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Alex Stroup and Kevin Yee
August 24, 2000

--Fry wagon
The French-Fry cart in Frontierland
-
  Is McDonald's a good fit at Disneyland?

Reviewed:
The corporate presence of McDonald's - soon to replace the Harbour Galley - at Disneyland.

 

ALEX KEVIN
When I first heard about McDonalds coming the the park (in a story by you) my initial reaction was slight shock. How could Disney / Pressler / Eisner / Greenberg commit such a sacrilege? Did they really think we, the Disneyland fans, would stand for it? 

But you know what? As I continued to think it through I slowly came to the conclusion that I didn't really care. That depending on how the actual restaurant looks I don't care if it is McDonald's or Disney preparing the food.

 
  As happens to me on so many topics, I find myself conflicted here and seeing both sides to the argument. Someone hurry up and accuse me of sophistry so I can defend myself against my own uneasy ambivalence, please! 

On the one hand, let's be real here: this is just food. And it's supposed to be fast food, whether it's McDonald's or not. Plus people like McDonald's, really. It is a large multinational, after all. 

On the other hand, Disneyland is supposed to be different, right? The idea here is to remove the public from reminders of the outside world. I suspect we'll get into a debate about sponsorship in general at Disneyland.

You do realize, that by arguing both sides you are leaving me the role of cheerleader? 

But alas, I forge on and do my best to counter your ambivalence with adamancy (if that is a word). I agree, for many people the main issue focuses on sponsorship within Disneyland. At what point, if any, does it become intrusive? 

Is a Dole Whip a reminder of the outside world? Not really. Are FedEx commercials at Space Mountain over the top? A bit, but its not too bad. McDonalds providing a McDonalds just doesn't strike me as that big of a deal, as long as it is not a traditional red and orange, double Big Mac McDonald's.

 
  It might be relevant to discuss what McDonald's has done over in Animal Kingdom at this point. I don't know if you've seen it, but Restaurantosaurus is not a traditionally colored McDonald's. It's themed to the land (in this case, jungle safari style). I didn't eat there, so I cannot say with certainty whether the menu items are reproduced (ie, is it called a Cheeseburger or is it the Big Mac?) I found that one, at least, to be fairly unobtrusive. 

Still, it bothers me to some extent. Disney theme parks have always had sponsorships. Not just a name on a ride, but also products. You can buy Coca-Cola or Kodak film - are those reminders of the outside world? 

I would argue that they are a DIFFERENT kind of reminder. Those are products, not a location unto themselves. The Coke thing at Epcot - where you can enter a fake-ice cave and sample coke products - also steps over the line in my opinion.

Ice Station Cool as EPCOT did not bother me at all (other than the fact that every single flavor of Coke they offer was disgusting).  
  "Beverly," anyone? (if you've never tried this Italian soda, consider yourself lucky).
My understanding is that it is not going to be a normal McDonald's menu, is that correct?  
  Naturally, we don't know for absolute sure. But I think we're hearing about a modified menu. Some items will be the same, but not all.
I have to conclude that the issue of whether McDonald's sponsorship is crossing some line is completely subjective. I'm sure some people are going to be highly aware of it, while most people will be almost oblivious and view as simply another food source. 

I think one thing we need to admit is that with a few exceptions, Disneyland food is nothing special. Much of it isn't particularly good (Tomorrowland Terrace) and much of it is just adequate (Redd Rockets). Only occasionally does the food enter into the "good" category. The fried chicken at Plaza Inn or the entire menu at Bayou. McDonald's may actually be filling an empty niche - decent quality, truly fast food.

 
  Well, I am highly biased here. Remember that I worked for nine years in Disneyland food, so I defend that as I would my home turf. :) 

One thing we should perhaps clarify is that DL's food is nothing special in comparison to what? Other theme parks? Fast food out in the normal world? 

In a sense, I agree with you. A hot dog is a hot dog (though the corn dog cart has been voted the county's best corndog at least once, but that's beside the point).

In comparison to good food.  
  "Good," too, is every bit as subjective as the notion of intrusiveness. Walt himself preferred beans out of a can is that "good" food? But this is niggling. I was in the process of switching sides briefly to point out that there is precedent for a company-sponsored restaurant: Carnation Plaza Gardens and Carnation on Main Street. Or the tuna boat, once sponsored by Chicken of the Sea. 

The difference, one might argue, is that those places did not have established reputations *as restaurants* out in the real world. Again, they evoke a product, not a location.

Another example of an outside corporation setting up in-park presence would be when the Bank on Main Street was a real Bank of America. At a purist level I can see why this is troubling, but in the practical world I just find it impossible to get worked up over this "sin." 

And I think it is safe to say that 80% of the guests are not going to have a problem with it, either. The fries wagon certainly wasn't hurting for business

 
  About the Bank of America: the difference there is that it fits a themed time and location. Main Streets at the turn of the century did have McDonald's in them. If Disneyland were to open up Mall-land or Sprawl-land or some such, then McDonald's would fit in just right. 

But I'm niggling again. I think you are right that 80% of the guests will have no problem. I even agree with the figure. A good 20% of fans are purists, but 20% is no majority. 

Oh, and the fries cart? Internally it's known as the "kiosk" for some reason, and here's a secret: for the first few months of its existence, it was not making profit. Sales were not even paying 100% of the labor costs, let alone all the other factors! To be fair, this was partly due to the overstaffing of the place, something that happens often when new locations are opened. But I would take issue with the idea that the kiosk does good business. I never see a line there.

Well, the lack of a line could be more a sign of there efficiency at handing out food (why do I have to stand in line for 15-20 minutes as Blue Ribbon Bakery?) rather than as a sign of poor performance. 

One nice thing they could do with the restaurant (that would help with its popularity) would be to have that store perpetually use Disney for its Happy Meal Toys (if they will be selling Happy Meals). Even better would be if this one restaurant had special DISNEYLAND Happy Meal toys. I would bet that would get a lot of the purists into the place.

 
  Yes, that would go a long way to making the purists happy. 

By the way, and I recognize this is changing the topic slightly, we should mention that the prices here will not be standard McDonalds. Like the kiosk, prices will be raised so as to be as expensive at Disneyland. There will be no 39 cent cheeseburger Sundays, nor even 99 cent cheeseburgers normally. The Big Mac, if they have it, will cost several dollars. The result is that a McDonald's burger will cost the same as a Disney burger. 

I don't know. Maybe this is a good thing! For four dollars, do you want a Disney burger or one you know and trust (the Big Mac)? McDonald's is clearly counting on name recognition. It just might work, though I think it doesn't work as well for the fries cart alone.

Well, I hope it quickly gets absorbed as just another place in the park. Then I could sneak away for some french fries without certain fellow MousePlaneteers having me committed.

Seeing as I don't eat beef I probably won't use their restaurant for any of the other food. Personally, however, I have no doubt that the restaurant will prove reasonably popular. Especially as that area of the park is underrepresented by food services.

 
  Underrepresented when it comes to fast food, perhaps. Cafe Orleans and the French Market are right across the way, remember. Actually, even Hungry Bear isn't that far. The bigger problem is that only Splash Mountain draws people up that way. 

I think I hear your point that this is not the end of the world. And in fact, you're right, it's not the end of the world. Purists will be annoyed, yet Disney will soldier on despite them, because popularity and profit matter more than cohesive theme that doesn't intrude. All this I understand, and even accept. 

But part of me remains a purist. Recently we talked about Walt and whether he would be happy with today's Disney company. When I ask myself if Walt would be happy with McDonald's, I'm surprised to discover that I think he would be. 

Walt was a plain guy and liked to live like other folks. Lest we forget, the only movie he directed for the company (The Golden Touch) ended with King Midas going out for a cheeseburger. 

So although I am a purist, especially about Disneyland, I think in the final analysis I can "get over it." It just might take some time.


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Dual Reviews

Alex and Kevin debate current events and review Disney books.

This column is about opinions; unfortunately, we don't know any important Disney insiders so they are just our opinions. We are bringing this column to you as two ordinary Disney fans, much like yourself. We hope you enjoy and respond.

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