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Mouse Tales
A “behind–the–ears” look at Disneyland
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David Koenig
Mailbag — Week of October 10, 2001

Readers commented on several recent columns….

Mailbag

Many of us praised the Imagineers in 1992 for the vibrant colors of Mickey's Toontown and a few years ago for the lush pastels of the refurbished It's a Small World facade. Then, as the facades faded, we blamed Disneyland's maintenance department for neglect.

Maybe we were pointing fingers in the wrong directions…

As Jeffrey Woodson offered:

As a manufacturing engineer, I have to deal with materials, styles and part numbers as a part of my daily life. I am also a Disneyland fanatic, and have been since I was old enough to remember riding the pale blue trams from far reaches of the parking lot. My heart pains to see such unintelligent, misguided decisions happening to Disneyland.

Is there a way to legally "institutionalize" a private enterprise in this country? Require them to submit to a board of "users," i.e., elected public chairpersons? Wishful thinking.

My big pain is this: The latest business blunders regarding PAINT! Not the lack thereof, but the extravagant and preposterous use of the medium. Hear me out. What was the color of the beautiful, mid-century Modern Tomorrowland? As it gleamed in the afternoon sun, as Space Mountain was alive with the California sunset burning across it? What color was the Small World masterpiece of kinetic sculpture? You got it… it was WHITE! One beautiful part number, one SKU, bought by the truckload; the least expensive of all colors.

What have the rocket scientists done? Created a maintenance nightmare! They started with Small World years before. Okay, a few pastels, but the white was still nicer, but now the catastrophe. How many custom mixed, metallic pigmented (heavy and EXPENSIVE!) colors are there now? It must take a small warehouse to store and create the hideous colors that have settled on Tomorrowland like a sludge.

What about Space Mountain glowing in the dawn? Sorry, it has been caked in a deadening, light-sucking pseudo-rust. Materials aside, what kind of schematic or documentation the color scheme must have. What logistics it must take to keep the thing maintained. In this age, with all their cutbacks and profiteering practices, who in their right mind could have condoned such a thing? It baffles the mind. The entire park could have a new coat for what it's gonna cost keeping that Tomorrowland in shape once a year.

Walt was not so dumb. White paint, by the truckload. Oh yeah, aluminum facades and stainless steel railings as well. Go figure.

As for the cut-rate Lead Party ("Leftovers for the Leads"), surprisingly, more readers defended than criticized the park.

Richard wrote:

No offense to the employees at Disneyland or DCA, but they should be happy that at least something was tried to raise their spirits. There are millions of workers out there who aren't even given a handshake for the hard work they do. In fact, there are many people out there who don't want appreciation: their satisfaction is doing the job they were hired for.

Just because these people work for the Disney Company they seem to think things will be different. Well, right now, Disney is another corporation struggling to keep its head above water due inside and outside problems.

Mike Phillips wrote:

I have read Mouse Tales and More Mouse Tales and found them very enjoyable, but I am very disappointed that you can only find negative things to write about these days. It seems you constantly rip on Disney management while sucking up to the cast members. I work for a large corporation and I hate whiners. I commend the cast members who refused to say anything negative about the "lead party."

I do agree with many things you write, but it would be nice to hear some positive remarks occasionally. After the September 11 tragedy, MousePlanet had a decidedly brighter view of the park, now I guess we are back to the "old" way of doing things. again, I think you are an excellent writer and I like much of the information you provide, I just with you would provide it in a more positive light.

Thanks for writing, Mike. I appreciate all feedback.

Believe me, I would love to deliver more positive news. And when I hear it, I'll report it. My intention is always to report accurately and interestingly.

As for the Lead Party, I also commend those who tried to find good in the party. But the fact is, even they were unable to find any good in it. I doubt there was anyone of the several thousand who attended and helped stage the event who doesn't wish the whole thing never happened. And everyone will acknowledge the problem was Disney's providing a budget of less than a buck a head.

Hopefully, brighter days are ahead.

Oleg added:

I read your article concerning the attempt at a party for leads at DCA. Unfortunate, but not surprising.

I just wanted to pass along a note: one of the folks you interviewed stated that other large companies would be mortified to see how Disney treats its lower and middle management layers. Well, that's not an educated comment. I come from the tech vendor world (AOL, Sun, IBM, etc.), and I will tell you that for the last two years or so it has been the same here.

Christmas parties are a few bucks a person thrown our way, no other appreciation events. They even canceled the annual Sales Kickoff meetings this year. This is a time when you hear the company message, get pumped up for a new year, and are able to share war stories with others from around the world. Well, these past years it was done via satellite -- except for the high level directors and above. Vegas, Napa, Chicago, New Orleans, seems there's enough budget there…

Doug Ly, "disgruntled two-park premium pass holder and long-time premium pass holder," wrote:

It was with sad heart that I read what Disney management tried to perform for their leads. But unfortunately it is becoming all the more familiar elsewhere in the corporate world. My company currently caters everything to upper management and nothing to the lowly employee. At this time of year we have no money for even an employee anniversary lunch. Yet upper management and middle management all get their fat bonuses at the end of the year. It is very sad.

What Disney is currently doing is appalling, and I think Disney needs to do the following things:

First, Disney should not open a park in Beijing. For one thing 99.999% of the population will never be able to afford the entry fee. I was just there last year and only tourists visit the tourist attractions. The locals only go to T Square, temples and sacred sites because they are cheap or free.

Second, Disney should not even think of a third gate in Anaheim until DCA is changed and Disneyland is brought up to the standard it is supposed to be. Disneyland was the first park and should be THE standard in the Disney chain of parks. We should not be getting a third or second rate Pooh attraction. We should be getting an attraction which will equal or surpass Tokyo's version. All the attractions should be cleaned up and updated in technology. Once this is done I may consider renewing my annual two-park pass. But as things are going I will not renew this coming year. I know many who will not renewing as well.

Third, Disney should rethink its cable strategy and just get back to basics. Currently there is nothing on the Disney Channel I while I am at home. I would rather see the old Disney Reels from the '50s and '60s than reruns of shows just from the past few years. The morning shows are fine, for I know kids who love it. The Fox Family Channel purchase, I believe, will not bring Disney any more money. WHY? I currently have 5 HBOs, I only watch one of them for I am tired of the repeats on the other HBOs.

And lastly, Disney needs to take the parks out of the accountants' hands. I can guarantee you that the accounting department always has a lavish party for themselves. They control the money and I can guarantee that a portion goes to their annual parties. Happens at my place of employment.

Mia Winn wrote:

First, I have to admit that I LOVED reading your books, and I love reading your articles on MousePlanet.

I was raised in Anaheim, and always knew it was bedtime by the 9:30 p.m. fireworks display outside my window. So, needless to say I have been a Disney fanatic since I was a small child. Disney has always had that magical power over me —even now, 25 years later—I get that same giddy feeling when I enter the front gates.

So, for me, I have always LOVED cast member gossip and general "backstage" voyeuristic peeks into the internal workings of Disneyland—and Disney as a whole -- and your books and articles certainly dish it!! :) Thank you! :)

And now to the reason that I am writing…

I have been reading about the break schedule, which seems to be peeving a fair amount of cast members, and I wanted to comment about how I have seen it in action.

Two weeks ago, my husband and I went to Disneyland, and were pleasantly surprised to see such low attendance (I guess the kids were all back in school, and so there weren't many vacationers left). Since there were no lines (literally, we waited less than 3 minutes for any attraction -the walk around the turnstiles and ropes took longer than the wait to be seated!) we went on all of the attractions that we normally skip. One of these was the Autopia cars. While we were waiting to be assigned a car, one of the cast members began to yell across the lane at another associate about her break time being late, and she began to threaten to quit.

I thought this was rude to carry on in front of the park guests (as there were less than five of us in line, she could have easily gotten us all situated, and then discussed her issues with her break time). I also thought it unfair that she turned her sour mood to the guests in line. She was very short tempered and curt to everyone, sighing and rolling her eyes, as if it was a burden to tell us which car to board. As she hastily assigned us to a car, she yelled across to her co-worker that she was 50 minutes overdue for her 15 minute break, and that she was giving "them" three minutes and then she would walk out of the park.

My point being, that not only the cast members are affected by this break schedule. They are passing their frustration and anger off to the guests. Which can be awkward to deal with, because as patrons, we expect the "Disney" happy staff with the sing song voices and cheerful smiles. Perhaps at other amusement parks, we don't care, because we don't expect to be woo'ed and coddled… but at Disneyland it almost makes you sad.

As for the breaking schedule, it's at its worst on Autopia and has driven cast members away by the droves.

Still, the hostess you saw should have been fired on the spot. I don't care how short-handed you are. This person has no business working at Disneyland. An attraction runs better short one operator than it does with a bad operator.

As for the benefits of possibly shutting the parks down one day a week, a Disneyland maintenance man volunteered:

Read your latest article with great interest. Got up to the point where you discuss why maintenance might be improved with a weekly shutdown day.

My take:

A. It's true that wear and tear would be reduced. On this point we agree.

The financial benefits of not having to replace parts from European vendors (many of whom are going bankrupt, and with no replacement vendor readily available!) as often speaks for itself.

B. Facilities WON'T have "greater access" -- we already have the ultimate access thanks to putting everyone on third shift! Upper management is adamantly against efforts by area and team managers to move any crew to daylight hours for any reason. It took lots feedback from the contractors, who were having big problems on the latest Matterhorn rehab, to get that crew reassigned to days for the duration!

This situation is the norm. Cast members on third, contractors on days. They even get to do work in the park when it's open, just like we could NEVER do!

C. Repainting is already done during daylight hours, but before park operating hours. When the "move everyone to Third Shift" change happened, the painters were included. Due to the lack of sunlight, and the heavy nighttime humidity, the painters were unable to do their work until the sun was up long enough to dry up some of the mist. They couldn't match the colors with the lighting provided by the management (fluorescent drop lights), and the humidity prevented the paint from drying until well after park opening, leading to guest complaints and rework.

Someone finally ran the numbers, and found that costs had increased, so some of the painters were returned to daylight hours. In most cases all they can do is touch-up work. These reasons contribute to why the parks look like they do.

D. As for the crafts not getting in each other's way as much, see reply B. It would be necessary also to move PARTS of each crew to varying hours, as machinists require support from electricians and sound techs for work to get done. The building crafts, sheet metal, carpenters, etc., would also be moved for support reasons. The result? WE'D BE BACK WHERE WE STARTED! This above all cannot be allowed to happen, as the question would arise: "Why did this happen in the first place, and at what cost?" (Millions!)

I have worked at the park when days closed were the norm, and it was advantageous in that we could do more involved repairs and adjustments than we can now. But then, we had the support of management in maintaining a stock of spare parts and equipment, and in hiring qualified, and trained personnel instead of whatever warm body is willing to work for substandard wages on third shift and no weekend days off! It's REAL difficult to train someone who is falling asleep on their feet while you describe how you WOULD make a repair if you had the parts!

Finally, all the reader mail in response to the Top Attractions at Disney World's Magic Kingdom revolved around one ride: the Mickey Mouse Revue. As one reader, Dan, wrote:

Love your books as well as your website. The latest story, about the Magic Kingdom's popular attractions, was particularly interesting. Times certainly have changed. I never got to see the Mickey Mouse Revue—my first visit to Walt Disney World was in 1983. I had (and still have) a pop- up Walt Disney World book that featured the show. I remember looking for the show and never finding it.

Anyway, there is a rumor going around that the theater that once housed the show (and Legend of the Lion King, which had not yet opened on my last visit in 1994) will be home to a show that is similar to Revue called Mickey's Philharmagic, but instead of animatronics it will be a 3-D show. Hopefully it will have SOME animatronics. I'm just guessing that it will be similar to Fantasmic, with good fighting evil (maybe Bad Pete tries to mess up the show). You'd think they'd try to tie this in to the "House of Mouse" show on ABC—with all sorts of Disney characters mingling together.

Anyway, keep up the great work!

For everyone curious about Mickey's Philharmagic, I went to the Orlando Weekly columnist who broke news of the attraction last month. He describes the attraction as a 3-D movie with in-theater special effects, a la Honey, I Shrunk the Audience only more "aggressively kid-friendly." The proposed storyline: "A computer generated riff on Fantasia's "Sorcerer's Apprentice" sequence. The Mouse somehow supposedly get a hold of this wizard's wand / baton that allows him to direct a phantom orchestra and demonstrate the magic of music. But then—of course—SOMETHING GOES TERRIBLY WRONG!!"

Although the show is planned for the old Mickey Mouse Revue facility, evidently there are few other similarities between the two shows. No animatronic figures. No character-filled orchestra.

The attraction was originally supposed to debut at Hong Kong Disneyland in spring 2005, but instead may open at Disney World by October 2003 as the centerpiece of a property-wide celebration of Mickey's 75th birthday. If the attraction ever makes it to Anaheim, possible sites include the old CircleVision theater, the Tomorrowland Theater (replacing Honey, I Shrunk the Audience), or as an add-on to DCA's Magic of Disney Animation attraction.

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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