|The calls and
e-mails started coming in early this week:
"There are rumors floating around..." "You know,
the infrastructure is really all there..." "The country's mood
(by the time it could be completed) may be ready for it..."
"It's such an easy fix..." "It would cost nothing
So the question everyone was really asking was - "What if you had
a sputtering turkey - and had a chance to turn it into a strong
Could the Disney Company, with minimal expense and fuss, take the
failing and problematic California Adventure park and turn it into Disney's
The America Press Kit cover
And wouldn't the timing of this work well - seeing as how the country
will be facing a lengthy and very uniting challenge for the foreseeable
If the comments we keep hearing from people about Michael Eisner's
renewal of purpose following the awful events of September 11th are true -
couldn't this be a terrific way for the Disney company to do what it does
best, celebrate our country?
At first, I didn't really believe all
the murmurs I kept hearing could be possible, until I went back
and looked at all the concept art and planning materials for the America
park. (There is a link to a very good site provided in the column to the
right that will let you research the original concepts).
Low and behold - after reading though it all it became abundantly clear
that a good deal of it actually got built in California Adventure.
(Imagineering never throws anything away!) It also became clear that two
thirds of the park now could probably survive intact, but with a new, much
more relevant, (and yes, a more much easier to market)
"American" theme. All with minimal fuss and expense to the
It starts to make sense when you look at the original press release for
Disney's America, an edited version of which is quoted below:
For immediate release, November 11, 1993
PLANS UNVEILED FOR "DISNEY'S AMERICA" NEAR WASHINGTON, D.
PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. -- The Walt Disney Company plans to create
a unique and historically detailed environment celebrating the nation's
richness of diversity, spirit and innovation -- " Disney's
America" -- to be located west of Washington, D. C., it was
announced today by Michael D. Eisner, chairman and CEO of the company.
In 'Disney's America' we will create a totally new concept using the
different strengths of our entertainment company -- our motion picture
and television talent, our park Imagineers, our interactive media and
publishing executives as well as our sports enterprise and education
executives -- to celebrate those unique American qualities that have
been our country's strengths and that have made this nation the beacon
of hope to people everywhere," Eisner said. " We bring seventy
years of entertainment experience -- many of them creating the world's
most original parks -- to this project."
Peter Rummell, president of Disney Design and Development Company, said
the new park will differentiate itself from all others in both subject
matter and presentation. Said Rummell, " 'Disney's America' will
allow guests to celebrate the diversity of the nation, the plurality and
conflicts that have defined the American character."
Bob Weis, senior vice president of Walt Disney Imagineering, in charge
of the project's creative development, said the park is envisioned as
" an ideal complement to visiting Washington's museums, monuments
and national treasures."
"Beyond the rides and attractions for which Disney is
famous," said Weis, "the park will be a venue for people of
all ages, especially the young, to debate and discuss the future of our
nation and to learn more about its past by living it."
The park will have facilities to host and televise political debates,
public forums and gatherings of writers, educators, journalists,
students and historians to discuss issues of the past, present and
future. The Disney-inspired American Teacher Awards also will be
broadcast from the site.
At "Disney's America" guests may also find themselves piloting
a World War II fighter by way of virtual reality or participating in a
harrowing Lewis and Clark river expedition inside a Native American
Indian Village or in the center of Revolutionary War and Civil War
Battle re-enactments. They will even have an opportunity to meet every
American president through the magic of Disney's Audio- Animatronics (R)
Take a look at the following in particular:
"Disney's America" will include a number of unique guest
- Entering the park, guests will find themselves in a detailed Civil
War era village, which is the hub of "Disney's America."
- From there guests may venture to Presidents' Square, celebrating
the birth of democracy and those who fought to preserve it.
- Native America explores the life of America's first inhabitants
and offers an exciting white water river raft expedition.
- Civil War Fort plunges guests into the most turbulent time in
American history, and outside its ramparts the historic battle of
the Monitor and Merrimac will once again be fought.
- We the People introduces the compelling immigrant experience
through music, ethnic foods and a powerful multimedia presentation,
all inside a building resembling Ellis Island.
- Enterprise, a factory town, highlights American ingenuity and
features a high speed thrill attraction called the "Industrial
- Victory Field lets guests experience what America's soldiers faced
in the defense of freedom.
Now look at the concept art for Victory Field...
Concept art © Disney
...remind you of Condor Flats?
Promotional art © Disney
And Native America...
Concept art © Disney
...my my, isn't that Grizzly River Run?
Now mind you - the rest of
California Adventure could be easily converted too, here are what some
people have suggested:
Hollywood Backlot would remain the same - representing of
course, the country's entertainment industry. The loss of the California
theme would allow other movies to be promoted there more seamlessly. Tower
of Terror could still fit in.
The Bountiful Valley Farm area would be renamed America's
Heartland - and showcase the agricultural states. The upcoming BugTown
playground would still fit in, as well as the current Tough to be a
Pacific Wharf would be either turned into the We the People
concept described above in the press release, or re-themed to represent
the Atlantic Coast - possibly with the Cape Cod concept that has
worked so well at DisneySea...
- and / or -
...Paradise Pier could be torn down (yes, you heard right,
torn down) and replaced by an American Waterfront theme to merge
in with Cape Cod, or possibly a futuristic Tokyo DisneySea Port
Discovery theme - "America's Future" in other words -
which would then allow for Tomorrowland in Disneyland proper to become
more Jules Vern fantasy oriented.
The Bay Area (near Grizzly River Run) would become President's
Square - the Whoopi / Golden Dreams movie giving way to
either EPCOT's American Adventure (too expensive probably) or a
Magic Kingdom Hall of Presidents (finally giving Lincoln a proper
home - and freeing up Disneyland's Opera House for a possible Walt
Disney museum / show).
Grizzly River Run area would gain a title like "Golden
West" - representing that part of the country - the Redwood
Creek playground would now include other national forest landmarks -
easy to add in.
Condor Flats would celebrate all of American aviation - from
the Wright Brothers, to Lindbergh and beyond. Soarin over California
could finally become what people already compare it to - a really up to
date America the Beautiful experience - complete with flyovers of
Washington D.C., New York and the Grand Canyon.
The entry murals could be transformed into a giant American flag and
a vista of the country.
...there are other suggestions I've heard - but this gives you an
inkling of what could be done.
How could this be accomplished?
Well there is even talk of a schedule it would happen in: it could take up
to three years (they would want two if possible), and major overhauls
could be done in the off season which would mean only opening the park for
the summer months until it would be completed. There is talk it would be a
terrific way to celebrate Disneyland's 50th too.
It's not so far fetched closing California Adventure down if you look
at it - they way the numbers are going right now (and most likely in the
future if current trends hold) closing it in the off season at least
during the week may be the cheapest way to go.
The numbers are down again
How serious is this? This
is all from what I could gather very blue sky stuff - it really is way out
there. My guess is that some people now discussing this may not have even
run it by the top suits yet.
Are there problems with it? Well, yes. Disney still needs to address
how child unfriendly this park is. It would also mean having even more
attractions from Orlando here - not giving us the advantage of unique
shows. And Disney would still face some of the problems they had in
Virginia, with historians and experts really watching their every move.
(We won't even discuss how it could be seen as an embarrassing
retrenchment of their original concept, although if properly presented,
publicized and packaged as Disney's response to America's current
situation, they could say it was their chance to address the needs of the
But the possibilities this retheming would open up are boundless. For
example no longer would the parade be locked down to a California theme -
and the variety of concepts for new attractions would expand by at least
49 more states. (From Texas to Hawaii, there is just so much more to
choose from in coming up with new attractions and entertainment concepts.)
It would fix in one fell swoop what is so very wrong at the core of DCA.
What could hold it up?
Egos - two rather inflated ones in particular. (Two guesses whom.) But so
far no matter what the owners of those egos say needs to be done at DCA,
they can't seem to pull in the numbers, so their ability to block this
could be much reduced. Money could be a problem too - but look at it this
way - they'd be spending on something new that has a shot, not trying to
fix an idea that is proving unworkable.
Eisner himself, in his book "Work in Progress" opened up the
chapter discussing the America park and wrote about his fondness for it:
There was no project during my first decade at Disney about which
I felt more passionate than Disney's America - and none that ran up
against fiercer resistance. Building a Disney theme park based on
American history seemed like a natural extension of the company's
lifelong focus on children and education, a perfect way of marrying our
self-interest with a broader public interest.
He also wrote the following where he details his response to criticism
of Epcot's American Adventure by a group of historians:
"Entertainment doesn't have to be pablum, and it doesn't have
to make you feel good," I said, when my turn came to respond.
"Entertainment has to create an emotional response. It can make you
laugh, it can make you cry, it can make you angry, it can make you sad.
I don't disagree with 98 percent of what has been said here, but I do
want to point out that Disney's America won't be a 25-minute experience
like the American Adventure. The story we're going to try to tell at the
park will take eight hours to deliver. It's going to be made up of
fifteen or twenty different components. Each one will deal with a
different aspect of the American experience. Disney's America has the
potential to redefine The Walt Disney Company more than anything we've
done. Our goal, when you finish an eight-hour day there, is that you'll
have experienced an intelligent, entertaining, challenging view of
The story of California is a good
one, goodness knows I live here in this state and respect it.
But the story that would best relate to the largest group of visitors is
one they all have a stake in, the story of America, our country.
Think about it. The idea isn't all that crazy, if done properly
it actually makes sense. (Especially economically.) If ever
they needed a fix, and this country needed a park dedicated to telling its
story, the time is now, and the change we are going through will insure it
will remain relevant to a large audience for a very long future.
Maybe, just maybe, the time has come for Disney's
Al Lutz can be emailed at: email@example.com