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

Mouse Tales Update — 8/24/00

Not the Healthiest Place on Earth

Big crowds at Disneyland last weekend ÷ backstage… due to an emergency evacuation. Last Saturday, workmen painting the third floor of the old Administration Building (behind the Primeval World diorama) were using the chemicals xylene and tulune to clean their airless spraying equipment. The noxious fumes got into the air conditioning ducts and spread throughout the building.

At about 10:30 a.m., officials ordered that the building be evacuated and were able to clear it out within a half-hour. Security's central radio dispatch center was forced to move to the park's temporary command center in another building. Anaheim police and fire responded as well as the fire department's Hazmat team. Crews used "smoke ejectors" to ventilate the building. After several hours, the building was declared safe.

In the meantime, according to fire department officials, "a few employees with flu-like symptoms were treated at the scene."

A cast member, though, claimed that there may have been as many as 40 co-workers reporting to Central First Aid with severe headaches, nausea and difficulty in breathing.

Although the employees seem to have regained their health, the same can't be said for some of Disneyland's most popular attractions. The Monorail's constant back-and-forth, one-way trips are taking their toll. "The Monorails are dying," bemoans one cast member. "They were not designed to do this trolley car bit, going forwards and backwards, and they are falling apart, literally. The company that designed and built them said it was not part of their design. Management forced Facilities and the Roundhouse to rig the Monorails to do this. Now, they are paying for this big time. One Monorail has become a "hanger queen" and is being scavenged for spare parts to keep the others running. The idea is floating around to have a new model designed and built, but that would take years and millions of dollars."

Ironically, the Monorail could have returned to round-trip service back in June, offering summer crowds an overhead sneak preview of Disney's California Adventure. (Disneyland generated a lot of buzz when it remodeled Fantasyland in the early 1980s, by letting the Skyway continue to run overhead. Long lines of curious guests were dying for a glimpse at the construction site.)

Unfortunately for the Monorail, a few weeks before the start of the summer, a DCA worker in a construction vehicle smashed into a section of the track east of the Super Star Limo attraction.

The Monorail will continue to travel back and forth like a trolley car until October. Originally, the attraction was going to resume normal round-trip operation in July, until a construction vehicle collided with the track out in DCA. Severe damage to the pylon and the beam that will need to be replaced at a cost of about $6 million!

Although the track was finally repaired in early August, the Monorail isn't scheduled to resume round-trips until November 24.

In worse shape than the Monorail, of course, is the Maintenance Nightmare, the Rocket Rods. Maintenance crews are working 12 hour shifts, six to seven days a week to keep the attraction running. Management is still weighing the best course of action. Now, word going around the Facilities Division is that the Rocket Rods will be closed for an extensive, five-month overhaul.

"Normally," says one veteran, "that would mean the five months after the first of the year and have them ready for summer. But knowing the park they will probably shut down after Labor Day and be closed during Christmas, but would have them open when DCA opens."

Hot, Hot, Hot

Mention "Cutbacks" and "Paint" around these parts and immediately Disneyland's strapped maintenance department comes to mind. But in the "Cutbacks" department, the Happiest Place on Earth isn't the only one slashing operations budgets. Its top rival, Universal Studios-Hollywood, is also cutting right and left as it heads into the final weeks of the summer. Universal's Entertainment Department, for example, just eliminated 60 character shifts per week and canned the strolling jazz band ÷ the same troupe that came to Universal after being laid off by Disneyland. Then, after Labor Day, seasonal cuts start up at both parks.

Universal Studios Tram on the backlot
Universal Studios Tram on the backlot

What's behind the summertime cuts? Universal blames the sweltering heat in July and August, which has been tapping out electrical power throughout Southern California at a record rate. And now companies such as Universal are paying big.

Years ago, utilities companies convinced Universal and many other business customers to opt for a lower monthly rate÷with the provision that they cut their power usage in drastic instances or be fined. For years, these businesses profited from reduced rates, without ever having to stem their usage. But this summer, utilities' power reserves have hit record lows, day after day, and many clients have been unable to continually keep usage down. The fines: tens of thousands of dollars a day.

For July, Universal's holdings, including the theme park, got hit with a more than $3 million bill. Operational cuts will help the theme park pay its "share" of the fine.

Universal reducing its entertainment offerings is unfortunate, considering attendance has been unexpectedly strong of late. Unexpected because Universal was gearing down. Braced for a big hit when Disney's California Adventure opens, Universal has no big new attractions to tout. There's been no promotion at all for its latest addition, "Tram Tour 2000," which added video monitors to the trams so guests could view, say, scenes from Psycho as they rolled past the Psycho house or clips from Spartacus as they rode by Spartacus Square.

Universal Tour Guides are now visible on the entire tram -thanks to video screens in each car
Universal Tour Guides are now visible on the entire tram -thanks to video screens in each car

No, Universal got its attendance boost the same way Disneyland did several years ago: by marketing inexpensive annual passes. The promotion, begun in the late spring, lets full fare guests pay just an extra $8 to turn their one-day ticket into a one-year ticket÷with no blockout days. The first weekend of the promotion, Universal sold 3,000 passes.

The repeat visitors also seem to spend more at the restaurants and shops, since they figure it costs them next to nothing to get in. Expect other like promotions from Universal, which is just starting to discover Disneyland's bread and butter: the locals.

The Color of Mickey

On to merchandise. Now, don't faint when you hear what Disney's next big line of licensed products is. Just think of Donald Duck Orange Juice. Neither oranges nor juice have anything to do with ducks, especially an ill-tempered one Yet the character does help the brand stand out on the shelf, especially for children.

So what's Disney's latest product line? House paint. One hundred and sixty-eight different colors of house paint, all inspired by cartoon characters, from My Little Bambi brown to Eeyore's Blues. House paint based on Mickey Mouse and friends, Winnie the Pooh and pals, Buzz Lightyear, Woody, 102 Dalmatians and the princesses. There are nearly 10 shades of blue, from powder blue ("Pixie Dust") to sky blue ("Infinity and Beyond").

The Sherwin-Williams/Disney Home Store Display -Promotional photo © Disney
The Sherwin-Williams/Disney Home Store Display -Promotional photo © Disney

Disney spent over a year working with Sherwin-Williams to select and name the colors. They started with "signature colors," such as the red animators use for Mickey's pants (which became "Oh Boy Red!") and the brown for Woody's boots (which became "Woody's Boots"), then formulated families of complementary accent colors.

The aim is to involve the whole family in redecorating projects. "We already offered bedding, wall borders, lamps, rugs, bath products," says Ken Chaplin, Disney's Director of Decorative Home Furnishings, "but we wanted a full home furnishings line. And room decorating usually begins with paint."

After all, he says, Martha Stewart and Ralph Lauren have their own brands of paint. So should Mickey.

"Disney Color" latex paint and accessories debut next month initially at WalMart stores. Disneyana collectors start lining up now. If you get tired of storing the paint in your closet, you can always put it on your closet.

You can write to David atthis link..


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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