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David Koenig
Mailbag — Week of January 2, 2002

Readers were able to provide additional details to Universal Studios–Hollywood's January 6 closing of its venerable Wild West stunt show.

Mailbag

A Universal Studios–Hollywood (USH) Entertainment employee confirmed:

Yes, it is true, everything that you reported on MousePlanet happened. There has been talk of changing the West show for some time, but there is nothing written or even planned that I have heard of.

Universal Stunt Show

I don't know exactly what the numbers for [the show] have been, but attendance has been extremely poor for USH as of late. There have been days where the count is 1,000. Even after the riots and the Northridge quake we had better attendance. Granted, there were more and newer attractions to see at that time.

In answer to your last question ("Is USH nuts?"), I have suspected that USH management is insane, and has been for some time. Unless this is all part of their master plan to pave over USH and make it a giant shopping mall, in which case they are well on their way to achieving it.

An insider wrote:

USH has some alternate Chaplins when Samir is on vacation. No one knows what they are going to do with him once the West show closes, but he is in tight with senior management so he will be okay. They may just put him out in the park with the other strolling characters. He is the only non-union character on the schedule, and the only one that gets six days of work every week.

Talked to a few other people at USH today and everyone is in real shock over there about the show closing. Employees feel the only thing safe now is the tram tour. New concern too is that Barry Diller and Vivendi are spending all kinds of money on every division but the L.A. theme park.

It was very quiet at USH the last six months until the Wild West show situation. The only thing new that I've heard is whatever show they do put in there, it will cost a lot less to run and maintain (though the present show isn't that expensive since they got rid of the horse in the show a couple of years ago).

Though nobody seems too concerned about Diller interfering with the theme parks (he will probably be too busy with the movie-TV stuff), there are serious cash flow problems with so little ticket revenue coming in (everyone is entering the park with a pass). And, of course, the same old problem about USH season passholders: they don't spend much on food and souvenirs in the park.

Reaction to "If Walt Were Alive" continue to arrive. Kennect wrote:

What would Walt think today if he were alive? I have no clue. He certainly was a free thinker and I doubt any of us could guess what might be on his mind today as things are. It has taken me a very long time to fully understand the impact he has had on the entertainment industry. In fact, it has taken me over 40 years to understand that one person had the ability to make such an enormous impact on my life personally. He was truly unique and his vision will never be repeated.

Promotional photo  Disney
Promotional photo Disney

I am just grateful this man gave us several different things to enjoy. First the films, secondly Disneyland. I will never forget the day he died. They actually walked into each classroom at school to announce his death. That alone shows what an impact the man had on the overall public. I just really wonder if he ever truly thought what he did would be held in such high regard today? I somewhat doubt that he did. He left us with so much and it is great to know that some of that still exist today. It may not be perfect but a world without Disney would be very sad.

A "Well-Misplaced Source" responded to another reader who praised Pixar and touted John Lasseter as an "entertainment genius" and "the current heir to Walt's throne":

Okay, talk about too much time in Fantasyland…

John Lasseter is not the savior as portrayed in this post. Facts are that some very talented people are responsible for the success to which his name is often associated with. Much like Walt was recognized for Disney films and no one knew about the people who made the stories come to life.

Some of the best and brightest have left Pixar and gone elsewhere, being termed "hard to cast" (read not one of the Cal Arts crowd) for further assignments. One can only wonder how their contributions could have enhanced future projects?

Promotional art  Disney/Pixar
Promotional art Disney/ Pixar

Monsters Inc. (MI) made money, no doubt, but where is the ground breaking story? Too much was simply recycled (the flying doors sequence is just the baggage system from the airport in Toy Story 2 in another guise) or made plush and pastel to keep from being "too scary." Notice how bright the whole film is, and really not threatening at all. The final product is much lighter than what had come along during story development. MI could have been darker and scary yet appealing to children, much as the story and upcoming film, Where the Wild Things Are. Not everything has to be cute and cuddly to sell merchandise.

If Pixar is going to fall into a formula for story, eventually they are headed into the same pit which Disney feature animation has dived into. How many teenage girl stories can you come up with before audiences don't find them interesting enough to buy tickets? Pixar is clearly headed that way with its upcoming projects.

Don't be fooled. Pixar has its own problems, and Disney may be best done with them when the contract is up.

Thanks for the note.

I love to hear both sides to every story.

I'm sure John Lasseter is no "savior," but I do know that I've enjoyed everything he's done; I can't say that about Disney Feature Animation, theme parks, etc.

Now, I don't know John Lasseter, but I've spoken with some who have for 20 years, and they say he wants to be Walt Disney. Could he?

Think for a moment about your criticisms of him/Pixar:

  1. "Some very talented people are responsible for the success to which his name is often associated with. Much like Walt was recognized for Disney films and no one knew about the people who made the stories come to life."
  2. "Some of the best and brightest have left and gone elsewhere" because they didn't fall into the mold.
  3. Latest film "made money, no doubt, but where is the ground breaking story? Too much was simply recycled/kept from being "too scary."

Sounds like Walt to me…

A Disneyland host wrote:

Your Walt article was great. Though I do not share the view of how the company would be if Walt had been alive these past 30 years, I do agree what it would be if he were warped to the present.

As for the old topic of Costume Shopping tacked on at the end of the Walt II: with the exception of teachers, politicians, and workaholics, I know of no other occupation that requires its regular, front-line employees to spend so much time preparing to work than at Disneyland. Most people are at work a few minutes before their shift, work their time, and leave a few minutes after their shift. I know this is generalized, but bear with me. Most of my fellow cast members and I arrive at work 30 to 60 minutes prior to our shifts; sure, we have our 15 minutes of walk time, but it is not as if that allows us to leave straight away. No, there are costume changes to make, schedules to check, questions to answer on the way backstage (not to mention lost children, etc.), bags to check with security, shuttles to catch, traffic to get through on the shuttle, etc., etc., etc.

I know, I know, to the naysayer, this still sounds like complaining. Frankly, it is. But at the wages the park offers, would it be too much to ask to have paid prep time? After all, a happy employee leads to happy guests and happy guests lead to more profits in the long run. Oh, wait a moment, I'm talking about the people that would sell Walt's soul for a quick penny.

Now that we're on the subject, I'd actually be happy regardless of all this management garbage with just a "living wage." I'm forced to decide now whether a roof over my head or food is more important. Unfortunately, food and warmth are two habits I'd rather not break. Oh well, we Disney cast members are just a bunch of complainers, right?

On Attractions recently spinning off a separate FastPass division, a DCA cast member wrote:

The entire premise of branching FastPass off from the attractions is to provide the guests an excellent service, and ensure a 5-minute wait. Another underlying philosophy is that we, Disney, need to separate ourselves from other theme parks who offer similar programs. But, then again, Disney is light years ahead of Magic Mountain, so I don't know what they are talking about. Anyway, we were told that cast members from around the park would be update-trained on every FastPass location, even Bugs and Muppets, which would result in the formation of superior service and efficiency regarding the FastPass system.

This may sound fine, but there are many problems arising already only after a month and a half of operation as a separate unit. Consider Soarin' Over California. First of all, leads don't always agree on how the merge point should be run.

Second, cast members from Hollywood who have never seen a merge point in their lives, let alone worked one, are thrown into the mix without update-training, and expected to perform. Several cast members from Hollywood have refused to check heights because they were not "comfortable" with it, and others who refused to even learn the merge point because it is too much for them.

This leads me to the point that FastPass never should have been broken off from the attractions. There are cast members working crucial points who do not have the necessary experience to do their duties sufficiently. I figure its better leaving duties regarding the attraction to the attraction, the cast members who actually know how the attraction runs, and how to adjust the flow of people accordingly. They are also trying to provide a superior service but it is hard to do when there are cast members working the FastPass who hate validation and merge, and do a crummy job the entire day just because they are bitter they are not on the attraction its self.

And, one last thing, due to the fact that DCA is dead, even now during the holiday season, I am rather certain that FastPass will be quickly merged back into the Attraction operations. And along these lines, the operations manager for DCA recently had the Grizzly lead pull rafts so that a line would build and FastPass would be utilized. I thought that it was our goal to get guest through the ride as quickly as possible, and when possible, and reducing capacity just to build a line just shows again the backwards ways of Disney theme park management.

Finally, Allen Huffman wrote:

We took a trip from Iowa to Disneyland this past weekend (Friday-Monday) and were there during the power problem that day. We walked around Disneyland that morning (it was cold and they had the snow going on Main Street—fun touch!) for an hour, then over to DCA for an hour, then ended up sitting around at a restaurant waiting for a friend to show up for a few hours. The weather was so bad, it didn't really matter.

About the Keel Boat auction: That auction used (without permission) a photo from my Web site. Actually, they lifted the bottom picture from Yesterland.com (without permission) where it appeared with a photo credit to me at the bottom of the page. I thought that was interesting—Disney didn't even have easy access to a stock photo of their own boat. (Also, the photo pictured the wrong Keel Boat…)

The Rocket Rod at DCA was not there this past weekend—at least, I did not see it when I was looking for it.

Also, I thought I was told a Rod had already shown up on Ebay—bad information?

You sound very plugged into Disneyland for an Iowan!

Evidently the Rod sold earlier on eBay was a prototype, non-operational, technology-lacking vehicle, not one that ran in the park.


Send your comments to David here.

Winding Down the West

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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