial freedom. I know most people think Disney movies are crap and teach girls to depend on a knight in shinning armor. That was not the case, it depends on how your parent spin it too.

The emotions of walking through Main Street still invoke the memories of my childhood. I relive every feeling and recall all those souvenirs my parents could never afford. Some still don’t make sense to purchase but others remind me of why I will never grow up. The inner child still craves those ears, the Mickey popsicle and the ear shapped balloons. I still get delighted when I run across Pluto or Goofy, my original childhood heroes. Granted it was fun to take a snapshot with Kylo Ren and Red but it wasn’t the same. I looked everywhere for Sleeping Beauty but she wasn’t going to make an appearance. It’s her park with her castle and she wasn’t there! 😦

I get it though. Soon I will no longer be in the coveted 18 to 40 year old demographic raking in the big bucks and with no children to sponsor me, I’ll be touring the attractions and rides with my nostalgia. Even it’s a small world couldn’t continue to exist without a face lift. It was peppered with popular characters all over the exhibit spaces placing them in their supposed continents and geographical regions. Even Stitch made it into the display! Disney went even more commercial than I ever thought they could! I’m sure they will find ways to surpass themselves. They always do. For now, I will relish the pictures and memories of the Happiest Place on Earth with the hopes that they never lose their magic and they manage to keep me coming back for more.

Queue the fireworks!


FYI: For more on Star Wars expansion plans check out the yahoo news linked here.

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