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David Koenig
Mailbag — Week of January 22, 2002

Readers had even more bold predictions for 2002 for the Disneyland Resort—as well as for Walt Disney World.

Mailbag

Don Hoekman writes:

Here are my top 10 predictions for Disneyland 2002:

10. A replacement for the submarine ride is finally announced.

9. A show about Walt Disney is unveiled, complete with an animatronic version of Walt himself.

8. Rocket Rods is replaced with futuristic cars, sponsored by Ford or GM.

7. DCA constructs several observation towers in the shape of life-size giant redwood trees.

6. To conserve park space, Disney announces the first completely underground roller coaster, themed around Journey to the Center of the Earth.

5. DCA unveils a ride simulating a super fast journey up the coast, following Highway 1 and 101.

4. The third Anaheim park is announced: Disney's Beautiful Earth, celebrating oceans, rainforests, and natural wonders.

3. An underground shuttle ride is unveiled, which will ferry people between Disneyland and DCA for $5.

2. DCA begins work on a ride which flies over a miniature Disney World to encourage Californians to visit WDW.

Predictions

1. All the above is scrapped in favor of building a Tilt-A-Whirl at DCA.

Forget Anaheim!

I want to visit your imaginary theme park!

I'm Going to Hoekman World!

Will Coleman writes:

I'm a former Disneyland/Disney Store cast member who—sadly—feels extraordinarily cynical and bitter about the ways the company is going.

Okay, I'll take you up on your challenge for Disneyland predictions. I should warn you, though, that I'm feeling a bit nasty this afternoon. Sorry in advance.

(1) Fresh from the success of the Holiday version of the Haunted Mansion, Disneyland execs decide to retheme another classic attraction as a way to save money and pretend that they have a totally new ride. Anticipation runs high and the marketing team revs into high gear to promote "It's a Small World—So He Can't HIDE!!" Animatronic dolls of Osama Bin Laden are added to the tableaux inside the attraction, and the boats are outfitted with light guns suspiciously similar in design to those from the Buzz Lightyear attraction in WDW. Guests will be encouraged to rack up points by shooting the Bin Ladens, but will be docked (pardon the boating pun) points for shooting any of the other dolls. Despite weak protests from Alice Davis, Disney plunges full-tilt into the new idea until a justifiably vocal group of Afghan-American Disney collectors decides NOT to attend the highly priced, pre-opening sneak peek pin and merchandise collecting dinner party. Realizing that such a lack of income for the company would be intolerable, the plan is scrapped. Interestingly, the new version of the song, "It's a Small World, Gosh Darn It!", can still be purchased in the Tomorrowland Disc Burning facility.

Predictions

(2) Imagineers are given the task of "plussing" the park by reworking some aspects of the fairly weak Innoventions attraction of Disneyland's Tomorrowland. Management concludes that guests are probably "bored" or "turned off" by happy visions of a future using corporate technology and the Imagineers are given the green light to design a much more frightening attraction in which the guests are now at the mercy of impersonalized, corporate and/or alien machinery which threatens the guests in a terrifying way. Everybody agrees that this is much more in the true spirit of Tomorrowland. One Imagineer goes on record as saying that she feels that "This is what Walt would have wanted."

(3) A church group successfully sues Disneyland claiming that each its members had deliberately NOT looked into Mara's eye on Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye. When the jury studies the videotape, they rule in the group's favor and demand that Disneyland give each member—as promised—the ability to see into the future.

(4) Fewer and fewer people go on Pirates of the Caribbean. This is a shame, because it's really beautiful.

(5) A new nighttime parade, "Electro-Fiber-Optic-Mega-Spectro-Fantasma-Glow-Jamboree-Magic," debuts.

And closes.

(6) "Mickey's Toontown" is renamed "Mickey's Chipped Paint and Lack of Maintenance Town!" (Note the official exclamation point). A commemorative pin is released to celebrate and there is a riot near It's a Small World as pin collectors begin attacking one another in their attempts to secure one. Security is unequal to the task, as most of them have been diverted to guarding the Tortilla machine in DCA (a clever false alarm called in by a canny pin collector).

(7) In a new first for the park, a guest complains of breathing difficulties. He claims that there ought to be signs around which remind him to inhale and exhale (apparently he'd forgotten). The beleaguered graphics department puts it on its "to do" list. One cast member is fired on the grounds that he forgot to inform a guest that she ought to breathe.

(8) In an effort to pretend that it has more cool attractions, DCA introduces FastPass to the Tortilla Machine. The presence of the extra security guards surrounding the attraction seems to support this notion and it becomes the most popular section of the park!

(9) Medical journals are abuzz with a new ocular disorder which apparently causes people to see Mickey Mouse's head all over the place where, in fact, no such thing was ever intended. One tech-savvy doctor tries a mass-cure via the Internet, reasoning with many inflicted people via message boards, but is flamed to death. And finally,

(10) Guests are encouraged to "Clean up after yourself!" in a new program which will award somebody with a collectable pin (Mickey in a white outfit pushing a dustbroom) if they can provide photographic evidence that they put something in a park trash can. While the program seems expensive, the park actually saves a wacky lot of money in that it can finally eliminate the street sweeper position entirely. Plus, the park does seem a little more clean, oddly enough!

Well, that was fun. I'd just like to say that I'm not normally this mean. Really, I can be quite nice.

I just remember a time in which guests at Disneyland were treated with a lot more respect, and in which the park was a really inspiring and cool place to go.

Jeff DeWitt anticipates:

I'm surprised no one predicted this: Pin trading will grind to a halt in 2002 both at Disneyland and WDW. Disney's cash cow will cease to exist.

Wow! Is this an educated guess or wishful thinking?

Jeff responds:

Educated guess. I'm a pin trader from Disneyland, and my wife and I see the signs of it losing it's luster. What we see is:

1. Limited Edition Pins that used to sell out instantly now either take time to sell out or don't (witness all the Halloween pins still on the racks), not to mention how dismal any DCA pin sells.

2. Fewer traders than there used to be. It's become an insider's network with pretty much the same people there every week. It's become impossible for newcomers to get into trading.

Predictions

3. Overkill—too many pins and the prices keep going up. It's become too expensive of a hobby for many people. Just look at all the Electrical Parade pins from DCA. The cheap ones didn't sell well, but the prices keep going up. $15.50 for a pin? Too much!

My wife and I have decided that as of January 1, we were no longer buying any more pins. We would trade with what we have for anything we like, but we are not going to purchase any more. We spent December finishing up any sets we had started, and we were very close to completely doing that (I still need a couple of Pirates pins and Name Tag pins, but I've almost finished that by trading through www.pinpics.com)

There are many others that we have encountered that have made the same decisions as us. They stopped collecting with the first of the year.

Granted, I don't think it will "grind to a halt" like I said, but I do think by the end of summer, it will be only a hardcore few still involved. Too many of us have burnt out from the endless lines, constant drain on resources, and stingy and selfish traders and greedy eBayers. It will be much like the beanies as the craze will have subsided and only a few people will still really be into it.

Kevin Baxter looks ahead:

I have one BIG, BOLD prediction:

Animal Kingdom, Disney/MGM and possibly even Epcot will draw fewer customers than either Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure. Disney has done their part to make this happen by doing as little as possible in all three parks:

  • Dinorama at Animal Kingdom will flop like a freshly-caught fish. How can you advertise a Mouse coaster and expect people to flock to it? How can you advertise a new coaster without showing it and NOT have people angry that what you built doesn't count?
  • Disney/MGM may have the halfhearted Walt Disney thing, but cutbacks have affected this park the most and visitors will be most irritated by the time restraints here than at the other parks. Plus, half the park has just gotten really tired.

Photo by Sheila Hagen
Photo by Sheila Hagen

  • Epcot has done nothing recently but ruin beloved things and close other things down at a rapid rate. [The] Space [attraction] won't happen until next year, which is the one thing Disney has in the works that will bring people back into WDW. People know 2003 is the year to visit, so 2002 will just be a year of waiting.

Of course, this attendance shift will only happen if Universal follows through on the rumored Scorpion King coaster in USF (Universal Studios-Florida) and the Spiderman-like Jeep safari in IOA (Islands of Adventure). USF fell just short of those parks in 2001, while losing nearly a million visitors. Epcot lost a million and a half. If these parks continue to bleed while the Universal parks go into turnaround, Disney will have themselves a public relations nightmare. Then maybe the cheapness will end!

Ali Kimmel foresees:

My predictions for the year 2002 probably won't be too happy, but lets see:

(1) Cheap sequels will finally decline.

Return to Neverland will initially have a good opening weekend, simply because small children will beg their parents to see it, and some might just be curious. But after that first weekend, it will be a total disappointment.

Then Cinderella II will arrive on video, and it will have lukewarm sales. Disney will finally start to get the idea that people really don't want sequels of the classics… but not before they release Pinocchio 2: Free Monstro.

(2) Theme park lawsuits will start to rise.

Whether it's the parks' fault or not, lawsuits will rise. While out-of-court settlements will still be the popular choice, lawsuits against ride safety and discrimination will be popular.

(3) Despite a better-than-normal season, Disney will do their best to sell the Angels.

The Angels will have a good year. This will probably be one of the best things that happens for the Disney Corporation. Yet the rumors and gossip will fly that Disney wants to sell.

Umm… I'm getting psychic's block. Wait —

(4)

— Nope, that's it for tonight. Thanks.

Cheryl foresees:

My Predictions for 2002:

1. Things will continue to go downhill—especially for Disneyland—and all the "quick fixes" for DCA just ain't gonna cut it, from my point of view.

One needs to spend money to make money—not penny pinch. They might have an influx of "new" visitors, but good luck on repeat business. I think the "regulars" are miffed, too. I know I am.

2. My family, who lives in Seattle and has taken three trips to the Disneyland Resort in a year and a half, will not be returning until they get their heads out from where the sun don't shine.

They took away my favorite perk—early entry—and during my last visit I was appalled at a cast members' behavior towards me. (He was rude to me, told me, "No, you can't sit in the back seat of the Thunder Mountain train, not even if you wait," and then when I decided not to ride because I was in shock, myself, my husband and my stepson were told to walk across the tracks to get out.)

Predictions

You may be thinking that I was one of those "difficult" guests, but truly I was not rude, just very disappointed and I could not believe that I was told to do something that could have gotten me or my family hurt. I did speak with a supervisor, but I didn't want to go on the ride anymore after that incident. I feel like some of the magic is missing for me. I have always encountered very friendly, and very accommodating cast members in the past. I guess they are not happy either, and it shows.

3. DCA will be pushed in everyone's face (even more than they are now).

When I was there, I felt they were "pushing me" to spend time in DCA—and almost forcing me out of Disneyland. I didn't appreciate it.

Kevin Kenney predicts:

(1) Blast! disappears by the end of February, with its possible reappearance for the summer months in doubt.

(2) The statue of Disney and Mickey in the central circle of Disneyland will be replaced by one of Pressler with his foot pressing on Mickey's throat. Eisner will be shown in the background, pockets stuffed with cash, moving up and down as a simple piston animation. Walt will appear to one side, spinning in his grave (slowly enough to be recognizable, but slowly increasing in speed).

(3) The state of California will take control of Disneyland resort, citing mismanagement leading to the willful destruction of the state's tourism industry. Disney will be fined a few hundred million, and the operation of the parks and the fine will be handed to Oriental Land Co. Ltd., who will be given 100% of any increase in the parks' profits for the next 10 years.

(4) If (3) doesn't occur, Disneyland Resort closes on Disneyland's 50th anniversary, due to declining attendance caused by the complete lack of new attractions of any merit, continuing merchandising snafus, and the increasing frequency of accidents (and their ancillary lawsuits) caused by long-term lack of adequate maintenance.

On a darker note, Ryan Mayo predicts:

Someone is going to get hurt or killed exiting the Lion King Tram in the small parking lot.

The first stop, after leaving the Main Gate, they let people exit the tram to the left. They must walk across the opposing lane of tram traffic and guess what? The tram coming the other way does not always yield to the off-loading tram. So you hear, "Please stay seated until we come to a complete stop," then the tram stops. People start to stand up, and here comes a tram in the other direction. A frantic voice over the P.A. yells, "Don't exit, don't exit."

Please keep in mind this is at closing and the tram coming in the other direction is empty, so it just zooms on by. I sat back and watched this happen twice. I brought this to the attention of a tram cast member and got the "mind your own business" attitude.

This is just one of many unsafe situations I have seen at the park. I hope I get an F-on this prediction.

Jeffrey Keeney shares:

One prediction I know will come true is that the two annual passholders in this household will NOT be renewing. After much consideration, it was determined that with shorter winter hours and even shorter summer hours, the value was not all that valuable. Over the past four years we have seen the park get dirtier and cast members lack enthusiasm.

The other passholder in this household is a former cast member who quit after seeing leads that didn't care about fellow cast members or the park.

Predictions

I have talked to several others who will also not be renewing. Disney is starting to rear its ugly greedy head, and it is my belief that the public is starting see it as such. A shame that what was once the Happiest Place on Earth is now a Dirty, Greed Mongering, Tarnished, Desperate, Poorly Ran Place on earth.

Lest we forget all the direct-to-video sequel rip-offs, and poorly thought out quick fixes for DCA… anyone remember Luminaria? Yes, I know. It was rather less than memorable, wasn't it?

Susan Schaar notes:

I just finished reading the 2002 predictions, and even without the benefit of being a California or Florida resident with frequent access to the Disney parks, the observations all seemed like no-brainers to me. Which is to say, I agree with them; except for one idea that I see repeatedly on MousePlanet, and it goes something like, "Eventually things will get so bad that even Pressler/Eisner will be forced to look at their mess and take appropriate action to clean it up."

Well, actually, no. Sadly, that notion is incorrect on many levels, beginning with the assumption that at their core, Michael Eisner and Paul Pressler ARE good businessmen. Neither is, and that includes their track records in the 1980s which were, quite simply, flukes. Yes, flukes.

Eisner's success with Disney was a combination of downsizing (a relatively new concept born during the end of the Reagan era), which is a no-lose way of boosting company cash-flow to show short-term increases in stock value, along with Frank Wells' willingness to reinvest time, money and effort into the animation department (which Eisner wanted to eliminate). Eisner generated some cash for the company, but it was Wells (and Jeffrey Katzenberg) who restored the company's reputation for quality entertainment, and it is the Disney reputation (and past innovations) that have provided the company with its long-term viability. When Wells (the heart) died and Katzenberg (the talent) left, only Eisner (the accountant) remained. And we see what happens when a one-dimensional force goes unchecked. Without the creative and caring counter-balances, the Disney empire is exactly right back where it was in the early '80s when Eisner came on board. Which is as a faltering company surviving on reputation alone.

And Pressler's previous success with the Disney Store is even easier to explain, which is that TDS was a novel retail concept born into a booming economy. Consumers had money to spend, and never before had Disney-related merchandise been so available to them. The franchise would have succeeded no matter who was in charge. That Pressler was promoted to head of Disneyland and promptly used his merchandising "savvy" to eliminate all theme park-specific souvenirs from the resort was immediate testament to his ineptness at consumer / retail affairs.

Predictions

Okay, now to my original point, which is that of course Eisner and Pressler will not volunteer to correct the problems brought on through years of mindless cost-cutting and short-sighted decision-making (along with criminal neglect). People who do not understand the problems—or even acknowledge any problems exist—are certainly not going to be the ones to solve them (look at Congress, for example). Eisner will not resign "for the good of the company"—not even with his golden parachute; nor will Pressler examine the success of Tokyo's DisneySeas—or even Disneyland in the mid-'90s—for lessons on improving guest experience and thus generating REVENUE through merchandising.

Disney fans speak of boycotts and letter-writing campaigns and guest-satisfaction surveys, and I submit that those tactics are absolutely worthless under current Disney management, because it does not care. At all. It does not see any intrinsic value in satisfied customers. It only cares about satisfying (bamboozling) the stockholders, which brings me, finally, to my point, which is this: you must reach the stockholders, en masse, to affect any change in leadership. The stockholders must be shaken from their complacency into taking back their proxy votes and ousting Michael Eisner.

You would think that a 50% drop in the value of Disney stock over the past couple of years would be enough of a wake-up call, but Eisner has been able to sweet-talk his way out of responsibility with well-polished snake-oil pitches, and who is out there to contradict him in front of the shareholders?

Why, the consumers who dictate the value of the stock, of course. But how? There is a way. Eisner has an Achilles heel, and it is this: bad publicity. Truly BAD publicity, and plenty of it. Perhaps no other company has ever relied on its reputation as much as Disney; therefore, no other company is as susceptible to negative public image as Disney. And the way you generate public interest in a story is, of course, to get the media involved, which really isn't all that hard. Eisner may control ABC, but that leaves many other networks to cover "the disintegration of an empire built by Walt Disney, American Icon." And the way to interest the media is to show them a scandal, which is why boycotting Disney parks won't work (it's too passive), but striking the parks will. I mean an actual customer strike, with picket-lines and signs and the whole bit.

Predictions

Think it through. Strike for a day or two, and Orange County news might cover it; but strike for a week or two, and the national media WILL pick up on it. How about a few well-worded soundbites from those on the front lines? How about showing the media-heads a little chart comparing live entertainment from 1995 with live entertainment today? Demonstrate how admission prices have gone up while entertainment options have disappeared. Pictures are worth a thousand words, so how about showing them a photo-essay from Al's "Disneyland Blues" pages? Contrast Tokyo DisneySeas with California Adventure; be sure to bring up the resounding success being enjoyed by TDS, even though Japan's economy has been in a recession for years. (It would help to have little bar-charts showing that the cost-cutting and down-sizing were going on long before 9-11, as that has become the perennial excuse for all corporate lay-offs in the past four months, and would certainly be Disney's excuse as well.)

Journalists have short attention spans, but in this new age of hyper-patriotism, I would think the decimation of All-American landmarks like Disneyland would merit a feature or two (it would also tie in nicely with any piece examining how endless corporate downsizing eventually becomes a money-loser for the company and contributes to the kind of national recession we are now in, and were in before 9-11). Even people who have never been to Disneyland and no longer watch Disney animation would be appalled at the lack of consideration and respect being used to maintain Walt Disney's empire.

Anyway, that is how you reach Disney stockholders with the truth of why their share value has plunged (unless someone out there has the shareholder address list for a mass-mailing effort), and that is how you hold Michael Eisner's feet to the flames. We can run around pointing out that the emperor is not wearing any clothes, but no one will believe it until they see it on TV. Perception is reality, and it is time to change the perception of Disney stockholders. Otherwise, well, the weeds will continue to grow in the Storybookland Canal, the paint will continue to fade in Toontown, the Haunted Mansion will succumb to woodrot, and ESPN/FFN merchandise will show up in the Emporium.

Well, gee, if you made it this far, thanks for reading. I would be interested in your opinion on this.

I, sadly, agree that Disney the Company could not care less about its guests. It cares only about its guests' pocketbooks, and decided several years ago that instead of reaching said pocketbooks the old fashioned way (by pleasing the customer), it was quicker and easier to blatantly grab them while the guest was hypnotized, staring at fading glories.

Therefore, I also agree that nothing outside of a spreadsheet will make Disney change its way, no matter how loudly customers complain or how faded past glories become.

I don't know that I'd label Eisner and Pressler's past successes "flukes." By the early 1980s, quality Disney products had become scarce, creating pent-up demand. Disney fans were starved for something new, so much so that even Fox and the Hound was a hit! Making quality Disney products abundant (animation, TV shows, feature films, E-ticket attractions, themed hotels, Disney stores, merchandise) was guaranteed to succeed… at least in the short term. Until the pent-up demand was sated, and customers became more discriminating. Obviously, the numbers on Atlantis and DCA show we're getting there.

Disney's knee-jerk reaction has been to cut back further and further, which aids profits margins in the short-term but cheapens the products in the long-term. While Disney should be fiscally responsible, I think the solution lies in the preceding paragraph: Stress Quality Over Quantity. Don't open up a Disney theme park on every street corner, but when you do open one, make it good (see Tokyo DisneySeas). Don't release three animated features a year; one (if it's a Lilo and Stich) will be plenty. Get a good product and THEN market the heck out of it.

I wish you luck in your shareholder revolt. I just fear that Disney stock is held by so many small investors that organizing a coup may be impossible.

Predictions…

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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