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A “behind–the–ears” look at Disneyland
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David Koenig
David's Ear-Mailbag Week of November 8, 2002
Lots of reader mail this time, starting off with comments on Disneyland's new "Good Character" Club.

Editor's Note:
Since we've been focusing on Walt Disney World this past week, I've gone ahead and included below the latest set of rehab & construction photos for the Disneyland resort that would normally appear in a DIG update. All photos, unless noted, were taken last weekend. My thanks to David for allowing me to pop them into his column today.
- Al Lutz

Ear-Mail:

A reader shared:

I agree that it's about time that the performers who play the characters are finally getting a little respect. Because, really, that's what it is. Sure, there will be sarcastic jokes by some once they read the booklets, but maybe it'll make some think before they do something like let their child climb on Donald's bill or -- I don't know -- jab a syringe into Esmerelda's arm, causing her to panic and pass out (According to friends who used to work at Disneyland, this actually happened.)

But I still think this is a good idea. I performed at Universal Hollywood's last Halloween Horror Nights and, frankly, I don't know if I could do that, again (though I still would like to perform at Disneyland). It was not unusual to be felt up, have wives or girlfriends tell their significant others that I was a man (I wore a limited vision mask), or hear of my co-workers getting punched in the chest or stomach.

While I realize this is a different park, perhaps other parks will pick this idea up now. It's ultimately good to make the guests aware of the situation and not just place the responsibility on the performer. And it's great that Disney is the first to initiate this, in my opinion. 

In Tomorrowland the Space Exhibit has undergone some updating, as David had noted previously in his column, including some new space vehicle mock-ups, shown above. Also, the peeling and rotting panels in the Star Tours facade have been replaced.

A cast member wrote:

Just loved your latest MousePlanet article on the "Good Character" Club.

I want to let you know that the guests I have encountered who got the pamphlet think the rules of this club only apply to the "fuzzies" (Mickey, Donald, Goofy, etc.), but it applies to ALL the characters. This includes the "face" characters (Alice, Poppins, the princesses), too.

An old-timer commented:

If this is going to be a success, all the guests need to read the pamphlet, understand it, and apply it. Children are not going to understand this, so it is the responsibility of the parents to discuss it with them. It is a sad sign of our society when we have to pass out 'rules of conduct' to the guests.

Another cast member commented:

We would rather lavish more time on a polite guest than a rude one.

On another note, the rehab work for the Matterhorn is waaay behind schedule. Don't count on it reopening on schedule (December 12).

Toontown's faded hills have finally been getting a fresh coat of paint - above is last week's shot, below is the week before that. Note the difference in the depth of color.

JJ bemoaned:

Please, please say you're kidding about giving "rules" to guests for meeting characters!

How is it that Disneyland has gotten 50 years without this being necessary? This is another example of Disney saying to guests, "You're stupid and we know better than you." If an attraction is closed, you can't complain. If the park is dirty, you can't complain. And now if you want to meet a character, you'll need to follow directions.

How about this one instead? Disney, recognizing that huge weekend crowds make for an unpleasant experience full of jostling and shouting and hitting and kicking (I'm sure we've all seen it all!), announces that no more than 40,000 people will be let into the park each day. Seriously. The spillover can go to DCA. Then there will be no need for "character rules" or any of the problems we associate with guests, because crowds will be manageable and the experience will be better for everyone. Who knows -- as a result, people might actually spend more money in stores and restaurants!

Just a modest proposal. But not as dumb, I don't think, as giving out "how-to-meet-a-character" rule sheets.

Suzanne Payne suggested:

I think Disneyland and Disney World should implement a meet & greet area that you can acquire a FastPass for. I think many people want to quickly get in a visit without waiting a long time, and are afraid the character is going to leave before they get to the front causing a near panic situation when characters arrive.

The Carrousel in Fantasyland almost had the roof support structure completed last Sunday (above). Below is the 100th Birthday plaque that was finally installed in front of the Walt & Mickey Partner's statue in the hub.

David McHugh related:

In our trips to Disneyland with our children, I always disliked the emphasis placed on autographs from characters. Instead of kids having a brief, hopefully memorable moment in close proximity to one of their movie or television heroes, kids are forced into a mob whose goal is simply to get an unreadable signature. Even if parents or children are not initially inclined to seek an autograph, it becomes obvious to the kids that that is what is important. Seeing a character becomes stressful and another dog-eat-dog experience that is experienced too frequently in the real world, and that you hope to avoid for a few hours in Disneyland.

If I were king, I would stop selling those dumb autograph books, and stop the practice of giving autographs completely. Instead, why not assign a "helper" to the character who would give a pin or something to each child who visited? For those who simply want evidence, they can bypass a direct greeting and head for the pin, leaving quieter encounters to those willing to be patient and kind both to their children and others.

I agree with your sentiment, but I think we both know Disney will never stop selling autograph books.

When I was a kid, the characters were like old friends from TV and the movies. Meetings with characters were by chance -- they'd just be standing around -- and the emphasis was just on seeing them and getting a hug.

Nowadays, the character are celebrities. Encounters are structured. You stand in line for Mickey. You get his autograph. Pose for a picture. Next guest! And you're off to the next line.

Tower of Terror continues to be worked on at DCA, above is the view from the Bugs land area, below is a close-up of the huge boxes added to the top floor of the structure.

Another view of the structure from the Hollywood Backlot area near the Hyperion Theater queue area. Below is a close-up of the banner now seen at the top.

Jeremy wrote:

Sadly, it seems that the company is striving towards the right direction but just doesn't seem to grasp the correct solution and in doing so, is creating a whole new slew of problems. The idea in itself is a good one. Though I never have been a character at Disneyland, I've heard countless stories from those who have about how difficult it is to walk around, dressed in a hot, smelly costume with limited sight lines and try and please everyone.

Though I'm sad to see the days of children crowded around their favorite characters waning as more and more "meet and greet" spots pop up, it is fortunate in that it creates a much nicer atmosphere for everyone. Everyone can see Pooh because when the cast member's walk time is up, he goes backstage for a "hunny break" and another Pooh takes his place. The cast members get their much deserved break and no child goes home unhappy or picture-less.

Unfortunately they still have to deal with angry and rude people who don't understand that, while we'd all love to keep up the facade, there is a real person in that costume who is subject to limited views, heat, and gravity like the best of us. I assume this was the inspiration for the "Good Character" program.

Personally, I don't see this as being a worthwhile idea. I'll give the benefit of the doubt and say that most of those rude guests are not trying to be rude, but are simply trying to create the best "Disney" experience for themselves but in doing so, ignore the same desire of their fellow guests. Many do not need this information; they are already polite enough. The ones who could benefit will either not choose to read it or simply ignore it, either way resulting in "Good Character" pamphlets to be strewn about the park for those hard-working custodians to sweep up. Moreover, the character escorts now must pass out this information in addition to taking photos, walking the character from location to location, and keeping the cast member from being mauled by overly-excited 5-year-olds.

I guess I just see this as being a waste of money for an end-product that is quite different from what the company expects, and it doesn't seem that anyone considered this. But for the sake of the cast members, I hope I'm wrong.

On Disneyland vs. Disney World, Evan Millward noted:

I feel very much that Disneyland will never be a complete resort destination. After all, Uncle Walt never wanted it to be. He felt that it was nice to have somewhere where locals could come and spend a day or two with their kids. Walt Disney World is THE true resort destination. Walt knew that he wanted something truly different and exciting for the public when he built Disney World. He saw what he did wrong in California and he made the necessary changes. He didn't want to have a Harbor Boulevard 10 feet from Tomorrowland.

About the Angels and Walt's "dream": Walt loved a day at the ballpark and he greatly enjoyed America's favorite pastime. I'll bet that eventually he would have done the same with buying the Angels. The Mighty Ducks wouldn't have happened, though. The Angels are a piece of California and a great thing that Disney has done for the area. I personally think that it is terrible that Disney is still selling.

For those who hate all things that aren't Walt's dream (California Adventure), I must say that Epcot isn't what Walt wanted but, I'd bet he'd enjoy it the way it is today. Sure there'd be more upkeep and better rides, but it would have pleased him. He probably would greatly enjoy MGM and Animal Kingdom. How he'd feel about Hong Kong may be fairly different, though.

I am a Disney Vacation Club member and would love to see a West Coast hotel because it just seems that sooner or later Disney World will have too many hotel rooms and they won't be able to fill enough rooms and will enter a decline of profit. I also wouldn't mind a Paris and/or Tokyo DVC resort either.

Last weekend was your last chance to dine at the Soap Opera Bistro - as we told you here before, it will soon house a Playhouse Disney show for the little ones.

Frank Wierenga corrected:

You reported that for Fox Family Disney paid $3.8 billion not $5.8 and we should give Eisner some credit for this. According to the 2001 annual report, Disney paid $2.9 billion in cash AND the assumption of $2.3 billion in debt. This makes a total price of $5.2 billion for the channel.

It should be noted that Disney financed the cash portion of the purchase.

Allie added:

I have been a Florida resident my whole life, as well as a Walt Disney/Mickey Mouse fan. I grew up watching Walt on the Wonderful World of Color and yearning to go to Disneyland. My family and I have gone to Walt Disney World hundreds of times, but I still wanted that magical trip to Disneyland, Walt's park.

I finally got my wish in summer 1999 when my family (husband, three children, and I) made the trip to Southern California. I could write a book comparing my husband's impressions about Disneyland (a cramped little park) and mine (the hundreds of little touches of Walt that are missing in Florida), but what really shocked me was the missed opportunities in Anaheim.

For instance, my family purchased tickets to an Angels game and I foolishly expected that the Disneyland Hotel would have a shuttle bus running between the stadium and the hotel. Not only was this not the case but there was absolutely no mention of the Angels anywhere in the hotel or around Disneyland.

At Walt Disney World the minor league team that plays at the Wide World of Sports as well as the Braves during spring training are advertised in resort literature that is handed out to every guest. I couldn't help feeling that the Disneyland management could learn a great deal about cross promotion from its Florida resort.

You are absolutely right. I think Disney was scared away from cross-promoting theme parks and sports teams too heavily after it acquired the Angels and promptly began "Disnefying" the team with a lot of silly gimmicks, mascots, pastel colors, etc. My guess is they erroneously figured, "Oh, Disney and baseball don't mix. We should keep these things separate."

The shuttle's a great idea, whether the company sells the team(s) or not.

Frontierland lost one of its oldest and largest trees last week, the one in front of the former Casa Mexicana / now Rancho del Zocalo. I was told the new tree, seen above, replaced a dying one. It also somewhat opened up the vistas in this area.

While the facade of the nearby Golden Horseshoe Saloon (above) continues to deteriorate (we showed you the peeling gutters before), there is some extensive work still going on for the Disneyland Railroad. Below you can see the buildings that span the track are being repainted.

The Railroad also got all new platforms and paint on all the stations (ToonTown in particular looks outstanding), new track was laid from the roundhouse into the park and in most areas of the loop, new drainage was installed back around the Rivers of America along with what looks like the start of even more track work in the future.

Unfortunately though, the trains also got a new English and Spanish narration track that no longer utilizes the old Thurl Ravenscroft recordings. The new voice is very sadly lacking in the personality department.

Again my thanks to David - I know a lot of you have been asking for an update from Disneyland, and this set of photos should help catch you up.

- Al Lutz

Also on the Angels, Kevin Johnson wrote:

I just wanted to comment on the rant about the Angels not being Disney. What is Disney? As far as I thought, Disney meant quality family entertainment. These means motion picture, television, amusement park, and, yes, even baseball or hockey or any other kind of family entertainment. Even when Walt was alive, Disney was always moving on new fronts; expanding and growing.

I think one thing should be established: Disney is NOT Disneyland. Disneyland is merely part of a much larger corporation. As a matter of fact what must people have thought when Disneyland was first built. I mean, Disney was associated with movies and later, television. Not an amusement park.

I guess what I want to say is that entertainment does not make Disney. Disney makes entertainment.

Robert Chinn continued:

A response to "Ed's grouse": Walt Disney appears to be an American who celebrated America. Abe Lincoln. Main Street. Casey at the Bat. Frontierland. Sport Goofy. The Flag Retreat.

The company as an extension of the man has celebrated the people, places and forms of America. Perhaps viewing Ken Burns' Baseball or reading George Will will help us understand how the sport has always seemed to reflect, transcend and connect the American experience. Certainly, baseball as a part of Americana can rightfully claim to be part of the celebration, if not integral.

On the flippant side, I'm wondering what Uncle Walt would think about the purchase of a hockey team. If I have my history right, Disneyland is supposed to be a wholesome, clean place where a family can spend their time together. If this is true, baseball can reasonably be a part of the Disney line of products. Baseball IS family entertainment. What more can be said about the bonding that occurs between father and son going to the ball game?

On the Series: being a (now) long suffering Dodger fan, I enjoyed watching Scioscia and Baker duke it out. It's good to see Dodger blue underneath the red and black/orange uniforms.

And, Anthony Galindo jeered:

I don't want to get off on a rant here, but people like Ed need to get out of the parks every once and a while and see what the rest of the world is cooking up. All parks and nothing else makes ED a dull boy. And what's up with the "Walt's Dream" thing. Did Ed have a one-on-one with Walty that he's not telling us about?

If you live in So. Cal. and are not affected by the Angels then it's by a conscience choice not to be happy about it. It's like saying you're not happy about Jello for dessert.

Ed, get a girlfriend and a life outside of pin trading. Put an Angel's cap on and pump your fist in the air at every run scored by the boys from Anaheim.

And, smile. Walt would have wanted you to.

Send your comments to David here.

Mailbag

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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