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Al Lutz
Archived D-I-G Update
1/22 UPDATE - Disney's Stealth Layoffs / The Disneyland is Closed Gallery / California Adventure's Morale Plunge / LuminariaNOT - Toilet of Terror! / Hungry Bear Restaurant Changes / Carrousel Rehab Photos / Watch those Cast Members / Park Security? What's that? (Part II) / New Year's Eve Beach Balls / Churro Update

 

Disney's Stealth Layoffs

Hmmm, let's say you're the Disney Company and you want to keep your latest set of layoffs out of the media glare. One of the ways that can be done is to drop the ax just before a holiday weekend - when most of the reporters covering you are enjoying an extra day off.

We started getting hints that something was up last week - when we mentioned that an executive retreat brought to the forefront some ideas for upcoming layoffs. So it was no surprise, that last Friday Disney had another round of cuts.

At Disneyland we got wind of about 27 hourly cast members in Facilities that were laid off (which of course doesn't bode well for any additional maintenance - the painting and upkeep we saw last week may be the end of an era). As is par for the course at Disney now, there were no Facilities management cuts (at least at this time). The Indians go, the chiefs remain. There were others in the parks too from what I understand.

 

The Disneyland is Closed Gallery - 1

Remember when Disneyland's attractions and shops used to open when the park did? It was always a great time for early bird visitors to do some rides and some leisurely shopping - and was a terrific way to avoid the long lines that developed later on in the day.

At a time when Disneyland has a record number of attractions down for rehab or refurbishment, park management in all its wisdom has decided to go ahead and start opening attractions, shops, and yes, even whole lands, later in the day (or closing them earlier) to save on labor costs. Forget about what impressions everything being closed gives the paying customer, those costs need to be cut - even though Disneyland is doing quite well attendance-wise.

Below we start a gallery (of four photos interspersed throughout this update today) of what Disneyland now looks like to a visitor before 10 or 11 AM (depending on the location). All photos were taken last Sunday.

We'll start with the late opening ToonTown...

Photo by David Lane
Photo by David Lane

Are those closed gates keeping us out? Or the Toons in?  ;)

 

California Adventure's Morale Plunge

Layoffs make for an awful work atmosphere of course - no more so than at the new California Adventure [DCA] park as it goes into its second struggling year. Since customers are shunning the place in record numbers - that means the park requires fewer people and fewer work hours for those that are left - making for some very poor and unhappy employees.

To compound matters management is pushing employees even harder to up revenues, claiming that "extra sales will be what gets you extra hours!" - all while ignoring the fact that same management's decisions made for such an empty park in the first place. 

In the merchandise department for example that means they are upping sales targets for the folks who work in the stores - as apparently they think what few customers are showing up need to be hounded even more.

What makes things really sad is that one has to remember that "the best of the best" were recruited and moved over to DCA from Disneyland to open it up. These were the resort's primo employees, and they were promised an exciting new park to work at. Imagine their dismay when the visitors didn't come, and their hours started getting cut back. Now that the transfers between the two park's workforces are no longer available - this means these top notch employees are kept outside of Disneyland and its more abundant pool of work hours.

Not all is bad though, and good work should be acknowledged, as reader kind Kelly does in her note below...

As always, thank you so much for the work you do on this site. With all the negative Disneyland (DL) stories of late, I thought I'd share my positive experience and see if anyone else has been this lucky.

A year or two ago, DL had a special event for the art of Herb Ryman, I believe. This was the event where attendees ate breakfast at Club 33, then toured the park with 3 different Disney Legends. As I'm sure you know by now, they're doing this event again next weekend (1/26 and 1/27). I was not fortunate enough to get tickets to the last event, as I did not receive my event notification until all the tickets were sold. So I called to complain. WELL, DL apparently kept a list of complaints, and called me last Friday night to let me know that the event was on again for the end of the month, and that they were offering first purchase privileges to people who did not get tickets last time. Was I interested? You bet!

Now, I had all but forgotten about the previous event, but obviously, DL hadn't. That was really going above and beyond the call of duty in terms of guest relations. I am very pleased with DL and am optimistic that guest relations is taking a step in the right direction, particularly since they've transferred my sister to that department from attractions!

Anyway, the call came out of the blue, was totally unexpected, and very much appreciated. Maybe things might turn around, maybe this was a one-time thing, who knows? Regardless, I thought it was a nice story to share.

The good thing Kelly is that something like what they did for you is not only nice for customers, but nice for their bottom line too. ;)  You can make a lot of money keeping people happy - as evidenced by your experience above.  That is something they do seem to forget too many other times though.

 

The Disneyland is Closed Gallery - 2

Now if ToonTown isn't open yet, (and small world is down for rehab, and there is no show in the Fantasyland Theater) maybe you could do some shopping while in the area? Well, that would be hard to do...

Photo by David Lane
Photo by David Lane

...since the kiosk is closed! Paraphrasing Seinfeld's Soup Nazi here: "No shopping for you!"

 

LuminariaNOT - Toilet of Terror!

Don't look for a summer "Luminaria" at DCA this year. Maybe next year, as they may finally have understood they need more time to come up with a "Fantasmic!" style blockbuster. Of course since they won't spend the money, don't have the infrastructure, and won't have any "cast" in it to speak of - the outlook for the current administration getting a blockbuster at DCA even if you gave them 10 years would be grim in many people's estimation.

And on a similar cutback note, the word is you shouldn't expect Tower of Terror to be the same as the big hit one in Florida. Cuts continue to take place that will probably leave it like so many DCA attractions, such complete disappointments.

For the life of us, we could not figure why the men's room near Whitewater Cafe at the Grand Californian had this jury rigged setup (shown below) last Sunday.

There was a plastic hose running fluids from somewhere in the ceiling above into the toilet below - note the duct tape on the seat - and as you can see some kind of service door was left open too.

Update

Maybe someone upstairs needed to use the bathroom below for some reason?

Why this was left wide open for visitors to explore (and you know smaller kids would be all over this) is a mystery to me - unless this is some kind of new Pressler-style low cost attraction...  the Toilet of Terror! ;)

Meanwhile DCA continues to bleed entertainment money, so they can do even more shows for the sparse crowds (and generally bad ones too, thanks to Annie Hamburger's inability to grasp that Disney entertainment isn't just for very undemanding children).

Sadly the tiny Minnie's Christmas show seen this past year at Fantasyland Theater seems to be the future of Disneyland Resort Entertainment. Believe it or not, management a few years ago looked at using that show for that stage and had determined that it would not meet visitor expectations for the park's "main stage" as the show was just too small and too simple.  It is apparent that those days of exceeding expectations have gone out the window. But, as one kind soul mentioned, "that is what you get with last minute, unfunded mandates." Minnie and Luminaria were the results.

As of now, look for the new Anamaizement replacement to be of the same small scale as the Christmas show (cast and set wise), now that they know people still fill up the theater and won't complain about the lack of a big show. Of course this ignores the fact that probably no one left the theatre and went home telling their friends that "you have to go to Disneyland and see that show" (or even left the theatre thinking they needed to see it again). People used to do that you know - with productions such as Beauty and the Beast (which even graduated to Broadway), The Hunchback Festival of Fools, and One Man's Dream.

 

The Disneyland is Closed Gallery - 3

Well, if ToonTown is closed to us this morning, then let's head over to New Orleans Square, shall we? Ooops! The shops there are closed also!


Photo by David Lane

One visitor was overheard to say: "There's money in my pocket, and I can't spend it!"

 

Hungry Bear Restaurant Changes

A kind soul (who shall remain nameless) provided the following tidbits on the upcoming Critter Country / Hungry Bear Restaurant "Pooh" remodel:

It's going to be called Kanga's Kitchen. It will be slightly remodeled to make the second floor a place where there will be a new area for character picnics in the park. Some stuff in the kitchen area is being moved around for this. Most of the changes are small, but they're going to add a funnel cake maker to make beehive treats that will have honey sauce on them. It is supposed to look like you are out in the woods eating with Pooh and his friends, and it will be a separate admission area to eat there.

They want to have private birthday parties there, too, so after they make this change, the only way you'll be able to go back up there is if you pay extra cash. (What else can you expect from Pressler?) The downstairs will stay pretty much the way it is now.

The decor they are doing is pretty chintzy. They just want the benches and some paint and a few plywood cutouts. Looks like they are going to do this as cheaply as they can. What a surprise, eh? Not only that, but you'll be able to see the Pooh decor (what there is of it) from other parts of Frontierland and New Orleans Square.

They haven't learned from their mistakes at DCA have they? Sigh.

Meanwhile, the following note from another source seems to add another piece to the puzzle (and updates us a bit on Tom Sawyer's Island):

The Rivers of America are scheduled for draining in 2003. This will allow for the relocation of the Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes dock to the Indian Village area and an infrastructure project for Tom Sawyer Island. Some of the issues should be resolved at that time.

Lastly, for the next month, enjoy a real treat: the Columbia at night. With the Mark Twain down for rehab, the Columbia will be running until park close, for the first time since before Fantasmic.

If the canoes are moving back to the Indian Village area, we have to wonder what will happen to the Fantasmic dock, which is located between the Village and the Hungry Bear. We'll keep our ears peeled.

 

Carrousel Rehab Photos

Here's two shots of the extensive work being done on King Arthur's Carrousel in Fantasyland...

Update

You can see above how they have used railroad ties to hold up the carrousel structure while they work on the frame. In the photo below you can see the trim has been removed from around the metal roof, exposing rotted wood around the perimeter.

Update

No paint on the roof yet, hopefully that will come soon.

 

Watch those Cast Members

Security at the Team Disney Anaheim building out back (TDA) continues to increase. Keep in mind that most of what has been going on was put in place prior to 9/11, starting when the first large layoffs did, (for example checking the bags of everyone going into the building, even cast members in costume, coming from inside the park berm).

They have as of last week just tightened it up again, making everyone now come and go from one set of doors, and let me tell you how convenient that is in a building that is 900' long. You can hear it all over TDA, grumble, grumble, grumble. "Certainly TDA wouldn't be a terrorist target, why would terrorists care about a bunch of mid level bureaucrats?" One kind soul mentioned:

One can only assume Cynthia must be afraid of her own employees (notice the purposeful use of the term employees, not cast members, it just doesn't feel like your part of any cast around there anymore). [It's all] very very strange.

And while the employees get searched like they are boarding a one way flight out of Afghanistan...

 

Park Security? What's that? (Part II)

...it seems they don't seem to pay enough attention to some of the park's visitors.

Yes, another group of "fake employees" were found backstage recently. Like the kids who snuck into the Matterhorn (detailed in a previous update below) these kids were stealing equipment - putting whatever they could find in backpacks. They may have avoided detection by donning their costumes inside the park, before wandering around backstage.

Since they started sending the costumes home for cleaning, it's easy to find a park outfit now and "be a cast member." I keep hearing about items disappearing all over the resort, so maybe it's the new hip teen thing to do: 1] Go to the local thrift store and buy a costume, 2] Get an AP, 3] Pay for that AP with stolen goods.

On the plus side, they were caught by security - but you have to wonder what the people at Disney are thinking. Sure they save a few bucks on laundry, and they don't have to build a real costuming building - but is this cost cutting move worth the kinds of security breeches we are seeing now?

What if instead of stealing something, someone snuck something into the park disguised as a cast member? 

The mind boggles.

 

The Disneyland is Closed Gallery  - 4

It's getting to be noon, on our tour of closed Disneyland shops and attractions - since we're in New Orleans Square, and on a busy Sunday in the middle of a three day holiday weekend no less - why don't we head over to the French Market for lunch?

Update

Well, again paraphrasing Seinfeld's Soup Nazi: "No lunch for you!" Apparently, now on busy holiday weekends, they now only open either the French Market or the Cafe Orleans, but not both.

 

New Year's Eve Beach Balls

Last update I had a few notes about New Year's Eve at Disneyland. One story I was aware of, but forgot to mention was the Beach Ball one. Kind reader Anne-Marie summarized what went on in an e-mail to me:

Hey there Al. I just wanted to let you know of my experience at Disneyland on New Years Eve. My friends and I had been at the park since about 6:30 in the morning on New Years Eve and were ready for the new year. We parked ourselves in front of the castle at about 10:30 pm and decided to wait it out.

Everyone was just sitting around bored because of the lack of entertainment, when a group of people behind us started blowing up beach balls. What a great idea! We were all having a great time hitting around all these beach balls for about a half hour when our little party got interrupted.

One lonely CM, who we named the ball nazi, began to yell at the crowd to stop playing with the beach balls. Everyone just ignored her at first but then she began to make friends with small groups of people who she convinced to deflate the beach balls and if they did then they could keep them. I must say that the best part was when someone took aim right at her face. It was great. Anyway, we then all played a big game of keep away from certain groups of people and when ever they would catch a ball you would hear this collective "awwww" over the crowd. She eventually got all the balls deflated and ruined our fun.

Honestly, I think that if they are not going to have any form of entertainment until three minutes before midnight, then they should let us make up our own entertainment. Just you wait, next year they will have beach balls to play with but they will say Disneyland. Thanks for your info... I love reading it.

What is funny about this is that the Beach Ball thing has been going on for years - a lot of the same folks bring them in and meet up each year to do it - with absolutely no problems and no complaints in all the time it has been going on. (And you have to admire anyone who buys these things on their own during the summer - since that's the only time they are available.)  I have to agree with you, that the Cast Member way overreacted to things - although I wouldn't have aimed a ball at her. ;)

You're right though, even the Fantasmic crowds get a little music before the show starts from a band on a barge, at least they could have had something going on up at the castle to keep folks entertained.

 

Churro Update

Here's an update on the item I ran about Disneyland's churro carts last week. I stopped by to take a look at four or five carts all over the park on a random basis and found the churro cart belts to be all new and shiny. Compare the first photo above (taken last Sunday) to the photo below it...

Taken last Sunday, an apparently new churro cart belt in the park later in the day
Taken last Sunday, an apparently new churro cart belt in the park later in the day

Taken New Years Eve, a churro cart belt in the park early in the day
Taken New Years Eve, a churro cart belt in the park early in the day

...we'll have more updates on this as the information comes in.

 

I know I promised something on Magic Mountain's new "X" coaster last time, but it will have to wait a little bit. Look for a write up on this unusual attraction very soon.

 

Goodness, two updates in two weeks. I'm tired. See you at Disneyland!

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1/16 UPDATE - Finally - They're Painting! / Oy Story / Retreat from Reality? / It's Good to be the King / No Churros for Al / Attraction Security? What's That? / New Year's Eve, both Good and Bad / DCA's Sad Story Goes On / What's Up with Limo / New Tomorrowland's last hurrah / Tiki Talk / Disneyland DVD Edited / Big Beast

First of all, thank you to all who wrote in asking where I was. I took some time off this holiday season, which was made possible by the fine folks here on the site.

Of course, Disneyland being Disneyland, (and those Disney executives being who they are) there was of course no shortage of stuff to catch up on - so get ready to settle in for a long leisurely read today.

 

Finally - They're Painting!

I got this note from kind reader John this week:

Al, I'm so glad to read that you'll have a new update. I've been patiently waiting for what seems like weeks.

I just wanted to write and tell you about an experience I had with my family at the park on Sunday. I'm an Annual Passholder who lives in the Los Angeles Area. This past weekend, my sister and her family came down from Northern California for their first trip to Disneyland as a family. For her and her husband, it was their first visit in a decade, and the first visit ever for their two children.

Splash Mt. under scaffolding Sunday - Photo by David Lane
Splash Mt. under scaffolding Sunday - Photo by David Lane

What was their first experience in DL like? Let's put it like this, we rode Dumbo four times. Not because my nephew loved the ride (which he did), but mainly because there wasn't many other age appropriate rides for him to go on. Among the closures were Small World, Haunted Mansion (HM), Splash Mountain, Peter Pan, Mr. Toad, King Arthur's Carrousel, and the Country Bears (don't know why they have that one listed as a "temporary refurbishment"). Plus there is no longer a show in the Fantasyland Theatre. So basically, for a three year old child, the amount of rides he could go on were severely limited.

I never thought I would see the day that they would have half of the popular rides in the park closed at once. It was ridiculous, and obviously a matter of poor planning. Of course, it's understandable that Small World and HM would be closed in January to remove the holiday decorations, but why would they simultaneously close a major e-ticket and half of Fantasyland?

One of the rides that was open, Casey Jr., had a line that moved at a snail's pace. When I got to the front of the queue, I asked why they were running only one train, and I was told that the second one was broken! You'd think with everything that was already down, that the rides that ARE operating would run at full capacity. WRONG!

I remember reading last summer about how poor planning would cause a large portion of the park to be offline during the off- season, but I could have never imagined it would get this bad. Honestly, I thought it was another case of one of your columnists presenting a worst-case scenario. But it happened. They even told me at the monorail station that there were so many closures that they wouldn't all fit on the sign, so they just listed the most significant rides. I was told that in total there were 15 attractions closed.

To make things worse, we were not able to take advantage of the special rate that the park is offering because I had pre- purchased the tickets as a Christmas gift and the park would not allow me to trade them in for the new discounted admission tickets. We would have had to buy all new tickets and save the pre- purchased ones for another trip. (You can trade up, but not down I'm told).

I went to City Hall to complain about the day's experiences, but I was given a scripted spiel about the park having to close down some attractions in the off-season to prepare for peak periods. It just sounded like a standard PR speech. I was offered no compensation or make-good.

As an Annual Passholder and a Shareholder, I'm appalled at the way they're running the park. I don't expect every attraction to run every day, but the amount of attractions current closed is an embarrassment to the company.

John first thank you for your kind note. As dreadful as the current situation is right now for visitors (especially the out of town ones who pay full price) it was to be expected what with all the neglect the park had been suffering from under Paul Pressler's / Eisner's edicts. Considering how much of the park is currently closed - I would have thought they gladly would have let you trade down on your ticket media, or at least throw in passes for the other park as some kind of peace offering.

Mansion under scaffolding Sunday - Photo by David Lane
Mansion under scaffolding Sunday - Photo by David Lane

But - and don't hate me for this - I am DELIGHTED that they finally are addressing the long running upkeep issues. The work on the Mansion is extensive both inside and out from what I understand, and the Carrousel is finally getting some paint (as well as disabled access / seating). I have my fingers crossed that the apparently slow pace of the light removal on small world may mean a paint job for the facade - but I won't hold my breath. This was all needed, and even though it makes some visitors unhappy at this time, the park will finally get the attention it needs.

Also of note to people who consider the shops of major importance to their enjoyment of Disneyland - a new operating hours policy is now in place. Basically (with the exception of Main St.) each land will now only have one shop (the major one for that land) open when the park opens in the morning - with smaller shops opening later in the day to allow for only one labor shift. Also, smaller shops, (such as Villains and Geppetto's in Fantasyland) will go to weekends only operation. Amazing eh?

You'd written (and I will quote again):

I remember reading last summer about how poor planning would cause a large portion of the park to be offline during the off- season, but I could have never imagined it would get this bad. Honestly, I thought it was another case of one of your columnists presenting a worst- case scenario. But it happened.

One thing we all face here on the site in covering the parks is how much Disneyland management changes its mind - which is always a headache as we can bit quite a bit ahead of the curve sometimes.

I think readers do understand that we don't make up the worst case scenarios we talk about sometimes - for the most part they are presented to us by concerned sources within the company. We just try to let folks know what is happening, and maybe every once in a while we can even shed some much needed light on some very bad ideas.

 

Oy Story

From a very kind soul - this is a very good example of the consequences of ignoring upkeep in the parks:

Just after New Years' Disneyland was visited by none other than Michael Eisner himself, and it wasn't a very pleasant visit unfortunately.

Eisner was hosting John Lasseter and Lasseter's young son for a visit to the Magic Kingdom. Mr. Lasseter Jr. wanted to go over to Tom Sawyer Island, as any strapping young American boy would understandably want to do. When they got over there however, Eisner was appalled and embarrassed in front of his guests when the condition of the Island and its individual attractions was discovered.

Suspension Bridge last week - Photo by David Lane
Suspension Bridge last week - Photo by David Lane

The young Lasseter Jr. was saddened to learn just a few minutes after arriving on the Island that the suspension bridge was "temporarily closed for repairs." That suspension bridge has been "temporarily" closed since the spring of 1999 when one of the supporting cables came loose from its decaying foundation. The cost to repair the entire bridge was estimated at just over 100,000 dollars, and so a "temporarily closed" sign was placed on each side of the bridge and that part of the Island slipped into Yesterland. It's a shame that it still hangs there, enticing little kids to run up to it only to have their parents explain that they can't cross it.

Denied access to the suspension bridge, the Eisner / Lasseter group headed down the hill after Lasseter Jr. spotted the wobbly barrel bridge that sits nearby. But again, the group was met by a sign that stated that bridge was also "temporarily" closed for repairs. The barrel bridge has met hard times as well, and the understaffed Disneyland maintenance department tries to do patch- up fixes to that bridge when they can. But for the last year or so the barrel bridge has been closed more often than it is open, and for most of the last month it has been closed.

As the group and the Guest Relations tour guide assigned to the VIP visitors moved to the north end of the noticeably ratty looking Island, a visit to Fort Wilderness revealed a wood rot filled structure that has had the air guns removed and the turrets and climb through catwalks sealed off to visitors. A few minutes later when young Lasseter Jr. found an Island tunnel darkened by burned out light bulbs and a dangerously decayed section of the tunnel sealed off by Disneyland Facilities CM's with tacky plastic yellow "danger" tape worthy of an urban crime scene, Eisner began to get visibly upset.

When John Lasseter was a young man, he had actually worked at Disneyland for a time as a Jungle Cruise Skipper and has fond memories of the Disneyland of his youth. Lasseter politely mentioned to Eisner that it was obvious that parts of Disneyland were not being allowed to age gracefully, and that things would never have been allowed to deteriorate this poorly when he had worked at Disneyland.

Now that Eisner was suitably embarrassed in front of his important guests, Paul Pressler and Cynthia Harriss were both called immediately via Eisner's cell phone, and Eisner assured the Lasseters that "answers" would be found as to why the Island was in such awful condition.

That next Monday morning, in a search for information about the Island and it's lack of upkeep, the Island scandal quickly rolled downhill from Pressler and Harriss' office to their immediate Vice Presidents at the TDA building. The Vice Presidents of course made frantic calls and emails to their Directors, the Directors quickly phoned their senior managers, the senior managers hurriedly got the word out to their lower managers, and the lower managers rushed to find their Leads (hourly foremen in Disney- speak) for answers.

Star Tours last Sunday
Star Tours last Sunday

The lower Attraction managers and Leads were able to produce entire binders full of "work order requests" dutifully faxed into the Disneyland Facilities department over a period of months and years, all requesting that repairs and fixes be made to the Island's many problems.

Now that the Attractions managers in charge of Tom Sawyer Island had proof that they had done their job, the calls and emails began in reverse back up the management food chain in a grand scramble to save face to everyone's boss. By the end of the business day the paper trail uncovered pointed a clear finger to the lack of action at the Disneyland Facilities department. Ultimately it was Disneyland Facilities' Senior Vice President who got nailed with the blame by Harriss and Pressler.

Eisner was reached in Burbank by Pressler and assured that there was an executive "plan in place" to restore the Island and bring it back up to old Disneyland standards in a hurry. Of course there really is no such plan, after a brief flurry of activity that week that was able to patch up the barrel bridge for at least a few days worth of operation. After a half decade of neglect, it would take an expensive and complete closure several months long to repair all that is broken and restore Tom Sawyer Island to it's former glory. And that type of expense just isn't in anyone's budget.

Ultimately, we can hopefully expect more timely patch jobs to the few attractions on the Island that still work, but don't expect the suspension bridge to reopen or Fort Wilderness to get any real attention any time soon.

But at least they took down the crime scene tape from inside Injun Joe's cave!

No, it's not snow capped hills, this is the peeling Indy wall covering you see from the hotel rooms at the Grand Californian
No, it's not snow capped hills, this is the peeling Indy wall covering you see from the hotel rooms at the Grand Californian

You'd think that Eisner would know he was the one who started the willful neglect of the parks wouldn't you? But maybe he's been too busy at those executive retreats with the ever hovering Paul Pressler dreaming up even more wonderful ideas like California Adventure?

And Mr. Lasseter, I'll give you the answer Eisner won't - maybe the Island will get a patch job, but as far as any real upkeep, forget it. The "executive plan" Pressler has in place is to just keep ignoring it. That's how you get ahead at the Disney Company nowadays.

 

Retreat from Reality?

If you've worked at a big corporate monolith, I'm sure you've heard about Executive Retreats. Generally these events come about due to a burning desire by a suit somewhere high up to get out of town (preferably out of the country if possible) and stay at a first class resort (with rooms costing more per night than most family's weekly paychecks) to basically be able to party hardy on the company's time.

Disney Executive Retreats tend to be rather unique in particular for all the breathtakingly bad ideas the suits tend to come up with while workingshopping together. For example, the brainstorm for the California Adventure park came out of an Executive Retreat - yep, who else but severely out of touch executives would dream up the one specific park theme that would repel the locals. (You'd think they'd learn more about their customers by just staying in a Disney Hotel and actually spending some time on one of their properties.) Other Retreats have allowed for the Ducks and Angels to be branded "non-strategic assets" - which former suit Tony Tavares then went out and repeated to the press - nice for team morale building eh?

Well the most recent Executive Retreat has produced some real doozies this time around - in particular the executive understanding that the theme parks are no longer considered profitable enough to suit management.

What does this mean for you the customer? One look at the recent history of the Disney sports teams could provide a peek at the future of the parks - the company will continue to cut back wherever possible in their operation, and the suits will devote their time to other divisions (ignoring the weaker arm of the company) to try and get the numbers up.

All sorts of ideas got thrown around at this point by the sources of course - that Disney could sell off the park operations to someone else (sort of what like they did with the Disney Stores in Japan with the Oriental Land Co.) and just collect the royalties. Which of course makes for higher profits, since they would bear none of the operating costs. (This is sort of what they were also looking at with the Broadway productions, and the Disney Stores here on the mainland too.) The suits are even supposed to be questioning why the animation staff has to be so big, when so much of the grunt work can be shipped off overseas.

Maybe all this recent takeover talk is a good thing. Disney could use an executive housecleaning don't you think?

 

It's Good to be the King

That recent January Disneyland visit from Eisner was embarrassing for him and verged on the disastrous, but at least he didn't force any major attractions to close down, unlike a visit the head mouse made earlier in December.

As part of the new California tourism commercials that show celebrities enjoying California's tourist icons (which we mentioned here before), Michael Eisner appears in a three second clip in full Mickey Mouse regalia screaming through a turn on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

You would think that shooting something like that would be an easy task, but apparently not when you are Michael Eisner and require a full entourage of handlers and their assistants. The video shoot was planned for an afternoon on a busy day just before Christmas. The video crews began setting up equipment hours before Eisner was to arrive, and it made it very difficult on the Big Thunder cast members (CM's) who were still trying to quickly move 2,000 Disneyland visitors an hour through that attraction.

Big Thunder
Big Thunder

The worst was yet to come however as Eisner arrived and the film crew commandeered a complete train for use in the commercial. Along with all the extras came a staff of executive handlers there to make sure Eisner was looking perfect and had everything he wanted. The crush of people in the loading area was too much for the Big Thunder CM's to handle and the Lead quickly had to pull off two additional trains in order to prevent the ride from breaking down from the resulting backups in the station.

Now that the capacity of the attraction had been slashed by more than half, the 20 minute line for Big Thunder was quickly growing towards an hour and the Fastpass lane was backing up all the way to the entrance. The attraction Lead tried to convince the film crew to move some of its equipment and swarms of people out of the station a bit, but the request was quickly brushed off with a full dose of Hollywood attitude.

The Big Thunder Lead summoned his managers and they were horrified to see the mess and the resulting lines of upset Disneyland visitors. Eisner was oblivious to it all as he was coifed and prepped in his Mickey Mouse sweatshirt. When the attraction managers and Leads were unable to get anything but more attitude from the film crew and Eisner's executive handlers, it was decided that Big Thunder should just be closed to paying Disneyland guests until the filming nightmare could be completed.

The Big Thunder entrance was blocked off, more managers were dispatched to help placate upset guests, and CM's told visitors that the roller coaster was "closed for technical difficulties," even though it was plainly apparent that the trains were still roaring around the track behind them. Finally, after a long afternoon, the perfect shot was apparently captured, and Eisner and his entourage left just as suddenly as they had appeared. The film crew spent another half hour packing up, and then Big Thunder was finally returned to the CM's and re-opened a little worse for wear. Remember that story the next time you see those California commercials with the three second Eisner segment in them.

 

No Churros for Al

Long time readers may, or may not remember the outdoor vending (ODV) hot dog story I ran a few years ago. (You may want to refresh your memory by pulling up this page here on the site.)

One of the big problems with Disneyland's current employment policy is that they have such a major turnover, that people in charge have no real sense of what needs to be done right, nor how to do it. Each successive set of replacements (especially in ODV it seems) is increasingly focused on jacking up the numbers and on trying to cut back even more on the expenses involved in even the most basic operations such as keeping food facilities clean.

Um - no thank you...
Um - no thank you...

Now, it should be understood, that for the most part - Disneyland as an organization does a rather decent job in keeping basic conditions in their dining locations acceptable. ODV on the other hand ebbs and flows due to the tremendous pressure they are under to perform and the vast employee turnover it has. Now in continuing to read this, understand while I am NOT a food expert, I do think there may be things they can do better. And hopefully by talking about this, maybe someone out there reading can also put a proper focus back on things - whether it be the park itself, or the local health department.

Here's the gist of the problems now with ODV:

In the past, the opening inventory controller for the division would show up at around 4 AM to load the churro, pretzel, and funnel cake wagons and then load up the truck to take stock out to the popcorn wagons in the park. Now with the new "cost / labor saving" systems in place that same person arrives at 5 AM and sometimes has to oversee the ice cream loading as well.

Keep in mind that this now gave less than an hour and a half with early entry to toss churros in a wagon so the CM's who haul them (the "tuggers" in ODV-speak) can pull them out into the park just so they can try to race through loading popcorn wagons before security pushes them offstage. (Even with the loss of early entry this year they still have a very tight timeframe to get this stuff done.)

As part of this new procedure they are also making the closing crew, (who are barely able to get out of there on time while making sure that the wagons are clean as it is) load churros, pretzels, and funnel cake into the wagons the night before.

The problem with doing all this the night before is the amount of time that the food product is sitting in a wagon that is not all that insulated, at room / outdoor temperatures. Busier carts like the churro wagon in front of the castle, that come into the office after midnight, get loaded at around 1 AM and open at around 8:30 AM the same morning... those are not so bad.

However, carts such as the churro wagon by the Matterhorn or Splash Mountain that will come in at around 9 PM and will open at 11 PM or later are the ones to worry about. That's because for over 12 hours that food product is out there in a non refrigerated state. And this is all assuming that the churros are all ones that just came out of the freezer that day and not the ones that were left from the previous day. (Yep, you heard me right, the previous day!)

With this system, the churros on the slower wagons could well be there for weeks without spending time in the freezer. All this essentially to cut back on personnel and on the amount of third shift premium that had to be paid out, by starting an hour later, the opener CM staff no longer get that premium.

As bad as that is folks (and we cannot judge for ourselves what the problem factor is here - without knowing what the half life of a churro is) there is, rather unfortunately, one more thing to be concerned about. The carts are no longer getting cleaned as well as they used to. They are no longer being checked before the vendor goes home... as an honor system is pretty much the CM's ticket out of there now.

Taken New Years Eve, a churro cart belt in the park early in the day
Taken New Years Eve, a churro cart belt in the park early in the day

Here are some of the problems with this "honor" system. For example, the churro belts that the churros travel on when they cook gets covered in grease and should soak in degreaser for about 5 to 6 hours for it to even start to come off. In the past, to accomplish this ODV had about 8 or so spare belts that would soak for about a day to be switched out the next night.

Now, with the current focus on tightening the budget, there are only two spare belts to soak overnight, which means that all the other wagons get to use belts that have only been soaking for about 20 to 30 min. - which means that they are still covered in grease.

We don't even want to go into the popcorn wagons but we might as well. Look closely at the inside of one of the wagons before it opens sometime... if you can see salt in the window part of the wagon, chances are that the kettle part (which actually pops the corn) is still covered in salt and oil as well.

The problem in this particular case seems to be in training, as they have a system now that cuts back on the instruction time by just giving an overview of what to do on the wagon and how they should clean it instead of actually working, operating, and cleaning the wagon for a shift.

Many of the newer employees are surprised when long timers tell them the agitator / lid assembly on the kettle can and should be removed to clean them. I've been told that the amount of repair that needs to go into some of those wagons is astounding, as a result some wagons go out missing windows, or being held together with what seems is rubber bands.

For now I think I myself will avoid anything from ODV that isn't a soda or water bottle. Hopefully upon reading this they will understand some of these ODV procedures need to be reconsidered, and soon.

How you as a visitor deal with this information is up to you.

 

Attraction Security? What's That?

While they are still checking bags at the main gate, security inside Disneyland was ratcheted up this past weekend when two teenagers were able to sneak inside the Matterhorn during Park operating hours Friday evening in a search for "souvenirs."

The two young Annual Passholders were dressed in costume issued Disneyland jackets, and were able to blend in well enough to get past other CM's and inside the Matterhorn. Now that CM's can take their costumes home with them, it is easy to purchase Disneyland costumes online or in any Orange County thrift shop. Some enterprising but unethical CM's are even selling popular and "cool" costume pieces like hats and themed jackets to their non-CM friends and college dorm mates for a tidy profit, all compliments of their bumbling employer who thought they could save a few bucks by letting CM's take their costumes home with them.

Hello, who are you?
Hello, who are you?

The two teenagers who gained access to the Matterhorn however looked just a bit too young and too suspicious though, even in their official Disneyland jackets. A sharp eyed Matterhorn CM asked them what they were doing and they replied "Oh, we're getting everything ready for Tinkerbell." Since Friday was the first night of the regular Believe fireworks show with Tinkerbell's appearance, after the past two months of the Christmas Believe show, their answer seemed believable.

Thankfully the Matterhorn CM still didn't think things were kosher however and the Matterhorn Lead was summoned. The Lead and two strapping Matterhorn Hosts went to investigate and found the youths rummaging through the inner rooms of the mountain and putting various things into their big backpack. When they were approached again the youths panicked and tried to run. The Matterhorn CM's were able to physically restrain them until Security could arrive. The youths were taken away by Security and introduced to the Anaheim Police Department who now staffs officers on Disneyland property.

In this day and age, it did put a scare into everyone that someone would be able to easily and quickly gain access to key backstage areas of Disneyland on a busy Friday night. Although the budget minded Team Disney Anaheim (TDA) suits may be compromising Disneyland security by reversing a decades old policy and letting Disneyland costumes to be taken off property by the tens of thousands, the quick actions and sharp eyes of the Matterhorn Cast Members should be commended I would think.

 

New Year's Eve, both Good and Bad

The celebration of New Year's Eve was nice this year at Disneyland, with about 50,000 attending the midnight moment at the main park, and about 5,000 people hanging out with the Beatles' cover band the Fab Four and the go- go dancers at DCA.

Most people oddly enough left early after the Believe in Holiday Magic Fireworks, either due to how cool the night was, the family aspect of their visit, or any concerns they may have had about the midnight moment's security situation. (There was a bomb threat early in the morning - a device was found near the ODV shed behind Critter Country - but it was seen as an immediate fake. The rest of the day was uneventful as I understood.)

Some interesting things I heard - at one point there was some concern that a packed DCA would try to empty into Disneyland for the midnight fireworks - so there was a plan in place to shut down parkhopping at 10 PM to try and avoid gridlock at the gates. The less than expected crowds prevented that plan from going into effect.

Also, the plan they had in place to shut down tram service from midnight to 1:30 AM or so was a good one - people walked quickly through Downtown Disney to the parking structure avoiding the tram jams (and visitor fist fights) from last year.

The cannons reappeared in Town Square a few weeks ago!
The cannons reappeared in Town Square a few weeks ago!

The real problems that evening though lay in customer service - either the park didn't have enough staff for the crowds, or more likely, they were trying to economize on labor costs. It was exasperating to stand in a line for almost an hour to buy a pretzel at Coke Corner that evening - with only two out of four cash registers manned and operating. All I can think of is how much money the company lost that night.

The following description of an attempted dinner at Avalon Cove that night by fellow MousePlaneteer Sheila Hagen also helps to sum up the problems found throughout the resort that night:

Hi Al, Sorry we didn't make it to the Hub at midnight. We got stuck at the "Dinner From Hell" at Avalon Cove and by the time we got out, it was too late. We decided to stay put and enjoy Fab Four at the Hollywood Backlot. (They were wonderful as usual, and the park went all out for them. They had four go-go dancers dressed in op art/pop clothing. One dancer was dressed as Austin Powers. Also, they had a huge backdrop for Fab Four that said Happy New Year in a Peter Max style. A big balloon drop and confetti occurred at midnight. Overall, it rescued a horrible evening.)

The sign before they removed the Cove Bar portion
The sign before they removed the Cove Bar portion

Avalon Cove. What can I say? The people running that restaurant have no idea how to do so. When we got in the standby line at 7:45, we were told it would be an 1-1/2 hours to 1 hour and 45 minute wait. We wanted a good meal and figured that the usual Disney line wait "estimate" was an overestimation so we waited. After an hour and a half, ONLY ONE PARTY from the standby line was seated. There were many empty tables downstairs.

We asked the manager what was going on. She said everybody at the tables were staying put to see Luminaria and as soon as it was over, we would be seated. Another 45 MINUTES went by after the end of Luminaria!!! One woman in line went to do reconnaissance. Almost all of the tables were empty in the restaurant. The hostess still wouldn't seat us. Then the reconnaissance lady said that she was told the reason was that there were only four servers (two called in sick) and they were only allowed to server four tables at a time. Huh? Four tables per server? 16 parties at a time on NYE? The restaurant was turning away patrons right and left yet almost all the tables were empty...

Additionally, we were told that anyone moving from the standby line would have their name taken off the list if their name was called once and they didn't answer. During Luminaria, one family moved five feet forward to see the show, and the hostess tried to take them off the list when they didn't respond right away. The rest of us pointed her over to the family. Geez! At any other restaurant, people in a standby line would be told to come back at a certain time. If Disney had let us, at least we could've spent our two hours and 15 minutes waiting visiting attractions instead.

We finally got seated at 10:00 p.m. The manager had already gone home otherwise she would've gotten an earful from me. The wait staff was wonderful, the food was good and the glass of wine I ordered was huge (as opposed to the mini-glasses that most restaurants serve these days).

You can see how peeved Jeff and I were. Any *real* restaurateur would've seated the last of us still waiting in the standby line (there were only three parties at the end). Never again will we eat there unless we have priority seatings. People with PS's were being instantly seated all evening long. Ouch. Most real world restaurants always have a few tables open for walk-ins.

Anywho, I'm sorry to not have seen you. But sorrier I had to deal with the boneheads at Avalon Cove. What a disgrace.

 

DCA's Sad Story Goes On

If New Years Eve was bad as far as dining at the new park goes... take a look at this note I got from an insider:

Did you notice that DCA table service restaurants are now closed during the weekdays? ABC, Avalon, and the Winery will no longer operate during weekdays for the rest of the winter. Those three restaurants will only operate on weekends, and on limited operating hours even then. Only quick service restaurants like Burger Invasion and Taste Pilots Grill will be open during the week, and many of those locations will only be open from 11 am to 3 pm weekdays.

It's interesting because all three of those table service restaurants were heavily touted when DCA opened as part of the new park's "experience." ABC (with its acting troop) and the Winery in particular were introduced almost as "attractions" because their dining experience was going to be so unique and entertaining.

Whatever happened to Mondavi? Remember when they closed down in September and the word from Disney was that Mondavi would continue its relationship as a sponsor, but Disney would take over the day to day operation of the restaurants? I guess that was a smoke screen to save some face for both companies, because Mondavi is gone, gone, gone. Their name appears no where in the Winery complex now.

Mondavi's carved logo at the bottom of this sign was filled in
Mondavi's carved logo at the bottom of this sign was filled in

With weekday attendance at DCA now falling back to the 3,000 to 4,000 range, and with most of those folks being park hoppers between Disneyland, there just isn't enough people in DCA at any one time to operate one of the park's sit down restaurants, let alone three.

And speaking of the Winery, want to know what the lowest attended DCA attraction is? It's the Seasons of the Vine show at the Winery. On weekdays that movie about the life cycle of grapes struggles to pull in more than a dozen people an hour. During the morning and early evening hours an entire hour can go by without anyone stopping in to see that show.

Even on the busiest of days this past Christmas season, Seasons of the Vine rarely got more than 75 people an hour. And on the busiest of days this past Christmas, the morning and evening hours often only got 5 to 15 people an hour stopping in to see the show.

The theater is designed to seat several dozen at a time, and the 7 minute show was Imagineered to be shown every 10 minutes. Most of the show's are currently playing to an empty theater with no one at all in the building. It's a shame too, because that theater on the north side of the Winery complex is actually a very nice example of theming and wine country architecture. But apparently the subject matter is of little interest to the average Disney theme park guest.

But since Michael Eisner stated in several interviews that DCA was designed as a Park that his wife would enjoy, perhaps Jane Eisner would like to bring some of her gal pals down to Anaheim to see the grape movie? It would help the turnstile counts, that's for sure.

If a flower came alive at DCA, would anyone know it? (New performers, lovely costume, no?)
If a flower came alive at DCA, would anyone know it? (New performers, lovely costume, no?)

Interesting, huh Al? It's all kind of a good indication of the financial / popular success of DCA. Until Tower opens in early '04, 2002 and 2003 could be very long years.

As I've said before, the core of the problem of the park is with the choice of theme. Fix that fatal flaw, and it could recover, with enough spent on it.

 

What's Up with Limo

Superstar Limo suddenly closed on January 10th, when Mulholland Madness was the only DCA attraction that was supposed to be closed for refurbishment this winter. Those who are hoping that this thematically troubled attraction will be getting a makeover shouldn't get their hopes up however. The unplanned closure was deemed necessary after the WDI engineers found stresses on the ride system that it hadn't planned on. What worries them is that the same ride system will be used for the Winnie The Pooh attraction in Critter Country, with vehicles themed to look like honey pots instead of limousines, and they will need 100% reliability from that attraction.

Superstar Limo photo by Adrienne Vincent- Phoenix
Superstar Limo photo by Adrienne Vincent- Phoenix

Unlike Superstar Limo, it is expected that The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh (as the ride is currently being called internally) will be a big draw right out of the box come April, 2003. Since Winnie The Pooh will be Disneyland's first all new ride experience since Indy opened in 1995 (not including the barely operating Rocket Rods), and there isn't another new Disneyland ride in the pipeline for this decade yet, the demand at Winnie The Pooh is expected to be overwhelming for several years after opening. They can not afford to have any glitches or long term technical problems with the ride or it's vehicles, so when Superstar Limo began having some engineering problems alarm bells were sounded.

In the months to come WDI will be testing first generation Pooh vehicles on the Limo track in an effort to root out the problems. Now that DCA attendance has collapsed into the 2,000 to 4,000 range during the week, with Sunday's averages of 12,000 being the highest attendance day of the week due to park hopping Annual Passholders, it was quickly decided to close the often derided Superstar Limo and use it as a testing ground by the industrial engineers. Although Disney will not commit to a re-opening date publicly, it is assumed by DCA managers that Limo will return to service in late March for the Easter vacation crowds that hopefully will arrive at DCA. The date used internally for Superstar Limo's return to service is March 23rd. Stay tuned for more developments from this story.

 

New Tomorrowland's last hurrah

Speaking of closures, Cosmic Waves in Tomorrowland, the much maligned public fountain that debuted with the New Tomorrowland of 1998, has finally been shut off for good.

The chlorine eats through the rubberized covering
The chlorine eats through the rubberized covering

The water maze became increasingly difficult to keep clean over the few brief years it operated, and the chlorine content had to be increased to the levels of a municipal swimming pool after it was quickly discovered that many Disneyland visitors were bathing in the jets of water instead of trying to avoid them. The higher chlorine content began eating away at the porous material placed under the fountains, and it has finally decayed to the point of no return. The water has been turned off permanently, although the large marble ball in the center will remain.

The Tomorrowland managers would love to pave over the fountain area and just forget it ever happened, as it was always creating traffic jams in the area on busy days. However, that type of small pavement project will require a formal capital request to be made for the next fiscal year, and those types of expenses are easy to cut from the budget during the Pressler era of Disneyland operation. Don't expect anything much to happen to the area before 2003, if ever.

And since Cosmic Waves was officially listed as a Tomorrowland "attraction" in the Park maps and guidebooks, it looks like 1998's New Tomorrowland just had its next attraction casualty after the Rocket Rods demise.

 

Tiki Talk

On a happier note, slow work continues at the tired looking Enchanted Tiki Room. A new screen surface was installed next to the juice bar so that the Dole promotional video is more visible. It is still next to impossible to see anything on that screen in the daylight, but at night it is much more vibrant now.

They also recently repainted and repaired "Tangaroa", the lanai Tiki God in the form of the giant tree that lowers it's flowers during the pre-show. However, now that they have repainted and spruced up a few of the pre- show elements to their 1960's glory, the tired and shabby condition of the rest of that attraction is even more painfully obvious.

New thatch went on the Tiki Room roof in May of last year
New thatch went on the Tiki Room roof in May of last year

They did some re-thatching on the roof and patched some holes in the patio, but there is still so much more that needs to be done to the 39 year old attraction that it may almost be useless. Never mind the fact that there are entire bird perches inside the show that have been removed and never replaced, robbing the attraction of more and more supporting animatronic characters.

The Enchanted Tiki Room is a perfect example of 1960's Walt-led Imagineering, and the detail work throughout the attraction is amazingly intricate. Since the Tiki Room has received the same sort of neglect that Tom Sawyer Island and other older Disneyland locations has been getting, this aging attraction that was designed with an innocent expectation of constant TLC is not faring well at all. Although the infamous visit by the Dole executives that embarrassed Disney and caused a flurry of quick fixes helped a bit, it will really take an extensive refurbishment to save the Tiki Room.

Rumors continue to swirl that Steve Davison may be tapped to create a Lilo & Stich overlay for the Tiki Room which would have to include a thorough clean up and repair job, but nothing is firm yet.

The next time you are at Disneyland, why not pay your respects to a lost era of Imagineering by at least stepping through the turnstiles and into the pre- show lanai for a few moments.

Every click of the turnstile helps at this point.

 

Disneyland DVD Edited

Speaking of the Tiki Room, just before the holidays I got the following note from kind reader David:

Al, Since this is my first time writing you, first I want to say thanks for all your hard work on behalf of the fans and Walt's Legacy. It has sadly come to my attention that the DL USA DVD has been hacked in more than one place.

I have all four programs taped off Disney Channel, and I know for a fact that the Mouseketeers appear in the parade up Main Street in "Dateline Disneyland" and in a musical number in front of Fantasyland Theatre. These scenes have been quietly removed from the DVD with no warning.

Also, in the DL Tenth Anniversary show, my version taped of the DC has 8 minutes of footage inside the Tiki Room including "Let's All Sing Like The Birdies Sing" and "Hawaiian War Chant". I've read more than one place and received an e-mail confirming that up to six minutes of the Tiki Room sequence that aired on the original broadcast has been cut from the DVD, including the songs mentioned above. (I don't yet have this DVD). My sources include reviews at Amazon.com and at http://www.magicmusic.net/discuss/

Promotional art  Disney
Promotional art Disney

I just wanted to pass this information on in case you didn't realize the cuts were made. I noticed it wasn't mentioned in your review.

Since I am a HUGE fan of the classic AA shows, this Tiki footage was THE major thing I was looking forward to about this disc, at since it is missing I won't be buying it. Which is really a shame, because I've been sick of the company ignoring much of their Walt roots and I really wanted to support the Treasures series.

But IMO, this censorship is a serious and as unforgivable as the butchery of an ENTIRE sequence on the Make Mine Music DVD. Or even, worse, because this time there was no warning. Once again, I feel immensely let down by Disney due to their tainting of the Walt Disney Treasures series.

Thanks for listening!

David, first our apologies here for not catching this in our reviews. The Treasures series was a huge release, and the rush to get the reviews up for folks, along with the sheer quantity of program material made available all at once, prevented either Kevin or myself from catching this. (None of the other major reviewers on line caught it either.)

I am still awaiting an official answer from one of the folks involved with the discs, but my unofficial sources tell me it was two "rights issues" that made for the very unpleasant "stealth edits" you detailed in your note.

The first issue was a recent lawsuit by the Mouseketeers - they were asking for payment for non-broadcast use of their performances (i.e. home video) for the TV shows. The second issue is payment of music rights for the two songs in the Tiki Room show not owned by Disney, Let's All Sing Like The Birdies Sing and Hawaiian War Chant. (Did you know that Hawaiian War Chant cost Disney $70,000 to use in Lion King? Disney tried to fight it, then tried to get the directors not to use it, but Katzenberg pushed it through for the animators.)

I agree with you, the way this was done was deceiving, to say the least. Obviously a lawyer somewhere in Burbank saw the low price point these sets were going for, determined the payment of the rights was not economical, and cut the material without letting the consumers know. (After adding the "professional stunt person" on screen disclaimers for the Polynesian fire walking and fire baton twirling segments as it was.)

The problem of course is that all the advertising for the sets (and even the booklet inside the Disneyland set itself) says: "The Ultimate Collection of Walt's Most Cherished Works - Uncensored and Never Before Seen - Together on Disney DVD." One would assume (naturally of course) that with this description, along with the line on the front of the package proclaiming this as "Special Historical Broadcasts" would really mean something!

If the use of these rights meant a higher price point for the set - I could assure the suits (considering this was the first of the sets to sell out) that a higher price point would have been fine, to make sure the shows were unedited. If I were running Disney home video, I would set up a $9.95 disc exchange program - so you could send in your old discs for unedited ones, the cost going to cover the additional rights they would have to pay and including shipping and handling. People who paid the lower price, and find the edits to be of little objection, would just keep their discs.

Let's hope they have some kind of solution or make good on this. It's the real collectors and fans they sideswiped here with this decision - people who would have gladly paid more in the first place for unedited materials.

 

Big Beast

Finally, kind reader Timothy shared his feelings about the new and improved Beauty and the Beast IMAX edition:

We loaded up the kids last night and drove an hour to King of Prussia, PA to catch the 9:00 pm showing. (We decided to go about 11:00 am that morning and all the other shows were already sold out!)

It was wonderful to see this movie again, especially with the new sequence. It was also a great reminder of the Broadway B&TB, where I first heard "Human Again." It was great to share this movie with my children, who previously had only seen the NY Film Festival work-in-progress version on Laserdisc. And the sound was incredible.

So, was it worth the $40 for all our tickets & online service fees, the $23.50 for overpriced soda, popcorn, and candy, and the two-hour roundtrip drive from our home in Delaware to the theatre? Would I pay $10 to see it again? Unequivocally, my answer is YES!

BUT.... Would I rather see it in a standard 35mm theater? Again the answer is a most definite YES!

Though the IMAX screen was wonderful, there was a certain magic missing. Usually, with a Disney movie in a theater, or even on home video, I "forget" that I'm watching an animated film and that it's all ink and paint. Not so last night.

In a way, the experience was comparable to watching 70mm presentations in the 70's and 80's, where the movie was filmed in 35mm and blown up to a 70mm print for distribution. The end result was often grainy and far less appealing than a good 35mm print. It was especially notable when I saw re-releases of movies filmed on large format stock, like Lawrence of Arabia, West Side Story, Sound of Music, and Spartacus. These films sparkled with detail and clarity that still give me chills of delight.

Though I thoroughly enjoyed myself at IMAX B&tB, I found myself distracted. My attention was repeatedly drawn away from the story by the animation itself. I couldn't help but notice the varying quality of line around the different characters. I was struck by the gorgeous backgrounds so obviously painted for a lower resolution film but blown up onscreen so that they took on an almost Impressionistic quality.

And perhaps most "troubling" of all, the tiny characters off in the distance in long shots that are now clearly visible in this higher resolution format -- characters drawn with little detail for a format where they didn't require full detail, where they wouldn't be seen clearly. Yet here they were, in all their (lack of) glory, not moving, looking slightly deformed and somehow Saturday morning cartoonish. At one point, my 3 year-old son who was sitting in my lap whispered, "Daddy, the teapot looks funny!" during one of Mrs. Pott's long shots.

When you consider that an IMAX frame is about 6 times the size of a 35mm frame, and consider that if B&tB was drawn for an IMAX-size frame those small drawings would be 600% bigger, these factors all make plenty of sense.

So while the film is still a masterpiece and still amazing to watch, I left the theater hoping for a standard 35mm re-release later this year. And we'll go on the first day of release and experience this movie again. And this time, I'll get lost in the world of Belle and the Beast, and forget that I'm watching ink and paint.

I have to agree with a lot of your points Timothy - I too found this edition of this movie to be a little overwhelming at times. The one secret to Disney animation is that they use close-ups of the characters (watch Fox's animated Anastasia some time, you never get up close to the characters like Disney does), and IMAX was simply NOT designed to project faces onto a four story high screen.

While I too enjoyed the movie (although the $12.50 price at the Bridge Cinemas here in L.A. was too much for a Monday afternoon matinee) I think that was my only visit to see it in IMAX also. By the way, I was NOT impressed by how the Lion King trailer looked - IMAX made for pixilated whiskers and cardboard looking backgrounds. It was plainly obvious the movie was really designed for 35mm.

The Beauty and the Beast DVD coming later this year should be great though - from what I heard so far. If they do half of what they did for Snow White, I'll be pleased as punch.

 

Ok, it's way too late and this has run on way too long, and I missed telling you about Magic Mt.'s new "X" coaster (seen below, wow, what a ride!) - 

"X"

- but I'll catch everything else up in the next update.

Again thanks for all your kind notes asking where I was. They meant a lot to me.

See you at Disneyland!

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Disney's Stealth Layoffs

1/22 UPDATE - Disney's Stealth Layoffs / The Disneyland is Closed Gallery / California Adventure's Morale Plunge / LuminariaNOT - Toilet of Terror! / Hungry Bear Restaurant Changes / Carrousel Rehab Photos / Watch those Cast Members / Park Security? What's that? (Part II) / New Year's Eve Beach Balls / Churro Update

CLICK HERE for "Oy Story"

1/16 UPDATE - Finally - They're Painting! / Oy Story / Retreat from Reality? / It's Good to be the King / No Churros for Al / Attraction Security? What's That? / New Year's Eve, both Good and Bad / DCA's Sad Story Goes On / What's Up with Limo / New Tomorrowland's last hurrah / Tiki Talk / Disneyland DVD Edited / Big Beast

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