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- Keep Eisner, Lose Pixar? | whiting
out small world | Speaking
of Rehabs | Maybe
THIS will work! | ABC @ DCA |
More Tower of Terror photos | Readers
Why the Disney lawyers are out of
their collective minds | No Jack at Universal
Keep Eisner, Lose Pixar?
That's just one of the many questions the Disney board is asking itself lately.
Before I continue with this item - you'll need to click on the links below and read the following stories. They will update you as to the punches each side are throwing at each other in the media.
First stop by L.A. Weekly's rather concise updating (until Thursday of last week) of what exactly is going on between the board and Eisner - and how the media is being used to tell each side of the story. Note in particular the stuff about Pixar.
Next, stop by the last salvo the board fired in the N.Y. Times. This interview with Stanley Gold was conducted before Eisner surprised everyone with his $10 million dollar Disney stock buy last week. You may finally also want to return to a N.Y. Times article about Viacom to see some other possible scenarios that may take place. (The Wall Street Journal usually runs Eisner's comments' on things, but their site's subscription policy doesn't allow me to offer any free links to the articles for you.)
Keep in mind most of the seeds for the current state of things were planted when Eisner had his battle with Katzenburg, (which the board had to step in and settle) and then kissed Ovitz goodbye with a big check. When the word got out about how Rupert Murdoch viewed the Fox Family deal in New York Magazine, that finally began the ball rolling with the board.
All I can add to the above is this - Eisner is playing games with the board. His out-of-the-blue stock purchase, while touted as his supporting the company, actually benefits him even if he gets sacked. (As the stock is probably going to go up upon his departure anyway.)
From what I can gather, everyone is tired of this combative, prickly and micromanaging CEO. He was great when he came in, but he's been on the shelf now long past the expiration date. They are tired of Eisner fighting with everyone, losing relationships with Lucas, Spielberg, and now Pixar. His hardball tactics, while making Disney a lot of money during the good times, have come back to haunt him now that times are tough, as no one is giving the company any kind of courtesy or break. One thing the entertainment business thrives on is relationships, no matter how superficial or shallow they may be. Eisner just can't be bothered with them.
My guess here is that Eisner may not last the year. And his track record may be foreshadowing this - just look at how he lost the battle each time before when he got in a tiff. I think the board is tired of constantly paying for the black eyes he gives not only to his opponents, but the company too. Recent Band-Aids such as the fresh paint at Disneyland (which he supposedly suddenly pushed for, in the middle of the busy summer season no less) are too little and too late.
As to who will replace him, that's anyone's guess right now. I can tell you it won't be Iger and it won't be Pressler. No wonder both are talking to others right now.
(And if you want to catch up with Universal, and their parks, take a look at this morning's Orlando Sentinel story about what may happen.)
whiting out small world
After seven years of total neglect, small world got an interior overhaul that left the ride looking terrific. (Detailed in my last update.) Well, now instead of waiting until next winter (after the holiday makeover comes down) they went ahead and pushed the painting of the facade up to this summer.
It used to be in the past, they'd overhaul the whole ride, both inside and outside at the same time. But I won't complain about the work on the facade now, since it needs it so badly.
The biggest surprise was seeing the little sign out front explaining what they are up to...
...it's a little hard to read, but basically it says they are restoring the facade back to its original 1966 white and gold colors for the 50th.
What is interesting to me about all this is how fast this decision was arrived at. When the ride came back from rehab two weeks ago, you could see under the clock tower (in the photo below) that they had refreshed the colors again, as if they were going to restore them all over the facade (look at the boat exit in particular)...
Below you can see that all the new color at the boat exit was painted over white less than two weeks later...
Here you can see how the new paint compares to the old...
While I am delighted they are finally doing this (kudos to all that made it happen), and in the original color scheme no less (which will only make the holiday makeover that much better) I wish that this long overdue rehab also comes with a promise to not let things decline again so much.
Let's hope this signals the start of a regular upkeep program (like they used to do in the past) for all of Disneyland.
Speaking of Rehabs
The first draft of the refurbishment calendar for Fiscal Year 2003 was recently released by Team Disney Anaheim (TDA), and it looks to be a bit less aggressive than the 2002 projects we've seen so far.
The big news of course is that the Rivers of America will be drained for at least four months right after the new year. What is interesting however is the statistics on the number of visitor complaints that Disneyland received this past year during all the major attraction closures.
Through the end of July, 2002 Disneyland had received just over 4,200 official complaints about refurbishments and closed attractions. That is a huge increase over the prior period in 2001, when Disneyland had received just 400 official complaints about refurbishments. Needless to say, the TDA execs were stung by the incredibly huge increase in visitor complaints and they aren't looking forward to trying that again.
Some of the major Disneyland closures planned for Fiscal Year 2003 are as follows:
Now that the decades old taboo of having any attraction closed during the summer months has been broken this year however, they are planning on attempting the same thing for the summer of 2003 to lessen the impact closed attractions have during the off-season.
There will be several smaller attractions like Tarzan's Treehouse closed during the summer of '03, but one of them in particular will raise the eyebrows of many Disneyland fans.
As it stands now, the Enchanted Tiki Room is planned to be closed for five weeks from early July through mid-August of 2003 for a full cleaning and refurbishment. Although attempts have been made recently to clean up that aging and tired attraction after a visit by Dole executives in 2001 left them wondering where their sponsorship money was going, there is still much work to be done in order to get the attraction back to its proper condition.
(Right now the show itself isn't planned to be changed, this will simply be a thorough cleaning and repair job on the attraction that Walt considered his personal triumph.)
Please keep in mind however that the Tiki Room was also scheduled for a full four week long refurbishment back in calendar year 2000. That was later cancelled after other projects ran over budget, and it was denied funding for 2001 as well. But the money is back now, at least at this early date (and with Eisner hopping again it seems).
A lot can happen between now and next July, but let's hope the Tiki Room's planned refurbishment makes it through the gauntlet of budget cuts and inevitable cost trimmings by TDA during the upcoming fiscal year. The Tiki Room will celebrate its 40th birthday in June 2003 by the way.
What has returned to the refurbishment calendar as well is Splash Mountain, now scheduled to be closed for about six more weeks this November and December. After initial studies of the newly revised logs and seating arrangements, the official word is "We haven't decided yet."
It seems smaller riders are still bumping noses and biting lips even with the new seating style, and that worries the legal folks immensely. However, the operations folks are still steaming that the hourly capacity has been cut at Splash Mountain and created average stand-by waits of over two hours this summer.
The most recent proposal from WDI had a new boat design that was the same width and actually several inches shorter than the current logs, but was able to seat eight passengers in four rows of side by side seats. This Fall there are plans to have a series of meetings to try and decide the future fate of Splash Mountain and its ride vehicles.
As of now, the short closure this Fall will be used for more testing and some industrial design work on the flume and the vehicles that may be coming to the attraction in the future. Let's also hope that they address the many show problems inside that apparently got blown off in order to get the ride back open again this summer. (They seem to have stopped any major work on the new FastPass area adjacent to the Haunted Mansion too.) We'll keep you updated as this touchy story develops in the next couple of months.
Speaking of Critter Country, the Winnie The Pooh attraction is planned to have its grand opening for paying customers on April 17th, 2003, after a media blitz that will be held April 14 through the 16th. (That's assuming the upcoming court case goes well and Disney still owns the rights to Winnie The Pooh by April 17th!)
Over at California Adventure (DCA), the refurbishment calendar for 2003 is still in a bit of limbo. The Maliboomer (Space Shot type ride) will be closed the day after Labor Day for three weeks while they install a new canopy over the loading areas and queue that will protect people from falling objects. It seems Cast Members and visitors alike have been hit repeatedly by flying cell phones, pagers, shoes and other items, even though there are holding bins and the Cast Members there mention repeatedly to secure any loose items.
Originally, California Screamin' (the big coaster) was planned to be closed for ten weeks just after New Years Day 2003 to have new launch magnets installed along the track. But that plan was scrapped when Guest Research studies indicated that California Screamin' is one of the main reasons people with Annual Passports and Park Hopper tickets head over to DCA from Disneyland during their visit. With one of DCA's mere three major attractions closed, the TDA planners became scared that DCA attendance would suffer severely. A plan is being created to try and install the new equipment overnight during a several month long period instead. Wish them luck!
And finally, Superstar Limo has had its planned reopening pushed back again from Thanksgiving to mid-December. The attraction will return with vehicles retrofitted with new safety equipment and closing doors, much like Roger Rabbit. Sadly, the sets and show scenes in the attraction itself won't be changed at all. The plan to add a Disney Character overlay and possibly use a "Goofy's Limo Service" theme was scrapped.
Why no changes to such an unpopular and universally panned attraction? It seems some serious rethinking of that entire section of the Hollywood Pictures Backlot is taking place, and the suits don't want to invest that money if the ride is ripped out entirely in two or three years.
Maybe THIS will work!
Cynthia Harriss and her executive team in TDA have been very busy this summer trying to tinker with the marketing and operating strategy of DCA as it continues to come in below its original summer attendance projections made earlier in this fiscal year.
One of the things that was recently discussed in those meetings about why DCA isn't pulling in the daily attendance numbers it was supposed to was the fact that it opens every day at 10 am, a full two hours after Disneyland. There was a discussion that a great many of the people parking their cars and arriving at the Main Entry Plaza bright and early in the morning want to visit DCA for the day, but decide to visit Disneyland instead since it is already open and DCA doesn't open for an hour or two. So the executives decided to try a little experiment.
With only a week's notice they quietly changed DCA's opening time to 9 am for the weekend of August 17th - 19th. The departmental scheduling offices had to scramble a bit to adjust Cast Members previously scheduled shifts for the weekend, but that task was luckily accomplished in time.
The official DCA park maps still had an opening time of 10 am, since they had already been printed up a few weeks earlier, and no official communication was sent out to any of the local hotels or any travel agents or tour operators. The official Disney website was also not updated with the new opening time. But the signs at the parking lots and ticket booths were changed to reflect the 9 am DCA opening, and Cast Members were told to acknowledge the temporary operating change should anyone specifically ask them about it.
The test was simply to see how many of the people walking up to the ticket booths between 8 am to 9:30 am would choose to visit DCA instead of Disneyland, since DCA would now be opening sooner for those arriving morning visitors. Obviously, this wasn't meant to try to attract any more people to the Resort in any way. Rather it was simply a test to see if adjusting DCA's operating hours a bit would give DCA a bigger slice of the daily attendance pie that is split between the two Parks, particularly from the day tripping locals.
For those three days DCA opened the turnstiles at 8:30 am and offered the shops and restaurants in the Sunshine Plaza and the popular Soarin' Over California attraction to the early birds. And then at 9 am the rope was dropped and the rest of the Park, except the Hollywood area that remained closed until 10:30 am, was available to the morning visitors.
So, what happened? Not much.
All weekend long the 9 am opening for DCA was very, very slow. The vast majority of arriving morning visitors continued to head north into Disneyland. Even at 9:30, the number of people walking through Paradise Pier was counted at a few dozen. California Screamin' was a complete walk-on and many empty seats were left open on each train. At Grizzly River Run many rafts left the turntable completely empty. It's Tough To Be a Bug didn't see it's first visitors until 45 minutes or so after opening, and the walkways and shops were almost devoid of any human activity.
Even when the Hollywood area opened at 10:30, when more people were entering the main turnstiles, there were still just a half dozen people walking through the street of that DCA section. (Of course, the only real attractions open at that time are MuppetVision and Animation, since Superstar Limo is closed and the Blast! and Millionaire shows don't start until later in the day.)
Cast Members likened the whole "experiment" to the time a few years ago when Disneyland tried hosting an series of "E Ticket Nights" in the Park, like the Magic Kingdom in Florida does. That concept had a dozen major attractions opened an extra three hours as a hard ticket event, and only a few hundred people showed up for each evening. The idea of E Ticket Nights at Disneyland was quickly shelved, and hasn't been thought about since.
This test with DCA, on one of the last busy weekends of the summer, was a similar experience in futility. It seems the people showing up in the morning have done their homework and know that Disneyland opens at 8 am and DCA opens at 10 am. If folks really do want to visit DCA, they will apparently not show up until 10.
During the upcoming week hourly sales receipts and attraction rider tallies will be studied to see what the early DCA opening did to the crowd flow and spending habits of the visitors. But the initial observations and gut instinct from DCA supervisors who witnessed the test is that opening an hour earlier does nothing but add on extra labor costs just so a few hundred folks can wander around an empty theme park.
Several DCA operational supervisors rolled their eyes at the surprise experiment, although they applauded Cynthia Harriss for at least trying something new to help DCA. Unfortunately there is still an attitude among the many TDA executives that the problems with DCA don't lie with the Park itself, but rather with issues like ticketing, marketing and operating strategies.
These execs simply don't want to acknowledge that DCA is a full-fare Disney Park with an unattractive theme and desperately short on major E Ticket attractions - it is noticeably in need of a heavier coating of "pixie dust" and classic Disney-style family entertainment. And since it sits just 100 yards from good 'ol Disneyland, DCA pales in comparison for most customers who are asked to pay big money for a day of entertainment at the ticket booths each morning, regardless of what time it opens. (We won't even mention the bad word of mouth the place generates.)
In other DCA news, as we mentioned here before, although the Eureka! parade will be put into mothballs again after Labor Day, the Lilo & Stitch Luau show in Paradise Pier has had its engagement extended past Labor Day. It seems this show scores high with the kindergarten set on the Guest Research surveys. And since the movie itself was reasonably successful and the Stitch merchandise is still moving off the shelves, this show will continue at DCA through the end of September. There is even a tentative proposal from Entertainment to move the show over to the Aladdin's Oasis venue in Adventureland later this Fall.
The DCA Junior Explorer program, along with its kids maps and sticker collecting, will be phased out quickly once Flik's Fun Fair opens however. (Those maps and stickers may make for future collectibles, from DCA's "Child Unfriendly" era!) The "Artsventures" arts and crafts tables around the Park could also be severely cut back.
The Entertainment folks would also like to discontinue some of the hokey Character shows that were rushed into production for DCA in 2001 as well. It is hoped that the addition of Flik's will take the heat off of the "There's nothing here for my kids to do!" criticism that DCA has received since its opening day, and that would allow the elimination of some of the other kids programs at DCA.
ABC @ DCA
OK, the concert, er, "music" series didn't exactly sell tickets to DCA. So, why not make ABC stars (yet again) shill this unpopular new park?
On August 24th and 25th the ABC Primetime Preview Weekend will take place. I'll quote the press release here in part:
Sigh. So far the following shows and stars have been promised in the first press release:
Then a second list was also offered:
Since there seems to be some differences in the two listings above, your best bet may be to visit the official Disney site for this event on ABC.com. They promise to have the most up to date schedule for you, so you can plan to see who you want to see each day.
Past experience has proven your best bet to see the celebrities you want to see is to wait in the meet & greet lines they will set up - so get there early, bring plenty of sunblock and be prepared to wait. The past celebrity parades they have done for the Soap Star weekends went by so fast you didn't get to see much.
A few folks at Disney clued me in to how much this whole thing was costing - and they made the sly observation that all this money, added to all the other emergency entertainment and ad money they spent since this park opened, along with operating losses added into that, could have bought and paid for our own fully blown version of DisneySea. (Which probably wouldn't have needed all the extra hoopla and moola to bring in crowds.)
It's a painful thought isn't it?
More Tower of Terror photos
Hoo boy, this new show building is going to be big. While they were careful to position and plan it so the Tower won't intrude into the Disneyland skyline, the DCA vistas won't be as lucky.
Below is the view from about where the Winery is, taken last Sunday...
Below is the view from the Flik's Fun Fair entrance - some folks keep telling me that this was actually planned to help make the Flik's area look "miniaturized" in comparison to the huge show building, but I don't believe that one at all...
The view below is from the entry area to the Hyperion Theater over in the Hollywood Backlot area...
Note how much less deep this building is, compared to the Orlando version. That's because the long hallway the cars go though in Orlando before the big drop is gone here.
I haven't had time to do any Ask Al™ columns for a while, but some awfully good comments and questions came in this week that I'll include here for you...
Dale forwarded the following note:
Check your local listings folks, and thanks Dale!
Deb asked the following question:
If Elfman's Nightmare Before Christmas melodies finally make it into the Mansion this year, I would venture that both Tim and Danny may finally make it to the event. ;)
I haven't heard anything yet. But Disneyland has dealt with this well in the past, and I expect they will do so again this time.
I pose to you this thought though - would Disneyland be the right place for a somber remembrance? In my humble opinion one of the best ways we can show those who disdain our country and way of life is to not let them disrupt it.
Maybe celebrating our country on that day in honor of those that gave so much could be an alternative to be explored here. I offer that only as my own opinion of course, yours may vary.
Why the Disney lawyers are out of their collective minds
And you thought the stupid stuff they are doing at Tom Sawyer Island was bad... the above picture - with safety tape on a water fountain - says it all.
(Also note the torn awning at the now closed entrance to the Castle walkthrough.)
No Jack at Universal
Reader Matt was kind enough to send me the following note for the last update:
Well, I guess it was too good to be true - from what I was told yesterday it seems that Disney called Universal up and requested rather firmly that Nightmare Before Christmas NOT be shown on the big screen.
For folks going this week, expect the Kevin Bacon movie "Footloose" instead.
Somehow it just won't be the same... ;)
We'll have another D-I-G update for you soon. See you at Disneyland!
Will he or won't he?
Today they should be announcing the new head of AOL, and sadly (for theme park customers and Disney employees worldwide) it won't be Paul Pressler. There may be some truth in the media reports that he turned the job down for what he considers a bright future at Disney - but I suspect he really just didn't want to become involved with the myriad problems AOL may be going through.
This is the second time Pressler has backed away from an outside offer. He was also apparently on the short list for heading up Mattel a few years ago. Most observers feel he should have taken that job, as the company was ripe for new management and ideas. Mattel's comeback probably could have been even stronger with someone like Pressler at the helm who is more suited for that kind of job.
I suppose something could be seen in the fact his name came up at all as available, but we'll see what develops. Disney certainly can't afford his input into any new park projects - as the public stays away in ever increasing droves from his efforts.
While we're on the subject, and before I forget, you may want to read the following Newsweek article about how Disney's attendance is down in Orlando, and Universal's is up. The writer hasn't done a lot of research (he didn't notice that Disney has been avoiding building any major new rides for example) but it does bring up some interesting points.
Eisner himself gets hammered in an MSNBC/Slate column, which is basically saying out loud what many have said quietly for years.
Also you may want to check out today's Orlando Sentinel's piece about how Disney is closing down the entire 2,100 room Caribbean Beach Resort after Labor Day. People are scratching their heads as to why they are shutting it all down until Christmas, for what appears to be a simple restaurant renovation. Seems to me something else may going on here.
Meanwhile Disneyland continues with a long overdue paint and upkeep job (after seven years of Pressler's total abandonment of regular maintenance). The fact this is all happening during what is considered a peak attendance season sort of makes it look forced - despite what had been up until early this year a policy of purposeful neglect.
The good thing is that the way too faded ToonTown now has more new paint appearing everywhere, as you can see below. Immediately noticeable was Mickey's roof... below is before...
...then look at the dramatic difference after, taken last Sunday.
Below is the Gadget Go-Coaster queue building before..
...and now look at the shot below taken last Sunday as work was progressing on the entire ride.
They are rehabbing the entire Go-Coaster attraction area, and also adding safety gates to the ride's load platform.
I was also told that they had gone ahead and moved up the exterior paint job for the small world facade to this week too.
I think the newest pictures above show the kind of quality everyone should expect from the park. After all, Disneyland doesn't have the fastest rides, nor the most up to the second thrills. What they did have, until current management came on board, was the highest quality environment.
That kind of perceived quality is what helps keep Disneyland from discounting this summer, while everyone else does (even the sister park across the way).
It looks to me now, with unprecedented summer rehabs no less, that they are finally understanding how important this is to the bottom line. And all of us, even the ones who profess to not notice the faded paint, benefit from this.
Flik's a Stroller-free Zone?
You know, I've often joked with people (especially on very hot crowded days at Disneyland) that maybe once or twice a month they should consider banning kids. Heck, they could probably even charge extra for a kid free evening or two yearly. But I wasn't prepared to even think that was even a glimmer of a possibility in a Disney park until I got wind of what Imagineering was up to.
It seems that the new Flik's Fun Fair kid area at California Adventure is very tightly spaced - so much so as a matter of fact that walkways are most likely to be congested on a regular basis. Well, since they designed everything so tightly, and they were really worried about the crowds, there was a proposal from WDI to make the area a stroller-free zone. Yep you read that right, a kid's play area that would be stroller-free.
Want a comparison? It would be like banning strollers from Toontown or Fantasyland. (Personally I just think Barry Braverman and Paul Pressler just abhor kids, period. It explains DCA in a nutshell, right?)
However (thank goodness) the saner minds in Operations fought back hard on that one. As it stands now, to control crowds there will be a visitor queue setup that loops around the new Farm planters that will contain roughly a one hour line to get into Flik's if it turns out to be really popular. So if things are too crowded inside Flik's, they will set up the ropes and control the people allowing some into the area as other people leave. They did this for ToonTown when it first opened, until they settled into a more normal pattern of attendance.
One thing you have to say about WDI under Pressler is that it is remarkably consistent. They never seem to know nor understand what they are designing rides, or even parks for. It's under this kind of out of touch leadership that these kinds of bizarre requests can even be brought up in the first place.
Tower of Terror photos
Mostly it's just been a couple of very deep holes in the ground, but finally the steel has been going up for Tower of Terror at DCA. Below you can see the first two floors going up...
...and here's a close up of the shaft area.
The story is still very mixed on this one - we are getting a cutback version of this attraction, at least as far as how it was done in Orlando. (They have eliminated the "fourth dimension" room the elevators travel through before the drops.) Whether this means they have come up with something better to replace what they took out we'll have to wait to find out.
Considering the abysmal track record of current management, I will not be holding my breath on this one. So far the DCA story has been one of disappointment after disappointment. The blind have been leading the doomed here.
More Park Toys
Remember a few years ago when we had to literally beg Eisner via a letter writing and web campaign for toys of the park attractions? Customers were pretty much ignored until that toy monorail came out - and then they couldn't keep them in stock.
Well, thankfully since then they have upped the quantity of these items, which not only make great toys for kids, but terrific collectibles for adults. I'm sure you've already seen some of the newest items, the Haunted Mansion themed Clue game among them. (You may want to visit MouseShoppe.com for the latest on this stuff.)
Now there's even more good news. It appears that Disney Consumer Products is gearing up for Disneyland's 50th, and I'll let the following very kind note that I got fill you in on what may be upcoming:
Let's keep our fingers crossed that they follow up on this - from what I've seen so far I know lots of folks who would love to own these sets, both to play with and collect. :)
Universal Picture Show
Reader Matt was kind enough to send me the following note:
What a great idea. And I'll bet that this cost Universal oodles less than the Beach Boys and the Monkees charged Disney. ;)
By the way, speaking of concert, err, um music series - notice how they dropped all the mentions of the California Adventure music series in the media (save for a newspaper ad or two)? The poor numbers told that story pretty clearly. As of this past week they are now promoting the Electrical Parade again in a new onslaught of TV ads. (I guess that is why they fired the ad guy?)
I have an idea guys, why not tell everyone the Electrical Parade is going away again? That might actually pull in some crowds into DCA between now and, oh say, the holiday season.
Then go ahead and build a whole NEW Main Street Electrical Parade for Disneyland's 50th anniversary. (With an all new musical score to accompany it.) That's where the parade really belongs, right? ;)
Parking Lot Suicide
Here's a sad note - apparently last week cast members (Disney employees) came upon a vehicle in the parking structure that was leaking blood. The word was that someone inside had killed themselves - which would have happened out of the range of the many cameras placed throughout the structure.
Update: After this column went to press Tuesday morning, several readers did note that the L.A. Times ran a brief item about the above in their Sunday paper. Apparently (from the many notes I got) he was an annual passholder, who was a regular at Coke Corner.
We'll have another D-I-G update for you soon. See you at Disneyland!
8/20 UPDATE - Keep Eisner, Lose Pixar? | whiting out small world | Speaking of Rehabs | Maybe THIS will work! | ABC @ DCA | More Tower of Terror photos | Readers Write | Why the Disney lawyers are out of their collective minds | No Jack at Universal
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