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David Koenig
Watch Out for Brandy!

Of stockholder meetings, getting mowed if one crosses Brandy's path, Autopia safety and more…


No, there was no "stockholder revolt" at the Walt Disney Company's annual shareholders meeting in Hartford, Connecticut. Reader Susan Branin hoped to report back that a barrage of pointed questions by concerned shareholders convinced Disney executives to resign on the spot—or at least humbled them into contrition.

Alas, the typical question approached the depth of "When will the shows return to the parks?" (For the record, Eisner responded, "When the economy comes back. I promise.")

As well, all board nominees were approved and their every recommendation was followed on the resolutions.

Michael Eisner, whats-his-name and Cynthia Harris September 24th at Disneyland
Michael Eisner, whats-his-name and Cynthia Harris last September 24th at Disneyland

The highlight of the meeting, according to Susan, was the previews of upcoming film projects, including The Rookie, Signs with Mel Gibson ("great"), Country Bears, Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion movies, 3-D Chicken Little, 3-D Mickey ("very impressive"), Treasure Planet ("this looked great, too—a combo of 2-D and 3-D"), and Lilo and Stitch (which Eisner called, ''Spectacular—and I stand by that word.''). Susan noted:

I've never been to a shareholders meeting, and I was fascinated by the whole process. I imagine that no other companies have character greetings and the like. I was impressed by the entire presentation. Excited about what's to come (except for the parks, but I was knew what was coming). I guess that's the point—a shareholder can't walk away from that less than optimistic.


My sources weren't the only ones who dared cross the path of singer/TV star/Disneyland visitor Brandy. Reader Skye wrote:

I am a regular MousePlanet reader, and an annual passholder. I was at the resort last weekend to celebrate the end of my bachelorette days.

Upon reading your blurb about Brandy, I realized that I just HAD to email you. My group and I also had a little run in with the "star," although not as bad as the guest in your column.

We were exiting the Orange Stinger and were about halfway down the steps when one of my friends whispered to me, "It's Brandy!" And sure enough, coming up the exit stairs (I love it how celebs don't have to wait in line like us common folk, even though the wait was non-existent) was Brandy and a friend, and what appeared to be a bodyguard.

As we got down to the pavement, my friend snaps a picture. Immediately Brandy starts pointing to us, calling attention to her bodyguard. Of course I figure that he is on his way down to confiscate our film, so we high-tail it towards Screamin'. She watches us leave the whole way, pointing and yelling all along.

Who does she think she is?

Brandy has a new CD (shown above) coming March 5th
Brandy has a new CD (shown above) shipping March 5th

A Disneyland cast member continued:

You mentioned in your most recent article about Brandy's bodyguard taking that guest's camera and all. Well it so happens that the "guest" is a friend of mine and an ex-Disneyland cast member and a current cast member at Walt Disney World. He was with two other friends who work here at Disneyland. They were amazed that her bodyguard (though I heard it was her husband and producer) would do such a thing.

Brandy et al. were in Town Square waiting for Parade of the Stars to start. What's the harm in taking a couple of pictures? She was in a public place, it's not like she was behind closed doors or anything. I've been told that Brandy's manager wrote him a check right there to cover the cost of the camera and any "other damage" that occurred. He's said he's not going to pursue it any further.

A co-worker added:

"Unnerving of the guest" is an understatement. I am a cast member and saw the entire thing. The guest's face and body language was that of utter disbelief. At first the guest talked to a parade lead. But the parade was just reaching the top of Main Street, so the lead was a bit busy. We were joking that not much would be done talking to a parade lead, RIGHT when the parade was arriving. Also, I was under the impression that this was Brandy's husband, not her bodyguard, because they were acting like a couple minutes before the incident. She was also at the park with her father.

Another cast member wrote:

Concerning the so-called star named Brandy and the incident at the Main Street Train Station, the park has been quiet about the matter. Doesn't look good for someone who "starred" in a Disney special to have another guest roughed up by their bodyguard. Supposedly, her PR man offered the guest $1,000 to forget about the matter.


Reacting to the article suggesting the New Autopia may be more dangerous than the Old Autopia, former ride operator Patrick wrote:

I found your Autopia information very interesting. I worked Autopia for two years up until the reconstruction began. You may recall that before the changes, we loaded 11 to 12 cars at a time, stopping them all bumper to bumper. The loading now has all cars several feet apart. Imagine yourself on the line working, and a wayward guest doesn't take his foot off the gas in time to stop. What would the immediate effect be on the car in front if that car has 4 feet of open track ahead of it compared with four cars stopped bumper to bumper?

The short answer is with current loading practices, cars are significantly more likely to be thrown farther when bumped than they were in the past. Imagine a non-agile guest exiting and their car being bumped and suddenly leaps 6 inches underneath them. Then picture the same guest exiting when their car is thrown 3 feet. The situation may have been made safer in many respects, but the constant potential for greater injury is cause for concern.

Autopia

One other safety consideration: The former layout in normal, full operation, called for two "Y" positions: These were the cast members who stood between the back of the load area and the oncoming traffic, in the general vicinity of the stoplights and the pit. The "Y" positions were utility positions and were available to help with any needs. When there was a stalled car near the front, for example, one Y could temporarily go to help and the other Y could move to the center between the oncoming lanes and direct both lanes until the other Y could return, all without requiring the line cast members to leave their important roles.

Now the current problem: The old Y positions were safer than the current Y positions in two important ways:

1. There was one Y per line (as opposed to the current one Y per two lines), and

2. The old Y was normally positioned on the same side of the cars as the cast member gas pedal (now, they are between two lines, and the gas pedals of both lines are opposite the cast member. That is, where the Y typically would have access to direct control of the vehicle (gas pedal, steering wheel, side standing board), the Y now has access to none of these things.

I forcibly stopped cars many times to avert collisions when at the Y position—but today's Y has no power to stop the car at all except for yelling and motioning. Yelling and motioning may be meaningless to many, many guests, especially those who have never driven before, are particularly young, might be hearing impaired, don't speak English, or are overly distracted or excited, etc.

I can't assume Cal-OSHA wouldn't have gotten involved had things stayed the same, but I think the re-do failed to retain many key safety aspects of the older set up.

I thought of one other procedure that plays into what I wrote. When we brought the 11 cars into the load area, procedure was to have two line cast members go with the cars—the first to drive the first car in the line (taking control from the guest), and the second to walk up somewhere between the third and sixth car (then walking down to the 11th, making sure each stopped).

The important point: the first line cast member was supposed to drive slowly up to space #1. If she did this, the entire line would move slowly, never accelerating to full speed, and generally stop almost together, still bumper to bumper. Though the slowness element was very often ignored, proper procedures made it almost impossible for guests to seriously ram other cars in the loading area (by far the most dangerous area of the attraction).

J. wrote:

Okay, my thoughts on Autopia. I hate it.

Especially at Disneyland, it's a HUGE waste of space. If you took out that, the useless festering submarine lagoon, and the majority of the Monorail track, you'd have enough room to build a whole new land! Discoveryland! Discovery Bay! Something … <gasp> new!

Autopia

Autopia is mainly for little kids. All of the adults I know hate it. I've been on it once in the past 10 years, and that was at the Minnie's 5K event last year. It reminded me how useless and loud and slow the ride really is.

And unsafe! Throw in unsafe. And expensive to run, too. Maybe we can convince Disneyland to get rid of it now.

I'm fine when there are attractions that are more child-centric. Peter Pan's Flight is still a great, great ride. Mr. Toad is one of my favorites. Roger Rabbit is a nice modernization of the dark ride. And the Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin is amazing!!

But what does bug me is Camp Minnie Mickey. Redwood Creek Challenge Trail. Places that are just not for adults at all.

And I'll admit, I think the upside-down coasters at Disney-MGM Studios and California Adventure are a mistake. They're not for kids at all.

Disney Theme Parks walk the fine line of catering to families with kids and adults without kids. Sometimes you can't please everyone, I accept that.

My biggest problem with Disneyland's Autopia is that sheer space that thing takes up! It's like a full sixth of the landmass of the park. If they wanted to, they could really use the space for real innovation.


And, of course, no letters column would be complete without letting a few readers bemoan how standards have fallen at the park. As Glen wrote:

Just a word about the great job you're doing at MousePlanet. You, Al and the rest really make that site come alive (I just wish that a good percentage of the Disney Park news isn't so heartbreaking. I know you can't help it, but it's kinda like watching an old friend get sicker and sicker.

Oh well, Eisner and company will soon get the comeuppance they deserve. I just hope it happens before Anaheim dies off).

A Disneyland employee wrote:

I just read your latest article and I have to say that the last story one of your readers put up (involving rude cast members) is just heartbreaking. Being a cast member who actually CARES about what happens to the guests, it is hard to hear stories like these from guests. I hear at least one story like this every time I work.

I keep saying to myself, "If I only had the power, I could make things right." I really have a desire to fix things like cast member behavior. The problem is no one will listen to me. Believe me, if I had my way, cast members like the ones mentioned would be fired, or at least suspended.

cast members

I have no tolerance for cast members who take their jobs with a grain of salt. When I ask a lead to talk to a cast member who is not doing their job, the response is indifference. No one wants to take the initiative. It's very frustrating when leads tell you to only worry about your (my) performance.

But, I keep all this in the back of my mind. My first priority is to serve the guests to the best of my ability. As for the reader, I apologize for the way those cast members treated him. No one should be treated like that at a Disney park. This story has made me even more vigilant and watchful.

Thank you for letting me respond, David. I only hope I will be able to prevent things like that story from happening in the future.

Thank you. Knowing that there are cast member out there like you (and know you are not alone), gives me some hope.


You can write to David atthis link..

Watch Out for Brandy!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Koenig is the senior editor of the 80-year-old business journal, The Merchant Magazine.

After receiving his degree in journalism from California State University, Fullerton (aka Cal State Disneyland), he began years of research for his first book, Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland (1994), which he followed with Mouse Under Glass: Secrets of Disney Animation & Theme Parks (1997, revised 2001) and More Mouse Tales: A Closer Peek Backstage at Disneyland (1999); all titles published by Bonaventure Press.

He lives in Aliso Viejo, California, with his lovely wife, Laura, their wonderful son, Zachary, and their adorable daughter, Rebecca.

You can contact David here.

LINKS

Click here to go to David's main page for a list of archived articles.

Visit MouseShoppe to purchase copies of David's books. (Clicking on the link opens a new window.)

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