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Al Lutz
Archived D-I-G Update
UPDATE 11/13 - LuminAria paves the way for a Fantasmic return? / The root of LuminAria's problems / Who is behind the crazy Disneyland rehab schedule? / Grad Nite headaches / The unthinkable - Summer rehabs? / Operating schedule outlook / Minnie's Christmas Party / Wolfgang muck / Monster perspectives

LuminAria paves the way for a Fantasmic return? 

It looks like cast members are being called for a possible return of Fantasmic by Christmas. The Columbia apparently has been rushed into rehab and the costumes are being repaired just in case they are needed. If the show doesn't make it for Christmas, it might be up for New Years and then run weekends after the first of the year.

Although the complaints at City Hall have been logged at a steady pace since Fantasmic was put on indefinite hold, the word is that the suits have understood that LuminAria (or any permutations of it for after the holidays) won't really do the job it was designed to do.

Now if we could only get Fantasmic restored to its former glory (all barges, proper crowd control staffing, lighting, pyro, etc.) And where is that Ursula barge?

Let's hope the rumors hold. And wouldn't a holiday version of Fantasmic be a good idea for next year?  ;)


The root of LuminAria's problems

The review of the new DCA lagoon show that went up on the site yesterday drew a big response - and almost to a letter, all of you agreed the show left a lot to be desired.

One kind soul sent in the following note, which helped add some perspective to the problems I noted in viewing the show:

Al - Love the column. One quick comment in defense of WDI, though. WDI is the creative arm of the Disney Parks, but Disneyland is the client, and the resort pays the bills.

When the DCA was being designed, Disneyland was given the option of a lagoon show by WDI. Disneyland said "no, not now, not ever." WDI offered to put in infrastructure (conduit, power, air) for a possible show, when it would have cost next to nothing, but again it was nixed by Disneyland.

The walkways around the lagoon were designed in a manner that would be constricted for a lagoon show, because the lagoon show was never supposed to happen. For everyday traffic, the walkways are just fine. The blame for there not being adequate viewing area rests with the Resort, not WDI.

Also, as to your comment about the Disney ties always being in their folding chairs in a roped off area -- you are so on the money. I understand that Barnett Rickey, director of Fantasmic, has never even seen the show except for at Tower B. She has never seen the show from the side, which would explain why they have never fixed the Witch / Hag transition with the cauldron, which is totally exposed from the side!

That explains a lot doesn't it?


Who is behind the crazy Disneyland rehab schedule?

For decades, Disneyland has always used the slower times of the year to close attractions for refurbishment (known as "rehabs" in Cast Member Disney-speak). There were always a few basic rules that the refurbishment planners would use however, in order to lessen the disappointment of paying visitors.

The "rules" that Disneyland for the most part uses are:

No more than one major E Ticket attraction closed at one time

Several attractions in any given land may not be closed at one time, and

Nothing should be closed during the busy weeks around Christmas and Easter, or during Summer vacation

There are rare exceptions of course, such as the New Fantasyland project of 1982 - 83 and the New Tomorrowland construction of 1997 - 98. But those types of large scale closures are historically rare, and usually understood by most visitors.

With an aging Park however, and after five years of reduced preventative maintenance that Disneyland used to be famous for, the refurbishment calendar for fiscal year 2002 was going to be very full. However the planners had originally been able to squeak in all the major refurbishments needed without breaking any of the old rules.

Suddenly however, the refurbishment schedule has been thrown for a loop and now Disneyland is looking at scenarios that have entire sections of the Park closed for weeks at a time, or major E Ticket attractions like Space Mountain or Pirates of the Caribbean closed during the busy summer weeks of June and July.

And what's to blame for this sudden change in plans?

The hugely successful Haunted Mansion Holiday of course. The Haunted Mansion closure originally planned for January 7th through the 17th has just been stretched out to almost 6 weeks, instead of the original 10 days needed to take down all the Holiday set pieces and decorations.

Why? It seems Steve Davison, the Entertainment Department producer responsible for the wildly received Haunted Mansion Holiday (and also the lackluster LuminAria, but we won't dwell on that) was appalled to see the condition of the Mansion and its infrastructure when he and his team of Entertainment workers descended on the attraction in August and September to fine tune their Holiday plans.

It seems the Entertainment folks are used to producing sparkling shows in well kept venues, and were disgusted to find paint peeling in sheets off the Mansion exterior, wallpaper that was torn and faded, old carpeting that was horribly frayed and smelled like a gym locker, and Doombuggies (ride vehicles) that were battered and creaky.

Steve Davison - photo by Adrienne Vincent- Phoenix
Steve Davison - photo by Adrienne Vincent- Phoenix

Since Davison has been the creative force behind many of Disneyland's successful endeavors the last 5 years, from the extremely popular Small World Holiday to the Believe fireworks shows, he now enjoys a very favored status with resort President Cynthia Harriss and Team Disney Anaheim's (TDA's) executive team. And when the Haunted Mansion Holiday blew out of the gates in early October as another big home run, Steve's star shown even brighter.

You have to remember that if it weren't for Davison's crowd pleasing attraction makeovers and his entertainment spectaculars of the late 1990's, the recent past at Disneyland would mostly be remembered for flops and embarrassments like the original Parade of the Stars, the Rocket Rods, and Light Magic. So when he now notices peeling paint and smelly carpet at one of "his" venues, and mentions it to TDA executives, it gets fixed.

Why do I like this guy so much now?  ;)

The problem (of course you knew there was a hitch here, didn't you?) lies in the fact that Splash Mountain was also scheduled to close for refurbishment for 10 long weeks on January 14th, about the same time the Haunted Mansion was going to return to service after it's Holiday show was taken out. But now, the Haunted Mansion will be closed until mid February, and since the Country Bear Playhouse is closed and undergoing its not-so-secret transformation into Winnie The Pooh, a big chunk of the Park would be without any attractions for an entire month. Plus, Pirates of the Caribbean was going to be closed for four weeks in February.

There was already some consternation in having Pirates and Splash closed at the same time, but the refurbishment calendar was already stretched to it's limit. In addition, several of Fantasyland's dark rides will be closed due to the sewer repair and repaving project that is going on this fall and winter in Fantasyland.

Unfortunately, it's not as simple as just bumping everything back 5 weeks while the Haunted Mansion finally gets the TLC it's needed for years. When you start pushing things back, you have several major attractions closed during both weeks of the busy Easter Break. Move farther into May and June, and that causes several attractions to close during the Park's Grad Nites.

More about this below...


Grad Nite headaches

Schools who already purchased their Grad Nite 2002 ticket packages have been upset to now learn that Splash Mountain will be closed for Grad Nites in order to accomplish overnight testing of new equipment that will be installed in the Spring. Several schools have already angrily phoned Disneyland upon hearing the plans for Splash Mountain's overnight closures during May and June, but if Space Mountain or another thrill ride were closed as well, then the Park may lose out on huge amounts of Grad Nite business.

Many school planning committees and student body governments are already disenchanted with the cutbacks over the past four years at Disneyland's Grad Nite parties. First the live bands disappeared in the late 90's, then area entertainment was cut back in 1999, and then more attractions and dance floors were cut in 2000. Finally, extras such as the pyro effects on the Castle, even more cutbacks in area entertainment and decorations, and little details like glossy souvenir Grad Nite guide maps were all eliminated in 2001.

The dress code was relaxed by Disneyland to the point of non- existence in the late 1990's on purpose, to get rid of the atmosphere of a "special evening" and to purposely lower the expectations of the students attending what used to be a fancy event. All during these recent years however, tickets for Grad Nites regularly increased by several dollars each year, so that now the ducats approach 50 dollars per person.

With many schools already unhappy over the diminished event, higher prices, and now a Splash Mountain that will be shuttered for overnight "testing", Disneyland may not be able to afford to have a roller coaster or additional E Ticket closed during May and June.

That may very well happen however to Grad Nite customers, and those overlapping closures coming this winter and spring will definitely affect day visitors as well. As currently planned with the newly extended Haunted Mansion refurbishment, there are several weeks this winter and spring when there will be between seven and nine Disneyland attractions all closed at once. But the story doesn't stop here...


The unthinkable - Summer rehabs?

Thanks to all the jostling you've been reading about, the refurbishment planners are also now contemplating the unthinkable by possibly having either Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, or Pirates of the Caribbean closed in June and July, right when the schools let out and huge crowds arrive for the 4th of July weekend. A summertime closure for any of those big E Tickets would have been sacrilege in years past.

The fact that Disneyland has closed other major attractions lately, such as the Submarine Voyage, the Rocket Rods, and the Country Bear Jamboree (to say nothing of the smaller attractions like the Skyway, the Motorboat Cruise, CircleVision and the Keel Boats that have slipped into Yesterland without replacements) means that there is an even thinner comfort margin when it comes to closed attractions.

That's why 2002's refurbishment calendar was going to be such a delicate balancing act as it was. But now that the Haunted Mansion will be closed for an extra month, the house of cards seems to be collapsing. Stay tuned to this column for exact dates and plans when they are finally decided upon, because the refurbishment calendar may be struggling to keep up.

And just think, all of this could have been avoided if TDA had just been keeping the Haunted Mansion and other aging E Tickets in tip top shape during the late 1990's, instead of letting the paint peel and the carpet fray in order to save some money on maintenance. I'd bet the local High Schools would be more willing to cut Disneyland a little slack on the Splash Mountain closure if they didn't feel that they were being taken advantage of more and more with every graduating class of recent years.

Bring back the polish and prestige to Disneyland's famous Grad Nite's, and most kids would be more willing to shell out the 50 bucks for a ticket.


Operating schedule outlook

Disneyland Park will be tinkering with it's operating hours for the New Year. When the 2002 fiscal year started on October 1, Disneyland shied away from limiting Park operating hours in the wake of the tourism slowdown after September 11th.

The Haunted Mansion Holiday was such an immediate hit in early October, and had such tremendously strong visitor feedback, that TDA decided to let Disneyland keep it's midnight closes and it's Magic Morning early entry program for the time being. It was a good bet, because Disneyland attendance has stayed at it's projections for October and November, even though DCA continues to under perform severely.

Early Entry was cancelled at the Orlando Disney parks recently, but Disneyland escaped that cut for now. But expect to see shorter hours of operation for Disneyland Park in 2002 as soon as the Holidays end. The suits will continue to tinker with DCA hours to try and get folks to stay longer into the evening at that Park and spend more on food and merchandise.

Stay tuned for more details once the final schedules have been agreed upon.


Wolfgang muck

It seems the DCA restaurant folks had some cleaning up to do once Wolfgang Puck and his crew took off in a hurry from Avalon Cove. When Disney went into the kitchen the day after Puck's employees left, they found the place a disaster. Food was left out and thrown at the walls, pots and pans littered the floor, and furniture was piled in precarious positions. It took several days of scrubbing and work to get the place back in order. Some of the heavier damage looked like it had been weeks in the making, as if the Puck employees had been really beating up the place since late summer.

Was Wolfgang Puck kicked out of DCA by Disney, or did Puck leave all on his own because he was upset with the lack of business in Disney's floundering theme park? Or was it a bit of both? By the looks of the kitchen and facilities after Puck employees left, it appears there was definitely some bad blood there somewhere.


Minnie's Christmas Party show

Just a quick note on the new show in the Fantasyland Theater - this one is really just for the little ones, if you are older than six, you will be counting the minutes as they go by like hours.

Minnie's Christmas Party

The performers do their best, (and should be commended) but the bare bones production shows its genesis as a children's hospital show that was originally supposed to be loaded into the Carnation stage off the hub. (There is even a song done with sign language - which is the one thing I found rather touching.)

As much as the kids like the snow effect at the end, it really takes away the dramatic effect of the similar snowfall that concludes the Believe holiday fireworks show.

I miss the days when Disneyland resort entertainment was just as interesting for the adults as it was for the kids.


Monster perspectives

One of the things I am blessed with in doing this column is the wonderful readership it has built up over the years. More than a few folks are always taking the time to help clarify and correct some of the items I process for you here. The following is from a very good friend of this column:

I love visiting your site as always but have been meaning to bring up something I noticed in the latest DIG Update. In the coverage of the premiere weekend of "Monsters, Inc." you wrote that, "...the studio pretty much made its nut this first weekend..." This is highly unlikely.

The P&A (Prints & Advertising) is, at minimum, $55,000,000.

According to Daily Variety (Tuesday, November 6, 2001) the film opened on 3,237 screens. My experience has been that this means that Buena Vista had to have ordered a minimum of 3,560 prints (at least 10% extra for back-up prints). At a minimum of $10,000 per print this would mean $35,600,000 in printing costs.

This is why there is so much concern over wide openings that last only one weekend. ("Monsters, Inc." should have at least two good weekends.) It means (among other things) that there is more waste in print life. In the past studios could use prints until they were worn out; today they are pulled out of service after just a few weeks. (Now you know why Distributors are so interested in digital projection.)

Besides prints there is also shipping. But since $10,000 for each print is maybe on the high side (animated features do run shorter) we'll throw in those costs with the prints.

The other major expense is advertising. So far, the campaign looks like an absolute minimum of $20,000,000. (It's gotta be more!) And yes, they do have to pay for ads on their own networks. (And so now you know why Distributors are so interested in commercial tie-ins.)

That brings total expenditures to about $55,000,000.

Now as to the first weekend Box Office Gross of approx. $62,000,000; 10% of that went to the theaters leaving $55,800,000. Subtracted from that is the distribution fee (what it costs to run Buena Vista, publicity, etc.) and a lot of other valid charges.

Prints are a one time expense and advertising costs dramatically decrease during the run of a film. But there is the cost of making the film itself. Let's say the production only cost $100,000,000 that brings totally expenses to $155,000,000.

So in reality you don't make your money back until you get into Home Video, and in the animation / special effects world, the toys. The films themselves can be worthless.

The kind soul continued on another subject:

On another note, have you noticed how the parks are not rising to the challenges before them? It looks like they are positioning themselves for less. Have you noticed what Las Vegas is doing (and how it's performing)? Vegas is really tapping into the local market which refuses to fly. In comparison Disney seems to be hiding in a corner.

To no fault of their ad people, they're stuck running almost the same kind of campaign as last year. (I take it that marketing found lukewarm response to the Haunted Mansion ads even though there are long lines for the attraction.)

Disney still hasn't hit rock bottom with price structuring DCA but hopefully (and I'm taking management's side here) they won't have to. But I, along with what appears to be the rest of humanity, just wish they'd fix Disneyland.

Hopefully, as you've read already in this column, they have already started on that path.


Ok folks, enough for today. See you at Disneyland!

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UPDATE 11/6 - Luminaria soft opens cancelled / Giving California Adventure away - Resident Salute Discount / Ruined Paradise Bay views / Mondavi couldn't get out fast enough / You will film in DCA, or else! / Monsters even surprised the Mouse / Catching up / Other quik notes


Luminaria soft opens cancelled

Oh boy are they having problems with the new California Adventure Luminaria lagoon show (and to be fair here, so did Fantasmic! way back when it first debuted.)

So far they can't seem to get through an entire performance, all sorts of adjustments both in mechanical and with the fireworks are being made.  As it stands now, Friday will be the first day it will run in front of any kind of audience, come hell or high water I would guess. ;)

We'll keep you updated as to what is up.  It has been a tight schedule, and the budget was nowhere near what it should have been. It should be interesting.


Giving California Adventure away - Resident Salute Discount

$49 adults, $39 kids, two days - includes both parks. Residents of Southern California (zip codes 90000-93599). The passport must be used starting the day it is purchased. Each resident can purchase up to five passports with proper identification, and they have to show proof of Southern California residency (if not a driver's license then a utility bill). The offer is now in effect through December 18th.

Once you purchase these two-day tickets, you will be eligible to attend one park on the day of purchase, and either the same park or the other on any day you wish (including same day), up until the December 19 expiration date.

The offer *may* continue again after the holidays - (there may also be some kind of variation during the holidays themselves) - all depending on how attendance goes.

This addresses the California Adventure value issue rather well, and also offers a great incentive to visit during this less crowded pre-holiday season.


Ruined Paradise Bay views

As the new park gets ready to debut the Luminaria show - one of the things all the stuff installed for it does is ruin the view in the lagoon:

Promotional photo Disney

Before (above) and after (below)


Since the show will most likely continue past the holidays (with a summer edition) this looks like it will be the norm now. Below is one of the platforms up above the waterline during the day:


We won't even discuss the huge problems they are having with the smoke from the show - all due to the huge amount of fireworks they are shooting off.  (They don't have these problems with Fantasmic! at Disneyland across the way due to the actual very small amount of pyro set off.)

If you're allergic / sensitive to smoke you may want to think twice about seeing the new lagoon show.


Mondavi couldn't get out fast enough

The photos below show that Mondavi is now completely out of DCA - I guess all the comments from both Disney and the wine folks that they were going to continue things as a sponsorship (as opposed to being an operator) was just posturing.

But you knew that already from reading this column. ;)

The Mondavi name was removed from the cement signs outside...


...they just boarded up the name on the menu outside...


...they have emptied out the wine shop...


...and cleaned out the deli...


Rumor has it a fast food location will be put in by Disney - longer term they are looking at possibly replacing the whole complex with an attraction.

Hmmm, I wonder if that Country Bears movie is a big enough hit if they would consider some kind of return for them (in one way, shape, form or the other) at the base of the Grizzly River Run bear (the current Winery location)... your guess is as good as mine. 

Meanwhile all I can think of is the millions of dollars wasted on yet another Paul Pressler indulgence / miscalculation.


You will film in DCA, or else!

The various broadcast arms of the Disney Company have been ordered to shoot as many segments as possible in DCA to expose the park on the air. "It wasn't a request," one wag wrote in, "it was a demand."

Here's some of what's been going on the last few weeks...

UPDATE guess here is that the lady below in the Hollywood Backlot area is Lea Thompson (doing a segment for Lifetime)...


...they had the Paradise Pier carnival area as a backdrop for the shoot below. I guess that's appropriate...  ;)



Monsters even surprised the Mouse

Everyone, including people in the Disney company, were amazed with the numbers Monsters pulled in this past weekend. There were worries that the buzz wasn't high enough, and the rather pedestrian advance ticket sales at the El Capitan (among a few other factors) seemed to confirm those early trends.  Lots of last minute pushes took place, which probably helped things a bit. (My Yahoo on opening weekend for example was offering almost ten minutes of video clips - an amazing quantity when you consider how short animated films can be.)

Of course attaching the Star Wars trailer to the movie didn't hurt things... you may have noticed that Disney made a big point of NOT mentioning that in their crowing about the numbers. They were still rather miffed they were not involved in the trailer deal between Pixar and Lucas. Nevertheless, the movie obviously filled a big hole in the marketplace for family films - and should continue to do well until Harry Potter opens. (Keep in mind, even if it tanks from now on - unlikely - the studio pretty much made its nut this first weekend, when they collect the highest percentages. Those numbers will decline as the movie continues to run, as is standard with exhibition deals.) Reviews tended towards the good, with a good amount noting that even Pixar at a little less than optimal is still heads and tales above everyone else.

(Another indicator of how the movie connects with the audience, licensed merchandise sales - in particular the toys - was interesting to monitor this past weekend. Lower end retailers, which had Monsters items under ten dollars did really well, most shelves were cleaned off. Specialty toy retailers that carried higher end merchandise - $15 to $40 product - the larger plastic talking items - still had a lot of product left.)

From what I have been told Harry Potter will also benefit from a longer 90 second trailer for Star Wars.  From a friend at Lucasfilm: "We are showing what we can do." With Fox still keen on keeping a working relationship with Lucas past the new films, and DreamWorks continuing to remind Pixar that they could call the shots there (and not worry about bumping into scheduling situations with Disney product) it should prove to be an interesting next couple of months for all involved.

Lucas and Pixar working together again would be a nice jewel in any company distribution crown, don't you think?  ;)


Catching up

Disneyland Resort President Cynthia Harriss had her stone placed back on the esplanade between the two parks, but the space next to hers did not host a return of the frequently disfigured Paul Pressler paver.


By the way, if the name Richard Kraft (seen above) seems familiar to you - there's a reason for that. He now works with Danny Elfman. small world, isn't it?  :)

Meanwhile, the installation of new paving in Fantasyland continues...


...instead of the plain old painted asphalt, we now get all sorts of neat treatments in the walkways. Dumbo (to the left) gets what appears to be paver-like areas, surrounding the ride in the general walkway is a new cobblestone effect.

It's a quality effort that really does add a lot to the land - it is really nice to see this being done. Kudos to the park for spending the money to get this level and quality of detailing.


Other quik notes

On a sad note: Sleeping Beauty Castle walk though at Disneyland may never reopen due to security concerns, they are terrified the castle is a target, meanwhile they keep listing it as being "rehabbed"... ...Fantasmic! is back on the budget next summer, but will remain a question mark as they monitor attendance (they keep changing their mind!) The feedback generated from the public when word got out it may not return was a BIG factor in getting it penciled back in by the way... ...The former Country Bears theaters are now all gutted inside... ...There are rumors about the Rivers of America getting a major overhaul - the animatronics / attractions there are just a disaster, it would be nice if Tony Baxter could get to do his American Legends concept, lord knows there is even a DVD / Videotape release coming out from Disney with that theme - Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan, John Henry, etc...

...The Bug Town kiddy area will probably be the big push for next year at DCA, if the budget can afford it, Millionaire has been apparently been thrown aside, Tower of Terror continues on hold...  ...Mickey will finally get to speak in the Farmer Mickey skit at DCA... ...The former Wolfgang Puck DCA restaurant Avalon Cove is keeping the name, and getting a character meal for breakfast and lunch, and a holiday dinner menu package for the lagoon show (hope the customers like smoked everything on their plate). They are having a tough time convincing food cast members to work there, no one wants to get laid off if it still doesn't work out... ...Harriss also keeps promising "Blast!" for the Hyperion Theater, but no contacts have been signed from what I was told (the show is now loaded into the theater though and has a Thanksgiving target date)...

...DCA is getting decked out for the holidays, Kermit the Frog will have lights, they had even planned a Santa hat and sunglasses for the Grizzly River Run bear, but nixed it due to costs and not being able to find a sunglass lens that wouldn't reflect back into airplane pilot eyes... ...The Disneyland Hotel Christmas tree is visible from all of Downtown Disney... ...Cynthia Harris is pushing for more of a Tokyo DisneySea type of higher budgeted park for the third gate, it's not clear if she or the company feels that DCA is just not worth investing too much more in, maybe it can be an expansion area for the Downtown Disney mall? ;) ...

Whew, I think that's all!


That should do it for today, don't forget the Amazon box below if you found this of worth to you! See you at Disneyland!

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UPDATE 11/13 - LuminAria paves the way for a Fantasmic return? / The root of LuminAria's problems / Who is behind the crazy Disneyland rehab schedule? / Grad Nite headaches / The unthinkable - Summer rehabs? / Operating schedule outlook / Minnie's Christmas Party / Wolfgang muck / Monster perspectives

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UPDATE 11/6 - Luminaria soft opens cancelled / Giving California Adventure away - Resident Salute Discount / Ruined Paradise Bay views / Mondavi couldn't get out fast enough / You will film in DCA, or else! / Monsters even surprised the Mouse / Catching up / Other quik notes

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