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Al Lutz
Archived D-I-G Update
7/9 Update - The River story you didn't read in the Times / Zippity Do Dah, Zippty aye - My oh my, What a woeful delay... / N - E - S - T - L - E - S, What spells GHOST the very best? / More Executive Spin! - California Adventure's attendance push - Electrical Parade confusion / California Mis-Adventures / Castle Chat / Happier days remembered / Happier Meal Toys

 

The River story you didn't read in the Times

The Disneyland "Rivers of America" attractions that were closed this past Thursday, and were mentioned in the LA Times, weren't actually closed because of the river itself, but because of Splash Mountain.

Early on Thursday morning, Disneyland's Facilities department realized that the pumps and filters that keep Splash Mountain's water clean were not working. The Disneyland Safety department was called out to measure the cleanliness of the water, since the filters hadn't been working for at least a few days. The water was tested and found to be dirtier than normally allowed, with dust, leaves, Disneyland Today guides, churro wrappers and all sorts of things that riders drop in the water or lose. So, the unusual step of closing Splash right after the Park had opened was taken, and all the water was drained from the ride.

To expedite the process of getting the dirty water out to replace with clean water, a giant hose was set up at the bottom of the last, big drop and the water was pumped into the Rivers of America by the canoe dock. It should be noted that the decision to close the popular water ride was argued over by several Disneyland departments and personalities that feel they have to prove their worth to the organization after the recent round of layoffs and massive reorganization, with rumors of more layoffs to come.

With the morning turning into mid-day and the Park filling up with guests, the fact that Splash was closed and piping all of it's "dirty water" into the Rivers of America became a hot topic amongst Cast Members and inquisitive visitors alike. The Canoes were then shut down for the day as well, because the large hose emptying Splash could be seen discharging water right next to the dock where the canoes return from their trip around the Island.

It quickly became a concern of hourly and salaried Cast Member's alike that the water that was apparently not good enough for riders on Splash may not be good enough for riders on the Mark Twain or Rafts. After much arguing and hand wringing amongst all sorts of departments (who remember are feeling threatened by the current dreary mood amongst salaried CM's), the entire crew of the Mark Twain and the Rafts were sent to First Aid to be checked out by the nurses and medical staff.

More Disney staffers were called to the scene, then the state investigators who check hazardous materials were called to the Park, and all manner of testing and arguing then took place around the Rivers of America.

Meanwhile, the Park had filled with a summer crowd of tens of thousands, and Splash, the Canoes, Tom Sawyer's Island, and the Mark Twain were all now closed to visitors. The political maneuvering then reached a fever pitch as all parties tried to defend their positions.

Finally, after the River water was declared "safe to drink" by the state of California, (um, yes that muck with all that duck poo is considered safe, must be Dubya at work again) the Mark Twain and Tom Sawyer's Island reopened to visitors at 4 pm. (The Canoes never opened because the several dozen CM's that operate that attraction on a busy day had all been sent home.) Splash then never reopened that day, because the process of draining the entire attraction took hours longer than had originally been estimated early in the morning.

After all the political fireworks and shameful Cast Member showboating on Thursday, Splash was finally able to reopen on Friday morning, with all new water. But as luck would then unfortunately have it, it was closed on Friday more often than it was opened due to a completely unrelated technical problem that Facilities kept trying to fix with patches that only lasted a few hours before the ride would break down again.

 

Zippity Do Dah, Zippty aye - My oh my, What a woeful delay...

To add insult to injury at Splash Mountain, which needs a massive refurbishment desperately to fix its dilapidated looking show scenes and "critters" that are noticeably very mangy, the ten week long refurbishment that was at first planned to begin this Labor Day may now be postponed.

Never mind that the ride system itself is extremely worn and prone to constant breakdowns. But it seems that somehow Disneyland finally figured out that having three attractions all closed in one area of the Park wouldn't be a good idea (faithful readers of this column may remember we were talking about that breathtaking master plan months ago), since the Haunted Mansion will be closed for its transformation into "Nightmare Before Christmas," the Country Bear Jamboree will close for good to become the new Winnie The Pooh ride in '03, and Splash at that same time was planned to close for it's much needed refurbishment.

The tentative plan now is to postpone the Splash closure until next spring, and hopefully nurse it through the next eight months. Wish that poor mountain luck, it will need it.

I myself plan to postpone any trips down that flume until AFTER they complete that needed refurbishment, cleaner water notwithstanding.

 

N - E - S - T - L - E - S, What spells GHOST the very best?

Speaking of the Haunted Mansion, what comes to mind when you think of the upcoming "Nightmare Before Christmas" overlay that will open in early October? Why, you think of Halloween of course. And what comes to mind when you think of Halloween? Why, trick or treating of course.

So, what could be more natural then for visitors to the "Nightmare Before Christmas Haunted Mansion" to say "trick or treat!" when they step up onto the porch of that stately old mansion. And for your troubles, you would expect a Mansion Maid or Butler to naturally give you a bit of candy, right?

Of course that is what Disneyland's "Participant Relations" department wants you to think. It seems Disney's Participant Relations people (the folks who hock the park attractions to sponsors) have been working with Nestle Foods to have the upcoming Haunted Mansion "Nightmare" overlay be "Presented by Nestle," and have each visitor to the special holiday version of the Haunted Mansion receive a souvenir Nestle chocolate bar with a special Disneyland Haunted Mansion candy wrapper.

The upcoming sponsorship agreement with Nestle will most likely help soften the financial blow to Disneyland for this costly Haunted Mansion remake, that's for sure. And for the first time in history, the Haunted Mansion will have a corporate sponsor.

Now who can we get to sponsor Pirates of the Caribbean... Kathy Lee Gifford and the Carnival Cruise Line?

 

More Executive Spin!

The L.A. Times reported this weekend that an "un-named Disney executive" (is there any other kind?) was crowing that attendance at California Adventure had DOUBLED!

Now all in unison here: WELL DUH!

Of course it doubled. They papered the house! For those of you that missed the two items on the tag end of the news update we did this weekend on the DCA power outage - here they are again:

 

California Adventure's attendance push

The return of the Electrical Parade, a massive radio ticket giveaway, along with an employee parade preview period and a heavily advertised resident salute ticket discount are making for a large attendance increase at the new park this week.

For example, 43,000 complimentary passes were given to Cast Members for this week's Electrical Parade CM Preview days from July 3 - 8. That's about an extra 7,000 bodies per day (CM's and their families or guests) that are coming into the new park this week.

This is on top of a recent mailing of two free children's tickets to about 100,000 annual passholders, and a reduced price adult admission / child free promotion in effect through Labor Day for Southern California residents.

It should be noted that even with the many discounts and accommodations to up attendance that DCA Guest Relations continues to be swamped daily with upset visitors complaining about all the now familiar concerns discussed previously on this site.

Even with the the addition of more child oriented entertainment options, many visitors are still very unhappy with the lack of major attractions and the many ride boarding restrictions.

 

Electrical Parade confusion

Adding to the problems it seems many Disneyland visitors are also complaining about the current "IT'S BACK" ad campaign for the return of the Electrical Parade - as it appears to not make it clear enough to customers that it is not at Disneyland.

Visitors still expect the Electrical Parade at Disneyland, despite the many signs everywhere at the resort's entrances explaining it's only appearing at the California Adventure park.
Visitors still expect to see the Electrical Parade at Disneyland, despite the many signs everywhere at the resort's entrances explaining it's only appearing at the California Adventure park. This sign is at City Hall in Disneyland.

Even with the addition of large amounts of signs everywhere at the resort, (like the one shown above) people are still asking why the parade is not at Disneyland after they purchase their admission.

The park's management continues to resist selling a single day park hopping ticket for locals / day visitors - which would most likely remedy many of the current visitor complaints.

 

California Mis-Adventures

Well, it wouldn't be an update without more DCA problems to tell you about. Newest one? The papering of the house has increased attendance, which means the specter of limited capacity (what I used to talk about here before the park opened) has now raised its ugly head. With these new numbers - mind you, not even up to the quotas they wanted - it's now common to see three hour waits for Soarin (the IMAX hang gliding ride) after the Fastpasses run out mid-afternoon.

The problems repeat themselves at the other attractions - if they are running that is. Breakdowns are continual throughout the day on Screamin (the coaster) and the Mad Mouse (Mulholland Madness). The Golden Zephyr never runs except in the early morning (those harrowing 5 MPH winds might kill some riders you know!) and the Raft ride... well, let's take a photo tour, shall we?

Most of yesterday (Sunday) the Grizzly River(less) Run looked like this:

(By the way, it looks like we finally figured out what the construction in front of the raft attraction was - they appear to be expanding the walkway, as it tends to get bottlenecked there with riders / people waiting for them.)

Continuing on our mis-adventure - wanna buy a popcorn for $2.75, or a caramel corn for $4.50? Get in a line as long as some of ones for the limited capacity rides. Only ONE cast member (CM) was working this booth in the DCA hub before the Electrical parade. Talk about discouraging sales...

Now for the finishing touch to your DCA day, how about towing the Electrical Parade finale float? Maybe they didn't have a long enough extension cord?  ;)

But the fun wasn't just limited to DCA, the Downtown Disney mall hosted some surprise entertainment the other day...

...and Disneyland Resort security had to remind them that the mall is private property and that they could not set up shop there. It was noted that the security guys were being very gentle, as a friend of the band was videotaping the whole thing. (They sort of look like Penn & Teller joined up with Lynyrd Skynyrd don't they?)

 

Castle Chat

Did you remember the two big trees that got removed from in front of the Disneyland Castle? They were replaced with new small trees last week (as shown above), and then the new trees were gone and replaced with temporary flower displays. I have no idea if the replacement tree's didn't look big enough, or what, but as mentioned before the view of the Castle is dramatically different now.

Speaking of the Castle, you should also know that they will be redoing that Forecourt area to include three new "Princess Meet N' Greet" zones a la' Ariel's Grotto up near the Matterhorn. Snow White will hold court back near her wishing well, and Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Belle will have new "grottos" built alongside the current bushes and trees flanking the Castle.

Disney photographers will of course be on hand to take a professional shot, which amazingly will be available for purchase later in the day. Will wonders never cease?

Lord, if we could only get that kind of effort put into painting Toontown... ;)

 

Happier days remembered

In yesterday's L.A. Times there was an article about how Disney's consumer products sales have plummeted, and that Eisner's apparent solution to the mess was to "revive the magic by selling more stuff."

As I've been saying for a while now - they have really overexposed the brand and one has to wonder if dumping even more product on the public is the way to go here. Here are some quotes from the story that may sound awfully familiar to you if you've been a regular reader of this column:

Though two recent studies show the Disney brand remains strong, operating income for the company's Consumer Products division has fallen by $438 million over the last three years, a nearly 50% decline.

Disney must find a way to sell more stuff without tarnishing the magic of Mickey and the gang. "Disney-related toothbrushes sounds as if they're trying to stretch their equity a little further than the edge of where it naturally fits," said Stephen A. Greyser, a Harvard Business School marketing professor.

Margaret King, director of Cultural Studies and Analysis, a Philadelphia company that tracks consumer choices and buying patterns, said, "The value of the merchandise used to be that it was scarce. [Disney] has devalued the brand by making it too available."

The Disney brand is "one of the most widely recognized and successful in the world," said Janet Wasko, a communications studies professor at the University of Oregon. She was co-author of a study on perceptions of Disney, based on questionnaires from more than 1,000 students from around the world.

The study found a widespread appreciation for Disney and its wholesome family entertainment, though some respondents balked at the ubiquitous Disney name. "There's so much merchandise everywhere, some people think they've overdone it," Wasko said.

Frankly, and bluntly, here - I think the Disney execs now hiding behind those dwarf's butts in Burbank have lost their collective minds. You don't salvage a brand that's overexposed by dumping even more product into an already saturated marketplace.

First you scale back and limit availability. Then, to make up for lost income you work overtime to develop strong new franchises. That means creating new characters people will take to their hearts the same way they have taken older ones.

Then you seriously reconsider projects like the recent Atlantis that narrow your ability to create new quality characters. Let's be honest here, it's a movie that just doesn't cut it as far as making a merchandising empire (see the item following this for other interesting Atlantis details). Remember, they had to offer discounts for the tie-in merchandise in the Disney catalog BEFORE the movie opened they were so worried about it.

Finally you fire the former NIKE guy now in charge who is clueless about the Disney brand and you replace him with the one person in the Disney company who knows merchandise and shoppers and Disney - Paul Pressler.

Yep, get Pressler out of the area he really could care (or know) less about, which is the parks, and put him into the job that will suit him perfectly. One look at the shops at California Adventure will show you who can turn the Disney Stores back around again, and figure out how to revitalize the brand.  All while the people above him work to restore the luster of the Disney name by helping him make the merchandise more unique, and more valuable by limiting its availability, and giving him strong new characters and franchises he can make his numbers with.

Prices go up when things get scarce you know. It's a lesson drilled into us consumers every time we fill up a gas tank. But then Disney execs don't go to everyday gas stations do they? They just get their car washed and filled up at the Burbank lot.

Out of sight, out of mind?

 

Happier Meal Toys

Are your kids bored with the Atlantis Happy Meal toys? They may not be the only ones. As I understand (according to one local restaurant manager) McDonalds has "been underwhelmed" with the public's response to the movie tie in toys. "Only a few of those Disney nuts who collect all this stuff anyway came in for them," continued the manager, "the kids who they are really aimed at aren't all that excited about them."

Contrast that to the kid's meal toys that Carl's Jr. is currently giving away, as shown below:

CLICK HERE TO GO TO THE OFFICIAL SITE
Click on the photo above (or this LINK) to take you to the Carl's Jr. website detailing the toys and what they do.

"We can't keep them in stock," said a Carl's Jr. employee about the new Wallace & Gromit toys, "the motorcycle and the airplane hook up together to make one toy, and those two seem to be the most requested." The employee continued, "I never heard of these (characters) before, but people are snapping them up." One collector told me he had to visit four outlets to get all four toys as stock was already running low.

At 75 cents each, three dollars for the complete set (you don't have to buy the kids meal to get them), a Wallace & Gromit aficionado can't go wrong I would think. (I mentioned them here only because so many of you folks are also fans of the duo.)

Gosh, remember when Disney's toys used to be that popular, before they wore out the brand? ;)

 

Ok, back to DCA to see the ONE thing that is delighting customers left and right - the girls who do the "Chance to Shine" show at the entry of Hollywood & Dine...

(They still aren't listing this gem in the guide - so here are the approximate times from an employee hand out you can catch them at: 11, 11:45 AM, 12:45, 1:45, 3:30, 4:15, 5, 5:15 PM. Cheer and clap loudly - they sure earn your enthusiasm eight times a day!)

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7/2 Update - The numbers game / Boosting morale the Pressler and Eisner way / More Pooh cutbacks / Great Moments on hold a few more days / Club Buzz review / Millionaire construction shots / Sad observations at DCA

 


Both huge trees in the hub that flanked the castle were removed this weekend - although the shade will be missed, it should provide a better view of the fireworks show

 

The numbers game

The general attendance trend since the California Adventure (DCA) discounts took hold has been a lighter than planned attendance for Disneyland, and a slightly increased one for DCA. DCA has been in the high teens all week, and it even edged towards the 20K marker on Sunday when lot's of AP's jump from park to park. DCA has edged up several thousand a day since the ticket discounts went into effect last week, and the middle of June when it was averaging at the upper end of things about 15k. Disneyland has edged downward into the high 30's since that time, which is about 5,000 - 7,000 less bodies than planned.

Keep in mind that the DCA discount is uncharted territory, as if the first year of a troublesome new park wasn't mysterious enough. And when you add the Electrical parade (DEP) into the mix, who knows what could happen? DCA could get slammed attendance- wise while Disneyland starts to flounder? We'll see.

It's important to note that Disneyland hasn't had a major attraction open since Indy in Spring 1995 for the 40th anniversary, over six years ago. With the Rocket Rods gone, all the other new Disneyland attractions of the last 5 years are comprised of updates and remodelings like Tomorrowland's paint job, the Autopia and Tarzan's Treehouse. The major driver of Disneyland attendance for the last few years has been nostalgia based marketing, with taglines like "Remember This?" and "Remember the Magic!" That memory lane strategy may be starting to wear thin with consumers, particularly the Disneyland savvy locals who were trained by Walt and his successors to expect bigger and better things from Disneyland almost annually.

Except for this Fall's Haunted Mansion makeover, Disneyland has nothing major coming down the pike until Winnie The Pooh opens in Spring 2003. And Winnie is no E ticket type of major attraction. That will be a full eight years since Indy opened and Pressler began saying "no" to things more times than a eunuch in a harem. Eventually, consumers are going to want something new at Disneyland to see and experience, and something with a "Wow!" factor. That's what Disneyland had always been able to deliver every few years until the disastrous Tomorrowland redo pretty much set the tone under the current Pressler administration.

Before Paul came in, there was Star Tours in '87, Splash Mountain in '89, the 35th Anniversary and Party Gras parade in '90, Toontown and Fantasmic! in '92, Roger Rabbit afterwards in '93, then Indy and the Lion King Parade '95. (Not to mention the Hunchback and Pocahontas shows, and the tepid Animazement, a scaled down Christmas parade, Hercules and Mulan's rather nice parades.)

But since the Light Magic summer of '97, that steady flow of new things to see has sputtered to a trickle. A 45th anniversary character parade just didn't cut it, even with an expensive new soundtrack replacing the high school graduation music Eisner pushed for. It's really been a lot of entertainment events, which once they are spent for, don't leave anything running after they are shut down that adds to the permanent attraction mix.

If DCA fails to ignite big crowds on its own, without skimming a few thousand a day from Disneyland by using adult discounts and free kids tickets, then Disneyland could begin to feel it as well. That lays out a scary scenario for the next eighteen months, with a new Park that has created little interest and a continuing poor word of mouth, and an old Park that hasn't had a long term marketable / major attraction / ride addition in over five years.

 


Looks like they are adding a roof to shield the FastPass machines at Star Tours in Tomorrowland

 

Boosting morale the Pressler and Eisner way

Here's a scenario for you... Your new them park is drastically under its yearly attendance projection, and slipping farther from the annual target every day. You are throwing all the Opening Day hype about DCA being "hip and edgy" and "not about storytelling, but about placemaking" straight out the window by suddenly importing the 1970's Electrical Parade and Disney Character shows at unexpected expense. You've alarmingly broken a long standing company precedent by letting kids in for free to a Disney Park, while simultaneously offering an adult discount, all in the middle of summer no less.

You also have just laid off hundreds of employees, some who had been there for decades, and left most of the salaried workforce cowering in their cubicles as rumors swirl about more layoffs to come in August. And your front line hourly workers face traffic jams, overcrowded parking lot shuttles, and a mismanaged costuming department that has completely run out of many key items, or a pair of pants that even remotely approach anyone's correct size. Rumors are swirling all over the Resort property about what could be next, and what could be cut the most, (so that the big guy's bonus will remain intact) as the new theme park continues to solicit awful PR in the media.

So what do you do to boost morale? If you were Team Disney Anaheim (TDA - short for the suits), you probably should NOT put up a splashy display about Tokyo DisneySea, the amazing new theme park opening next to Tokyo Disneyland in September. Right? Well you must have forgotten the management we've been covering here in this column for the last six years, right? ;)

Amazingly, that's exactly what TDA decided to do last week for two days. WDI came in and proudly displayed (and yes folks, their pride is justified) amazing sketches, renderings and models of the incredible attractions and facilities that are nearing completion in Tokyo. Needless to say the exhibit and displays were packed with curious and awestruck Cast Members who were getting their first official look at what Tokyo's second Disney theme park looks like.

The buzz quickly spread around office water coolers and in theme park break rooms about all the incredible E Ticket attractions that are going into DisneySea, and about all the intricate and impressive detailing that was going into every nook and cranny of the overseas park. Even the C and D Ticket attractions, plus the snazzy new Tokyo monorails, impressed folks. There were all sorts of exciting new ride systems, new show effects, and entire battalions of audio- animatronic figures and cutting edge technology on display that will be used to dazzle, entertain, and wow the distant DisneySea visitors.

Disneyland Resort Cast Members peppered the WDI representatives on hand with questions and amazed comments, and by the afternoon of the first day there were hundreds of Cast Members coming down to see the incredible, yet absolutely heartbreaking, DisneySea exhibit. Cast Members then shuffled back to their workplaces in the shadow of the Resort's new carnival rides and gameshow soundstages in utter shock and amazement at the difference between Japan's version of "Disney," and the new American version of "Disney."

Maybe TDA should have given everyone a cheap Electrical Parade T-shirt to boost morale instead? The Tokyo DisneySea display was salt in the wound for a shell- shocked army of Disneyland Resort Cast Members who never expected 2001 to be this tumultuous and disappointing. Brilliant planning guys.

 

More Pooh cutbacks

The Winnie The Pooh attraction is moving forward very quickly, with a Labor Day closing still planned for the Bears. The attraction vehicle has been hammered out, and it will seat 6 as we previously mentioned here. The design is not the cartoon honey pot of Florida or Tokyo though. The Disneyland version will have riders seated in a stylized bee hive, with honey dripping off the sides. Amazingly, the "bouncing" effect of the Florida ride vehicles is now an item that may be cut from the Disneyland budget. The Disneyland Pooh may just be slowly rolling bee hives that have no interaction, and differ little from the predictable dark ride behavior of the Superstar Limo vehicles.

 

Great Moments on hold a few more days

The new Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln show has been delayed until July 17th, due to scheduling problems with getting the technology lined up and working correctly. The show has gone through a few dry runs for Cast Members and management, and it's getting high marks. It's clear that the audio system will be the big hit of this new show. The lobby displays have been freshened with some great new pictures of Walt. The Formal Office will stay at Disneyland, and there are several company old timers to thank for that.

The lobby displays are now more of a tribute to Walt Disney and his career exclusively, instead of the 'Disneyland and Walt' theme of the past exhibit. There are some new 1950's Disneyland references however, and Walt's earliest ideas about a patriotic "President Show" for Disneyland. It will be a nice change, so stop by when it officially opens on Disneyland's birthday later this month. Public soft openings may begin around July 15th, if things go well.

 

Not so mighty Matterhorn

The Matterhorn returned from its rehab one day late this past weekend, after almost having to remain closed for an additional week or possibly more.

The old elevator that travels inside the mountain has been causing some problems with the County elevator inspectors, and they almost put their foot down and said that the attraction couldn't reopen until extensive work was redone on the elevator shaft at the last minute. Instead, the fast acting front line Attractions managers pulled together a stop gap training package that now has Matterhorn Cast Members escorting riders down the side of the mountain in case of a break down, in place of shuttling some riders down in the elevator. That's why you now see some wooden hand railings up on some areas too.

It's also just a shame those front line managers don't have access to the real budgets, or they would bring back a unique and themed Cast Member costume for the Matterhorn Bobsleds attraction. When the Matterhorn lost it's signature lederhosen outfits a year or so ago, a lot of the pride that was associated with working at the Disneyland icon left as well. Cast Members have lobbied to get back a unique Matterhorn costume, but in this age of budget cuts and a troubled Cast Costuming department that can't keep it's head above water, the generic look will have to do at the symbolic Disneyland mountain.

 

Club Buzz

Entertainment head Anne Hamburger made her mark on the resort in a big way this weekend, with a complete revamp of the DCA entertainment program (you can read my review here of it, Sue Kruse also has a review here).

Also debuting this week was the new "Calling All Space Scouts... A Buzz Lightyear Adventure" character show in the former Tomorrowland Terrace, which is now renamed the "Club Buzz stage." (Performances as of 4th of July week were at 11 AM 12 Noon, 1, 2:45, 3:45 & 4:45 PM - with regular dance / music acts playing in the evenings.)

The first cute, then rather annoying aliens
The first cute, then rather annoying aliens

As I mentioned in the California Adventure reviews - do keep in mind while I dash this review off that for the most part the performers involved try their absolute best - they should be commended for their hard work. That now out of the way... unfortunately the rather weak material here drastically undermines the actors (as with many of the DCA offerings) making for a very disappointing show.

The basic problem? The show talks down to the audience - as it appears totally aimed at the most undiscriminating of children. It's very painfully apparent after the first few minutes that the writers forgot the audience was composed of both children and adults at Disneyland, and that kids generally appreciate being thought of as smart. Walt Disney himself always noted that the visitor ratio was four adults to every child - and remembered to keep the entertainment on two levels, to keep both camps happy.

Besides that major problem, the fragmented plot is also way too complicated - a mistake in a tourist destination where visitors consist of not only locals, but audiences from around the world. And after seeing shows on this stage in the past, it is also painfully obvious that a major attempt to save money was made here.

The plot in a nutshell: Our perky host Starla is a space cadet (hold your tongue folks) who interacts with the little green Toy Story aliens (one very articulated puppet, three others that are not) in the opening of the show. After lamenting she just missed being promoted to Space Ranger (the aliens and you the audience are space scouts by the way) she teaches us the special way (think Macarena) to welcome Buzz Lightyear in a way too long first act segment.

Then after your typical Star Search key change number (if only we got something musically as memorable as the warhorse "What I Did For Love" from "A Chorus Line") - the stage rises and Buzz, along with a deactivated Zurg make their entrance. As Buzz is crowing about capturing Zurg, Starla puts on a headset that Zurg then uses to control her - and she reactivates Zurg.

Zurg, (which for all his evil powers, apparently cannot move at all from the spot he has been planted on the stage in), has Starla do his dirty work, deactivating Buzz and then going after the aliens - which by this point they've been so overused that some audience members were begging for this to happen. Of course, Zurg can't win you know - the resourceful Starla gets out of her evil trance (I'll leave some sense of mystery here for you as to how it happens) and it all ends happily ever after.

The good? * The performer playing Starla is talented and tries hard. * The design / setting refreshes a badly in need of a rehab stage with some clever tributes to the old Tomorrowland.

The bad? * The script is way too long and talks down to the audience, (imagine Agent 99 Barbara Feldon talking to Don Adams as Maxwell Smart here), and forgets that Disneyland's charm is in how they entertain not only the kids, but the adults too. * It makes a way too harsh a jab (twice no less) at a classic Disneyland attraction. * The scrip is written in a way that is too complicated to understand easily - "way too much talking" as one Mexican family was saying in Spanish sitting next to me, just before they left early.

The ugly? * Patrick Warburton (who does Buzz in the animated series) appears to be used here for Buzz's voice also - he is so poorly directed that he sounds almost indistinguishable from his voice / persona as Kronk in "Emperor's New Groove" (as a matter of fact several children at the table in front of me were looking for Kronk when Buzz's voice came up on the sound system). * How cut back this show budget is compared to the 40th Anniversary show that used to play here - I didn't much care for that show either, but it had four performers and a live three piece band playing five shows daily.

Hmmm, maybe the new entertainment staff should stop by the Aladdin storytelling show to see how a performance can appeal to both kids and adults?

Right now I would say for the casual day visitor there are better things to do at the park in their limited time there than this show - I wouldn't even suggest planning a lunch here to see it, since the name may have changed for the place, but the burgers remain just as bad.

 

Millionaire construction shots

You can see just how fast they are working on the Millionaire building in DCA - the shot above was taken in the morning, by late afternoon (below) they had already painted the entire facade! The buzz is that they will have this one ready before its scheduled August open date

 

Sad observations at DCA

* The big Screamin coaster was down, yet again, all last Sunday. Seems they are having troubles with the launch system - three guesses why? Yep, the cheaped out on the parts, which have to be replaced now at the rate of one per week.

* I went to pick up my free tortilla Sunday morning, at about 10 AM. There was NO one there, the whole Pacific Wharf area was deserted. Walked up, held out my hand, and got a half a tortilla. Then, after the attendant turned around, he threw away the other half.

I have to ask, is there something wrong with the tortillas they can't give you a whole one on a deserted Sunday morning? Isn't throwing it away wasteful?

Wonders never cease at this park.

 

Time to head off and see the Electrical Parade at DCA, here's the Amazon button below, let us know what you think.

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6/28 Update - Tiger says no thanks / Free tickets? When will they pay you to go? / Bug Town / Hong Kong - A Pressler dream park / Pressler's Press

 

Tiger says no thanks

In today's Orlando Sentinel you'll see an item about the difficulty Disney had in locking down golfer Tiger Woods for an endorsement deal. Originally Disney wanted him to endorse just about everything they had under the sun, including the parks, and in particular the troubled California Adventure [DCA].

"Disney sources" in the news item expressed their disappointment at not being able to lock Tiger down - and blamed Nike's "iron-clad" 20 million dollar contract for their very limited deal. (Tiger has basically signed with Disney to do just the TV networks, ABC and ESPN.)

Cover art for the book "Raising the Bar: The Championship Years of Tiger Woods," by Tim Rosaforte, available at Amazon, click to buy
Cover art for the book "Raising the Bar: The Championship Years of Tiger Woods," by Tim Rosaforte, available at Amazon, click to buy

Well folks, I wouldn't be blaming Nike so fast. As I was told, Nike most likely have worked within just about any deal Tiger would have wanted. As disappointed as they may have been with a Disney deal, they knew if worked properly, it wouldn't affect their relationship too severely. The blame supposedly lies with what (and how much) Disney wanted Tiger to endorse - in one case the parks, and specifically DCA.

"Tiger's people increasingly felt Disney was desperate in trying to lock down such a broad deal," one very kind soul e-mailed me, "they were sensitive to the scathing critiques of many of their [Disney's] newer projects and didn't want Tiger shilling slow movers for them." Apparently Tiger's handlers were initially excited with how broad the deal could be, hence all the leaks about it, but the more they found out what was going on in Burbank, and the increasing visibility of problems the company was having, DCA being in the spotlight, it made them wonder if they shouldn't scale it back a bit. After all, they would still get a sizeable check.

I asked the source if Tiger's handlers felt they had felt there was just too much desperation in Disney's pitch. "If it were flop sweat - they would have drowned in it." was the succinct reply. I then asked, if they got wind of that, do you think if Disney was trying to spin this as Nike's fault? "Those teacups have been awfully busy lately, haven't they?" the source said.

I am always amazed at who reads this column.

 

Free tickets? When will they pay you to go?

In the L.A. Times a few days ago, one columnist joked that Disney was paying people to go to DCA, things had gotten that bad. Well, for all the talk from the executives (see the last "spin" update below) you'd think they just needed to tweak things a tiny bit and they would have a big hit on their hands.

Well, um... yesterday in the mail, as a favor to everyone the letter said, all the annual passholders (from what I figure, about 300,000 of them) got two free children's tickets for DCA. Not an offer for them mind you, two actual hard tickets.

Free tickets? Sheesh, maybe if we wait just a bit longer, they will finally start paying us to go? It sure looks like the joking columnist may have hit that one on the nose.

Anyway - the free tickets went out as they begin a huge revamp of the DCA entertainment offerings. Starting today you'll see the following going on all over the park:

Hollywood Pictures Backlot:

- Goofy's Beach Party Bash: Donald directs Goofy and Max in a beach movie, live! (Replaces Lights, Camera, Chaos!)

- Cruellea's Story: Cruella tells her own version of 101 Dalmatians. ("Dalmatians" was misspelled in the flyer given out to CMs)

- Chance to Shine: Movie extra's entertain Guests with stories of "the business." (Sounds like the "streetmosphere" at Disney / MGM.)

Golden State:

- Donald's Vision: Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, and Pluto search the Golden State for the picture perfect spot to paint.

- California Zephyr: A conductor and engineer shares stories and songs of the railroad.

- ArtVentures: From corn husk dolls to painting chop sticks, kids can create their own works of art to take home at various craft locations.

- Max joins "La Feet" (an act in the amphitheater): Max joins the big finale!

- Mickey's Garden - Chip n' Dale wreak fun and mayhem in Bountiful Valley Farm. Help Mickey put the pieces back together.

Condor Flats:

- Minnie "Earhart": Minnie lands in Condor Flats

Paradise Pier:

- Captain Rustworthy: Listen to the Captain tell the tale of his vessel's demise.

Sort of looks like they are turning the place into Disneyland doesn't it? It's basically everything Paul Pressler vowed he would not do it seems. It sure makes one wonder when the bulldozers start on the rest of the place? ;)

But wait, for a park that Thomas Staggs, the CFO of Disney says "We have not found anything major to where we have to go fix the menu." it sure looks like even more changes to that menu are afoot... (...besides the free / discounted tickets, the Electrical Parade, etc. - Jeeze, is it worse than even we thought?)

 

Bug Town

As we mentioned before, Tower of Terror now goes into DCA for Spring, 2004, and construction will begin later this year. But before that, a new "Bug Town" area will be added to The Bountiful Valley Farm (if not a direct replacement). Expect to see about three kiddy rides, (bumper cars, etc.), most likely plowing under all the plantings.

It should be noted that all of the Bug Town additions will be without height requirements, which is plainly admitting they just didn't have enough for kids to do here at the new park. (And that this, of course, puts the previously planned Paradise Pier Ursula "octopus" spinner ride on hold for right now.)

Don't expect any kind of major theming or detail as you would see across the way in Fantasyland here (heck, not even a dark ride!) - as the bug town rides will most likely literally be assembled out of the shipping box and set up like a traveling KMart parking lot carnival.

It's sort of like the Paradise Pier "off the shelf" mentality is spreading through the place, as opposed to Pressler understanding this is a major factor in why people don't see this park as being special, or worthy of the Disney brand.

 

Hong Kong - A Pressler dream park

So, from a land where they still build real Disney parks, (from what I've been able to gather), the new Tokyo DisneySeas project is considered quite stunning. As one person working on it told me "It is just going to blow everything else out of the water."

But Imagineer Barry Braverman's Hong Kong park (now being worked on) appears to be a whole other less impressive story. It looks to be extremely modest at opening, just like a certain park here across the way from Disneyland. (Barry's previous project.)

Here's the rundown for it, gathered from several sources, subject to change of course, should the locals get wind of things and stage a revolt or something:

* It will have a Main Street USA, anchored by a familiar train station on the Town Square, leading to three Lands; Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, and Adventureland. (Hey, lose a land, save a few bucks, right?)

* Tomorrowland consists of a Space Mountain, a Buzz Lightyear, and the Rocket Jets; plus (of course) shops and a Tomorrowland Terrace.

* The Castle is almost a direct copy of Disneyland USA's, as the size and scale the same. Fantasyland is done in the old Disneyland style, (in a much cheaper to build "medieval faire" plywood heavy theme with banners and tents) and it has a Carousel, a Winnie The Pooh dark ride (Florida version, not the more lush Tokyo one), Tea Cups, Dumbo, a 3-D show called Mickey's PhilharMagic, and a Fantasyland Train Station. (The Park train only makes two stops, Main Street and Fantasyland - save a stop, save some bucks, right?)

* Adventureland is basically now a river called "Rivers of Adventure" with an island in the middle. Jungle Cruise- sized "river boats" travel around the river in place of a large steamboat or sailing ship with some "show scenes" along the banks of the river. There is a Pocahontas' Canoe attraction that travels the same river, plus Rafts that take you over to Tarzan Island that has a version of Disneyland's rather inexpensive Tarzan's Treehouse in the middle. Adventureland also has an "Adventureland Theater" where a Lion King stage show may be produced.

And that's IT for the attractions.

There are no Pirates, no Mansion, no Small World, no Thunder or Splash, etc., what people consider to be the signature Disney attractions. There is no Indy or Star Tours - I guess they don't want to give Lucas any more money. There are not even rethemed versions of Grizzly River or Rock N' Roller Coaster. Hell, there's only one dark ride in Fantasyland - not even a Storybook ride!

Space Mountain looks to be about the only E Ticket, and then the rest are D's and mostly C's. And kind of boring ones at that - not even the other Disney signature attraction, Peter Pan. I truly feel sorry for the people in that part of the world who are visiting and expecting the real thing.

Are you stunned? Granted, people knew it would be "Disneyland Light," but not this bad. How could they even give it that name? (And keep in mind Braverman is now in charge of Disneyland here too - get a chill up your spine yet?) The guy is notorious for saying yes to bad accountaneering ideas, just to keep the suits happy.

Why not change the Hong Kong moniker to "PresslerWorld" - at least it would be truth in advertising, right? I wonder if they will even save on Cast Members by making the whole thing self service? ;)

No wonder the stock analysts on Wall Street are starting to change their tune about Disney. I think they now know the guys in charge plainly don't care about what the brand name means to the customer anymore.

 

Pressler's Press

From an e-mail I got: "Al, notice the recent L.A. Times sports section article on Pressler? You may want to keep in mind it may have been sought after by his PR folks. Usually when you see something like that, it means the person profiled is trying to spin his side of the story to the audience."

I wrote back: "Isn't this just like when Disneyland's reviled ex- merchandise honcho Ann Dale did an interview in the Times, just before she, um... moved on?"

The source wrote back: "Yep, by the time they usually feel they need to do this though, the damage is usually already done. I understand conversation frequency and lengths between Eisner and Pressler have been increasingly shorter since last February when DCA opened."

Who's to say what may happen? What with all the suit shuffling now, and with Peter Schneider heading off in what promises to be only the latest in an executive exodus from the place, it might be time to do some more job jostling.

I'm not holding my breath though, as maybe it will take the opening of the Hong Kong demi- Disneyland to finally shine some light for Eisner on the mounting problems he faces in the parks division.

 

Time to head off to see the new Goofy show at DCA, here's the Amazon button below, let us know what you think.

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7/9 Update - The River story you didn't read in the Times / Zippity Do Dah, Zippty aye - My oh my, What a woeful delay... / N - E - S - T - L - E - S, What spells GHOST the very best? / More Executive Spin! - California Adventure's attendance push - Electrical Parade confusion / California Mis-Adventures / Castle Chat / Happier days remembered / Happier Meal Toys

7/2 Update - The numbers game / Boosting morale the Pressler and Eisner way / More Pooh cutbacks / Great Moments on hold a few more days / Club Buzz review / Millionaire construction shots / Sad observations at DCA

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6/28 Update - Tiger says no thanks / Free tickets? When will they pay you to go? / Bug Town / Hong Kong - A Pressler dream park / Pressler's Press

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