One of the great tragedies at the Magic Kingdom of the last 10 years is the exodus of veteran cast members, whooften by no choice of their ownhave traded in their mouse ears for consulting careers or rocking chairs.
These are the folks who truly understood the importance of Show, who really cared about and believed in what they were doing. They were the caretakers of Walt's dream, transfused with pixie dust by Walt's disciples or, in many cases, by Walt himself. They were Disneylanders.
The old-timers are mostly gone now. They've taken their decades of experience with them. Unfortunately, their successors are loathe to learn from their ways. Today's Disneyland management never calls in the old guard for advice only for a photo op. Walt's aging believerslike the founder himselfno longer influence policy; they have become promotional gimmicks.
So, how genuine, how awe-inducing do you expect Disneyland's 50th anniversary celebration to be as devised by a group of executives that resents Disneyland's past?
That's why it was so encouraging when word leaked three months ago that recently appointed theme park head Jay Rasulo was underwhelmed by what Disneyland proposed for its Golden Anniversary. The modest plans featured an 18-month, multi-park celebration themed A Magical Moment in Time and centered on a rebuilt Space Mountain, a gold overlay on the castle, a fireworks show, a parade, and a theme song by the composers of Believe There's Magic in the Stars. Yawn.
It was doubly encouraging when, two months ago, Rasulo was seen walking the park with former Disneyland president Jack Lindquist. Soon after, another Club 55er, former executive vice president Ron Dominguez, was spotted inside the Magic Kingdom.
Immediately, the rumors started swirling among cast members, Web reporters and discussion boarders. Was Rasulo contemplating giving Cynthia Harriss the boot and bringing back the old-timers to save the day?
No, Lindquist insists, that was never a consideration. Lindquist says he went to Disneyland to have lunch at Club 33 with Rasulo, who is an old friend. He says he's flattered to learn how excited fans were at the possibility of his return, but you can't go home.
Dominguez, also more than happily retired, was in the park about the same time, to be interviewed for a Travel Channel documentary.
But it's not all bad news. Although Disney is uninterested in rehiring its legends, at least it may be willing to listen to them again. Next week, Disneyland executives will meet with a long line of old-timers to solicit their ideas and advice on how to celebrate the park's 50th anniversary. Those asked to attend all got their start at Disneyland in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, and include Lindquist, Dominguez, former Disneyland International president Jim Cora, former Disneyland public relations manager Mary Anne Mang, Walt Disney Studios chairman Dick Cook, and Buena Vista Special Events v.p. Bob Gault.
That the Company is even asking these people for advice is encouraging. We'll tell them what we think, and then it's up to them, Lindquist says. At least, it won't cost them anything.
Lindquist admits the Disneyland executive of today is far different than the pioneers of '55. The fun was there was no book to go by, he says. You wrote the book everyday. Probably our greatest strength was having a group of people who were stupid enough not to know that the things they were doing couldn't be done. That's a big plus. I think today that's a big problem. You've got people afraid to do things because they might fail. Well, when you have a blank sheet, you don't know you can fail.
Hopefully, some of that creativity and daring will rub off on those in charge of planning the 50th anniversary celebration. If not, they'll discover that, with expectations so high, cautiousness will guarantee failure.
(Send an email to David Koenig)
David Koenig is the senior editor of the 80-year-old business journal, The Merchant Magazine.
After receiving his degree in journalism from California State University, Fullerton (aka Cal State Disneyland), he began years of research for his first book, Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland (1994), which he followed with Mouse Under Glass: Secrets of Disney Animation & Theme Parks (1997, revised 2001) and More Mouse Tales: A Closer Peek Backstage at Disneyland (1999) (All titles published by Bonaventure Press).
He lives in Aliso Viejo, California, with his lovely wife, Laura, their wonderful son, Zachary, and their adorable daughter, Rebecca.