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A “behind–the–ears” look at Disneyland
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David Koenig

Another Update, plus Reader Mail

Lost in Space

Reader Andrew asked:

I was wondering where is the new Space Mountain car located? I would like to get some pictures of it.

Save your film. While the prototype rocket had been stored in a "more visible" backstage location, about two weeks ago it was moved back to "its home," in the Facilities 500 Building adjacent to the Team Disney Anaheim (TDA) Building.

A ride operator elaborated:

They are undecided and don't know if they are going to phase it in with guests or just wait until all 14 of them arrive. It still seems a long ways off, like after summer before any are put into use.

Still, Space Mountain was shut down Wednesday afternoon April 24 for "testing," although no one would exactly what was being tested. CalOSHA was called in "for consultation," said state Department of Industrial Relations spokesman Dean Fryer. "They were making some changes to the ride, so the ride was shut down while we were doing our inspection. We did suggest some minor corrections."

Actually, the attraction has been experiencing an unusual amount of downtime lately. Two Sundays ago, said a ride operator,

Space opened late due to a crack in one of the I-beams holding up one of the tracks. They welded well into the afternoon before opening up. Apparently they must have used gum and duct tape to fix that crack because then this past Tuesday, Space was closed all day due to the crack resurfacing. I believe they took a more drastic step, something to the effect of replacing the whole beam itself instead of just repairing the crack.

Counting on Characters

Reports an employee:

Cast members and guests have noticed the Character Department hosts (the cast members that watch over the characters in the park) are carrying small hand counters. They are now keeping track of the number of guests seeing the characters.

There is speculation on why this is done: the 'bean counters' in TDA (Team Disney Anaheim) and Burbank are demanding justification on the amount of money being spent having characters in the park. If this is true, how could you put a price on the joy of a child seeing their favorite Disney character? If the counts are low, does that mean that characters will disappear?

Certain unpopular characters maybe, but I'm sure there will always be characters. Lots of them. My guess is that Disney is trying to "quantify the relative popularity" of each character. This may help them schedule certain characters more frequently, move them to more accessible locations, have them appear at more popular times of the day, or even introduce promotions or merchandise related to more popular characters.

The Atlantis characters are seen less frequently in the park since last summer
The Atlantis characters are seen less frequently since last summer.

This doesn't have to be bad. Let's hope Disney uses this new data for good instead of evil. The cast member agreed,

There will be always characters in the park. But with the way the company is so penny-pinching about things, cast members are looking at this as an ominous sign.

It has come down with the general attitude of cast members toward the company lately, we look at anything management considers 'good' with a degree of suspicion (but it's like that anywhere, right?).

Indy Injury

New operating procedures have been added at the Indiana Jones Adventure, following an employee injury mid-afternoon April 16. As a ride operator recounted,

A Facilities cast member was injured while adding a jeep. He was apparently standing near the mirror, and didn't hear or see the jeep coming out, and was struck by the rear bumper when it swung around the track switch. He didn't report it to an Attractions cast member, but instead went back to the hand-off area of the ride.

The ride shut down immediately, and remained so until the park closed several hours later. CalOSHA's Fryer confirmed the vehicle struck the man's leg, and he suffered a 6-inch laceration. The agency decided against a full investigation.

But, the ride operator continued, "effective April 18, every single cast member, be it the lead, Facilities or management, is to stay clear of the track and hand-off. Cast members are to hit an E-Stop if anyone shows up on the monitor in the tower. Just another overboard safety measure at Indy.

The precautions go beyond the "tag out" safety procedures instituted on Indy several years ago. Whenever a crewmen went inside the body of the attraction, they were to take a colored tag with them, so everyone knew where they were.

Suspended Animation

Switching gears for a moment to animation, a mock press release, penned by a disgruntled former animator, has been making the rounds. "It is pinned up all over the studio walls," admits one animator.

"Disney Feature Animation failing, Despite Efforts of Thomas Schumacher"

Burbank, CA – The entertainment industry stands perplexed over the continual decline in profit margins at Walt Disney Feature Animation, despite the Herculean efforts made to save the failing company by President and Tony Award winner Thomas Schumacher.

"I didn't invent animation. Walt invented animation," Schumacher said in a recent press conference. "I merely advanced animation to an art form."

Never have truer words been spoken. Since his promotion to President of Feature Animation, Schumacher has overseen the production of such films as The Emperor's New Groove and Atlantis: The Lost Empire, both instant classics that are cherished by dozens of people worldwide.

"I've never seen a time when our films were more vital and energetic," Schumacher said. "From The Little Mermaid: Return to the Sea to Peter Pan: Return to Neverland to Cinderella II: Return to the Store for a Refund, the creative range and diversity of our recent offerings have no equal."

Cinderella II -Promotional art  Disney
Cinderella II. Promotional art Disney.

Yet despite the continuous outpouring of high quality family entertainment that the studio has crafted under Schumacher's careful guidance, consumer trends are beginning to shift away from the traditional hand-drawn offerings in favor of flashy new three dimensional "computer graphics imagery."

In a web poll, most moviegoers said that they preferred 3-D computer-animated films like PDI-DreamWorks' Shrek and Disney bedfellow Pixar's Monster's Inc. to recent traditional Disney features, claiming that these films "make sense" and "don't suck."

When questioned on the prospect of computer animation completely replacing the traditional style created by the Disney studio, Schumacher chuckles warmly.

"Much like myself, the computer is a powerful tool. It is a tool that we are using in our films right now. We're hip. We're with it. Some people don't realize that the Cave of Wonders in Aladdin or the boats in Pocahontas were digital creations. Some people still get scared when the theater lights go down and the wall turns into a magic window with moving pictures living inside of it. These are the people that I am reaching out to with my films."

Indeed, Disney has always been a pioneering force in computer graphics.

"We were doing computer before computer was cool. We made Tron in 1982. That's a full 13 years before Toy Story," Schumacher gloats. "In recent years, we have been committed to further development of this new art form that the Disney studios created."

While on the subject of the new wave of technological animation, Schumacher spoke proudly of the establishment of his fully realized Disney three-dimensional computer animation studio, The Secret Lab.

"When we merged Dream Quest Images and Disney's computer animation operation, it represented a tremendous pooling of talent and resources. Both groups were involved in creating spectacular digital imagery, and the formation of The Secret Lab brought together a group of visual effects experts that were tops in their field. Disney built a first-class digital animation studio and pushed the boundaries of digital filmmaking," Schumacher said. "But it didn't really work out, so we canned them all."

Without skirting the issue, Schumacher spoke briefly on the subject of corporate belt-tightening, putting to rest months of rumors and speculation.

"Yes, there will be layoffs," Schumacher admitted, his eyes beginning to shimmer with compassionate tears. "They are necessary to keep the company strong, and to that end, we are removing the elements in the studio who are most to blame for our recent box office failures. The artists."

Schumacher went on to say that the layoffs will be minor, effecting only about 10 to 97% of the current workforce. "We're not shutting down the Burbank studio, we're merely cutting the fat. When we've reached our goals, Disney Feature Animation will be a stunning Calista Flockhart of an animation studio."

Despite the downturn, Schumacher is confident for the future, and has greenlit a full slate of films through 2006, including Bambi II: A Few More Bucks and A Completely F***ing Balls Out Goofy Movie.

"Some naive people have said cel animation is dead," Schumacher says. "But it's still a great business to be in. Until I fire you."

Lost & Found & Relocated

Back in Anaheim, the consolidation of the two parks' Lost & Found areas to a single central location is moving forward. One cast member offered:

It's on the way, the signs announcing the move are all around.

Some of the Disneyland Lost & Found crew are anxious to flee the current grimy quarters. But, asks a cast member in another department,

If Lost & Found is a secured location and is not cleaned on a regular basis as it is, what makes anyone believe it will be regularly cleaned as a consolidated facility?

Suggests a worker:

My best guess is probably not. However, the benefit lies in 'starting over,' moving everything to a brand-new facility. I mean, DCA has had its Lost & Found's back room closed off for over a year now—but it's still about 10 times cleaner than its Disneyland counterpart, which has been working out of the same building for about 15 years (or whenever they moved from the Emporium, anyway). The new Lost & Found may not receive regular cleaning, as maybe it shouldn't with all the valuables around, but it will at least 'buy' another 10 years of a pleasant work environment.

Which begs the question: why isn't it regularly cleaned? I understand the back of Disneyland's Lost & Found is so dingy that at least two cast members received notes from their doctors to avoid working there due to dust and allergens.

Couldn't a cleaning crew make a regular visit, even if security cameras and an armed guard watched each sweeper's every move? The employee responds:

That's a good question, and probably one that we should start when the changeover occurs (now slated for the end of May). I mean, all Lost & Found/Guest Relations cast members are trusted to work the location—they're no more trustworthy than custodial cast members. Maybe they should come by (during the day, at least, when they're there) and sweep up occasionally. Preventive maintenance.

Shaky Security?

Mia wrote:

Regarding the recent comments about shoplifting and the needs for the security tags… I am wondering: what happened to the Security?

It was always my understanding that the Disney Security was hiding in bushes, and had cameras everywhere! (Maybe that was just the paranoia story that they sell to kids?)

I have a friend who swears by the effectiveness of Disney Security. When she was 10, she was persuaded to steal a ball cap from one of the stores. She walked around all day with the hat buried deep in her backpack, thinking that Security would come and get her. After a few hours, she felt relatively safe, and actually wore the hat for the rest of the day. Thinking that she had gotten off scot free, she was devastated when she was literally grabbed and pulled aside by a security officer on her way out the gate that night at park closing. She was detained and her parents were called to pick her up from the security office for shoplifting. What they told her (which may or may not bear any truth) was that she was seen stealing earlier, and they followed her all day.

That kind of story kept me very wary of the invisible eyes of the Disney Law! Not that I was a bad kid—I'm just saying ;) I have even seen fights break out, and within seconds, security officers were swarming from everywhere!

If Disney has such a top notch security team, why the detectors? I think enough people have pointed out the drawbacks.

Disney's security force today is a shadow of what it was less than 10 years ago, not to mention that crowds are larger and trouble-makers more plentiful.

In the late '90s, Disney security started getting too aggressive and management castrated the department to protect its happy, smiling PR image (the whole story's in my book More Mouse Tales, which is out in paperback next month).

Grumpy Guests

The letter printed here a couple of weeks ago by a disgruntled guest continues to spark reader reaction. John, a.k.a. "ParrotHead," wrote:

I just had to add my two cents to the discussion about the guest who couldn't find his brick and the cast member who gave him an 800 number to call.

Was this awful guest service? No. Was it outstanding? No. The outstanding thing for the cast member to do would have been to have offered to call the number for the guest and find out where his brick was. Instead, the appearance was created that the cast member was passing the buck.

I used to work for a large hardware store chain. Back then, we all had to wear smocks that said, "Ask me—If I don't know, I'll find out." The idea was that each employee was responsible for helping every customer get an answer to every question, even if their question was related to something outside our area of expertise. I worked in the electrical department, but I was expected to help a customer who had, say, a plumbing question. And not by simply pointing them in the general direction of the plumbing department and sending them on their way. Rather, I would walk with them to that department and make sure an associate there answered their question.

Any cast member who doesn't grasp this notion of guest service needs to be re-trained. Any trainer who isn't teaching this notion of guest service needs to be fired.

And on another topic, while we're on the subject of how to treat guests… I have a problem with the anti-theft devices being used at Disneyland. I understand the need to minimize inventory shrink, but I also understand that systems like this treat EVERY GUEST like a potential thief. That's wrong for SO many reasons, not the least of which is the embarrassment caused by false alarms.

The irony is that the use of such systems is spoken against in a customer service-related book called Raving Fans, which is written by Kenneth Blanchard, an author whose works I've seen Disney's upper management recommend to lower-level managers.

Click here to buy from Amazon.

I guess Raving Fans wasn't on the list of recommended reading, though. That's a shame, because I sometimes think that some (not all, thank goodness) within the company have no idea what creating raving fans is all about, or how to go about doing it.

Here's a hint… Passing the buck on guests who need assistance and treating all guests like potential thieves are not how you create raving fans.

A ride operator wrote:

The last letter by a Disneyland Resort cast member struck a chord with me. I always try so very hard to provide great "guest service," but more times than not, guests are just so rude and stuck on the "me" aspect. Like they are the only one waiting in a queue that is 120 minutes long. God forbid Indiana Jones breaks down if you have a FastPass; numerous times, I have been talked down to and yelled at by rude, selfish morons who expect a flawless visit.

Reality check, things break, get over it. Bottom line, guests need to keep in mind that they are not the only one in the park! (Except at DCA, but that goes without saying). Especially during spring break, summer, or during Christmas. You have no idea just how much it makes a difference when people show some patience and cooperation, and say, "Thank you." It's when I come across people like that who I go the extra mile for.

Reader John wrote:

After reading what the guest said a few weeks ago and how the cast members responded, and after my recent trip to Disneyland two months ago, I thought I would also give my response and two cents. I am a former Disney Store cast member. In 1996, I had the honor of winning the National Disney Store Trivia Competition at the park. A great number of us Triviateers, a person who competed in the Nationals, still keep in touch via a website, so a reunion was inevitable. My partner and I trekked cross-country, from Rhode Island, to attend this event which was a labor of love, sponsored by no one but ourselves. We stayed at the Disneyland Hotel, which we love, and it was great seeing some folks again, meeting new people, and of course catching up with our good friend, Dave Smith.

I personally was very disappointed with the amount of closures in the park. I was disappointed with the lack of entertainment in the park, I was very disappointed in the overall lack of time and maintenance that once was hallmark of Disneyland. But the one thing I can not say I was disappointed in was the cast members. We both met a countless number of men and women who truly share Walt's vision and showed a passion for what they do at the Happiest Place on Earth. Because even after riding Space Mountain without the music, or schlepping through Fantasyland between all the blue walls, or seeing our beloved Haunted Mansion and Splash Mountain covered in scaffolding, the one bright side was the cast members we interacted with.

I do have to admit though that there is nothing on the horizon for us to return to Disneyland any time soon. We can fly to Florida often and we've ridden Twilight Zone Tower of Terror countless times for us to travel cross-country for it and A Bug's Land is a kids-only place. So is there a decline in the service and magic? OF COURSE!

Are the cast members to blame? Of course not!

But with Disneyland's prices increasing and the number of attractions and shows decreasing, I'm beginning to feel like Disneyland is taking us for suckers. P. T. Barnum was right. So, I ask any true Disney fans to do something in terms of a protest, whether it be to stay away from the park, or whatever, until the folks at TDA (Team Disney Anaheim) wise up and bring the park back to the leader, instead of follower, in quality entertainment.

Theresa wrote:

I'm a first time writer who has read your first book and found it delightful and have been an annual passholder for as long as they've been available. I've been coming to this site now for about five months since I found out about it and have mixed feeling, while I love to come and get information, sometimes it is depressing to read all the negative from people. I wanted to write to address a couple of issues from readers.

First the merchandise, I have been increasingly disappointed in the merchandising at Disneyland, in particular in the last at least five years, probably longer than that. I remember with fondness when I started collecting little wooden houses that were hand painted and very collectible that made the Frontier store so unique. I would buy one (average price about $25) every trip we'd make.

Also some of the merchandise that used to be found in what is now I believe the French Market in New Orleans Square, even if it was pricey or not even for sale it was fun to walk through and see some of the unique antique items.

The point is if as I read in the update annual passholders are over 450,000 strong, why is it that the powers that be don't ask them what products they'd like to see in the stores instead of doing a horribly stupid job of it themselves. I have a limited amount of marketing experience and could do a better job myself! They're really missing this one big time. I suggest they send out a survey to all passholders and get their opinion, they may be surprised how much GOOD feedback they'd get. I don't ever remember being surveyed as an annual passholder as to what I'd like to see happen.

As far as the cast members, we go every 2 to 3 months and have yet to have a bad experience, generally I think the cast members are very nice and helpful, but what I have noticed in my day to day experience that people in general are getting less tolerant and ruder than they used to be. It's hard to bring magic into those people. An observation that I have made over the last 10 years, is that when I used to attend Disneyland when I was a kid (the 60s) my memories were of families together having fun, rare was the time I witnessed a child having a tantrum or a parent having a meltdown. It says something about society today that I see this in rather disturbing numbers when we attend now. Maybe everybody guests and cast members should have a little mental reminder every time they walk through that archway, what this place is supposed to be about.

This is getting quite long, but I figured I'd throw my two cents in with everybody else. Keep up the great info, you and Al Lutz keep me coming back for more!

Ken Hughes wrote:

I just wanted to thank you for acknowledging on MousePlanet that sometimes it's the guest who creates a customer service problem, not the cast member. How disgusting that some people seem to think it's their birthright to be treated like royalty just for visiting a Disney park. Sure, it's expensive. Sure, we have a right to expect certain things. Sure, it sucks that management is letting whole areas of the park fall apart. But for cryin' out loud, be reasonable! Issues of poor leadership and the ever-present few bad apples aside, most Disney cast members really do want to help us have a great experience.

Let's not punish the rank and file for the sins of their "superiors." It's inappropriate to assume that since we've paid $45 to enter, we have any right to give up initiating courtesy. And don't tell me that since you own a few shares, you deserve special treatment.

To all my fellow Disney guests: Treat cast members with courtesy and respect (and smile, for God's sake, you're on vacation!!) and they will pay you back with interest. In seven days at Walt Disney World last October, there was exactly ONE time I felt we were treated with less courtesy than we deserved, and even that interaction left a lot of room for misunderstanding. We came into contact with, easily, 100 cast members as we traveled all over the place. 99 out of 100 is pretty good. These are people, not audio-animatronics. We're all grumpy sometimes.

We made an effort to treat all who served us with the respect and courtesy we wanted to receive. And we were richly repaid. It's not difficult. And you'll actually have more fun than if you walk around the parks grumbling about everything. Please stay home if you're gonna do that—your money really will be wasted, and I don't want to have to hear you kvetching while we're both standing in line for this or that.

If you feel you have to punish someone for letting our beloved park edge ever closer to circling the toilet bowl, punish the leadership by staying away until things improve. And when it does get better, let's all go back and reward the company for putting things right. And smile at a cast member first. You never know what might happen next.

Well put. I don't think it's a coincidence that a friendly guest will encounter a lot more smiling, helpful cast members than will the discourteous guest.

As "Pooh" wrote:

I visit the Anaheim and LGV property at least twice a year. I have experienced only the warmest and most helpful of customer service EVERY time. Part of the reason is that I am a great guest. I treat Disney with respect, and I also understand that I want my vacation to be the best.

On my first trip to DCA, in the men's room, a cast member used the most profane words I'd ever heard, period. Certainly, way out of line in any professional environment. I went to Guest Relations and reported this incident, only as I didn't want children to hear such words. Guest Relations was immediate and very understanding about my complaint. I was given a little gift for my trouble, and went on my way. That is how you should handle something. If I had gone in and carried on like some lunatic, perhaps my experience at that moment wouldn't had been as memorable, or positive.

Before FastPass, I was waiting in a two-hour line for Splash and observing a bunch of teenagers bouncing in and out of a wheelchair, and then going in through the handicapped entrance. Being that my mom is wheelchair-bound, I informed the cast member at the special entrance of this, and I was allowed to enter there as well. When I got off, I was greeted by a very nice security person who asked me a few questions. I offered my name and the resort I was staying, if they needed me for later assistance. When I got to my room, there was a basket and a thank you note from security. You see, I had a choice. I could've acted like a baboon, or as I did, a thinking, mature adult.

So, my point here is simple. Behave, think, and don't act like an idiot, and I'm sure you'll see the magic all around you, and have a great time at any Disney theme park.

In the meantime, at least two of the original writer's complaints (couldn't buy stamps at DCA, asked by Guest Relations to call an 800 number to locate his commemorative brick) may have been remedied.

A cast member wrote:

I thought you might want to know that DCA now has a stamp machine—it's located inside Greetings From California, just inside the first door as you're coming through the gate. It's even nicely themed with the wall!

And, Richard Kaufman wrote:

My wife and I were in Anaheim last April. I had left the piece of paper with the location of our brick at home. Since we wanted to see it, we went to a kiosk that is on the Esplanade between the ticket booths and Downtown Disney. They were able to tell me the location of my brick with no problem!

I can't recall if they looked it up in a black loose-leaf binder or on a computer, but they definitely told us, because we then walked over to the spot and saw the brick! Something must have changed since then.

Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact David here.

Another Update, plus Reader Mail


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.


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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