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Exploring the world outside of the park
Part One: Hollywood and Highland


Before you start this special photo series, you may want to first take a look at two photo tours MousePlanet has assembled which demonstrate what the Walt Disney Company is capable of when building a new theme park, both good and bad.

Begin with Todd Meegan's excellent tour of the stunning Tokyo DisneySea park, a wonderful example of what the company is still capable of, but only under the more visionary management of the Oriental Land Company, which footed the bill. Then take a look at Ian Parkinson's photo tour of the new Disney Studios park in France, which will show you (exposed wires and all) just how much lower the quality bar is set when the company pretty much foots the bill itself.

These introductions are important when you tour three new and thematically impressive Los Angeles visitor destinations in this series, in which I question the directions the Disney company is taking with their domestic parks lately under what seems to be a complacent, creatively listless and unaware management.

One of my fondest memories of Disneyland is one that both ages me and seems rather quaint when I mention it; those Bell Telephone glass rooms at the exit of the CircleVision building in Tomorrowland. For a few dimes or quarters (the exact same price for a call as a regular pay phone we marveled) we could all sit in a glass room and talk to someone at the other end via a (drum roll please) "speakerphone."

Back when I was young (no snickers from the Peanut gallery) speakerphones as an exotic contraption were right up there with flying cars and making reservations to go to the moon via PanAm Airways. Disneyland was a place where I could touch the future, even if just for a moment in that glass booth, and nowhere else in the world I had as a kid would that experience be duplicated. It was little wonder I would spend weeks planning my single summer day there, plotting just what I needed to do and see, and making sure I wouldn't miss the latest yearly addition to the park, which was sure to dazzle me.

But it wasn't just the optimistic view of the future that Walt Disney with his park gave me as a child, it was the sense of wonderment I got from being in a place that not only had rocket ships going to the moon, but African adventures, wild frontiers and the most magical fantasy - even a sense of nostalgia for my parents via its main entryway.

And it was the quality of what I saw there too - attractions had professionally recorded soundtracks, bands played like pros, even the "voice of Disneyland" sounded just as first class as any movie or television show. My parents would always complain about how much it all cost, but I overheard Mom once say it was just like a real Broadway show in a way - and I understood then they were just as impressed as I was.

The Disney people had a Rolls Royce operation in how Disneyland was built and run - and all of us kids knew it. As we grew up, and our expectations did too, Disneyland rarely let us down. I can still remember waiting in lines all night for Captain EO and Star Tours, just as excited then as I was a decade or so earlier when I found out the audience moved around the show for the Carousel of Progress, or the Disneyland Railroad took me back in time to Primeval World. Disney did things in the parks that just weren't really done at those levels anywhere else.

Mind you, it wasn't all perfect back then - there was a few years there before Michael Eisner came in and revitalized the Walt Disney Company where we began to wonder if Disneyland had frozen in time - but up until the year Paul Pressler was thrown into the job of first running Disneyland, then all the parks - things were happening again, what with exciting rides as Splash Mt. and Indiana Jones, plus wonderful top notch entertainment such as the Lion King Celebration, Fantasmic and the Beauty and the Beast stage show.

Little did we know back then that Disneyland's 40th Anniversary was really the beginning of the end of an era in theme park innovation for Disney. As Paul Pressler, a former toy executive with little creative vision, knowledge or interest in the theme park business took over, and Eisner began to distance himself from the parks after executive Frank Wells died, the thrills grew fewer, and the clunkers seemed to proliferate.

Once the word got out about Disneyland's expansion into a resort destination complete with a second theme park, the initial excitement quickly gave way to disappointment among long time visitors as a parking lot was developed into a new park with an unworkable and unmanageable theme, and low capacity / quality carnival style attractions, instead of the top notch presentations we had become accustomed to at Disneyland over the years. Since opening over a year ago, the public has stayed away in droves - only showing up when admission is given away, or some kind of stunt promotion is put in place, all at unbelievable costs to the company.

Meanwhile, the Oriental Land Company also expanded their Tokyo Disneyland resort with a DisneySea park - footing the bill for a quality addition that since opening has pulled in an almost 30% increase in attendance. (A stunning increase, considering they also suffered from fallout from 9/11 and an even more dismal economy than ours in the years preceding.) Unlike the Anaheim park, which is requiring all sorts of expensive retooling and new additions, the Tokyo park is right on target and making money hand over fist for the Oriental Land Co.

If you've been a long time reader of MousePlanet, I think you probably already know how I feel about the current lack of executive vision at the Disney Company. With the lackluster expansion of the Disneyland Resort, and the addition of the even sparser second studio park in France, it almost seems (to me at least) that there is an incredible corporate arrogance in place - a feeling that if the name Disney is attached to anything, no matter how low in quality, that the money will roll in. It's too soon to judge the Paris numbers, but the difference between Tokyo and Anaheim's figures are as dramatic as they can be. Visitors seem to respond in kind to the superior experience offered in Tokyo.

The other thing that struck me upon the opening of the two recent Disney parks, and the three new local tourist destinations I will show you in this series, is just how much the outside world seems to be either catching up to, or surpassing, what is considered Disney quality detail and theming nowadays. In each of these three destinations (basically two shopping malls and a multi-screen entertainment complex) theming is taken to heights heretofore unseen outside of Disney parks - and yes, you can even touch the future a little bit too via some advanced technology they offer.

It made me wonder if maybe, in some ways, these new developments were in a way "More Disney Than Disney." I think you may also be asking those questions too, once you see what I am talking about. It could well be that the competition may be surpassing the limited vision Paul Pressler and Michael Eisner now have for their parks. It is quite conceivable - considering these three developments are just minutes apart from each other here in the Hollywood area - that combined they may offer more for a visitor to enjoy than the underwhelming California Adventure park does, even without the carnival attractions.

I'll complete these thoughts at the end of this series, and hopefully have some of your feedback to include with them.

Let's start our tour with the new Hollywood and Highland complex, which is also the new home of the Academy Awards show.

This huge complex (shown in the montage above) is really a multi-use complex. Below we'll enlarge the individual photos from above, to tell you about each area in it. The Chinese Theater anchors the westernmost arm...

The new Kodak Theater (below) abuts the Chinese - below is the entry arch to it, the actual theater is set further back inside the complex.

The centerpiece of the complex is the mall area itself - the Babylon Court (below). If I am right, this area offers a full scale reproduction of some of the elements from D. W. Griffith's Intolerance film set - also below is a picture of the original set at a similar angle to give you an idea of the scale.

The original D. W. Griffith Intolerance film set above. (It used to sit where the Vista Theater now is located, near the intersection of Sunset and Hollywood Blvds.).

Finally below you can see the rest of the mall complex - nightclubs and a soon to open museum occupy the upper levels, down below the building is a MetroRail Subway station which can wisk you to Universal City over the hill in the valley, or Downtown Los Angeles.


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