We receive considerable feedback regarding our site. In today's mailbag,
we highlight an extensive e-mail exchange between staff writer Mark
Goldhaber and MousePlanet reader Stanton W. regarding Mark's two-part
series on the theming of Disney parks (part
1 | part
Great article, however, I'm a bit curious: How can Disney be
an expert and a failure at the same time? Either they create transition,
or they don't... and is abrupt transition wrong?
Is transition really necessary? If an abrupt transition is acceptable
between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland or Main Street and Tomorrowland,
why would it not be acceptable between Adventureland, Frontierland
and Liberty Square. How about the abrupt transition between countries
in Epcot? Is Disney a master of transition, or are they just lucky
that Adventureland, Frontierland and Liberty Square lend itself
well to smooth change?
I felt that visually, Islands of Adventure was a wonderful park
(and definitely giving Disney some tough competition). Is Islands
of Adventure wrong to simply have a gateway and bridge into another
immersive theme? Does abrupt change actually help you know that
you are in different land?
At Disneyland, Adventureland is composed of four main shops,
each having a completely different theme facade: tropical South
Seas, Caribbean outpost, adobe, Middle Eastern, African... and
yet no transition between them.
I had originally formulated a lengthy answer addressing each of
your points, but it was a bit overwrought and heavy-handed, so instead
here's my summary from it.
You have many valid points and some of them are merely a matter
of opinion. Everybody's got a different one, which they are entitled
to. To my mind, however, Disney's Imagineers are the best in the
theming business as long as they are able to work to their potential,
and not overly hindered by budgets or assignment parameters (and
IoA, as I understand it, was largely designed by former Imagineers
which helps explain why it's the best-themed of all the non-Disney
parks out there.) If you really want to see the nearly-article-length,
point-by-point response, let me know. I'm afraid that it doesn't
come across as pleasant as I'd hoped.
Thanks for writing!
Thanks for your response. If it's one thing folks at MousePlanet
have, it's passion for Disney! And as long as you've already created
a lengthy answer to my theming transition question, I'd love to
get the feedback from a passionate person.
As for the "pleasant" response you may or may not have, no worries
on my end. Just remember I wasn't attacking you personally. If
I was quickly reading with "Disney-eyed glasses" it would have
been wonderful "Disney light" reading; however, reading a bit
deeper (and searching for further clarification of the intent
of your article), it seems to contradict itself a bit.
Perhaps that's the best place to start. Were you commenting on
Disney's ability to "theme" or "transition theme"? After all,
I agree that IOA's "Imagineered" lands look great... but there
is absolutely no theme transition other than another bridge.
Hi again, Stanton,
I didn't take it as an attack on me. However, being a passionate
Disney fan, I usually defend my positions with the same passion,
though I try to keep a balanced view whenever possible. Here, for
what it's worth, is the original runaway response that I wrote (though,
I suppose, it's pretty short compared to my trip reports).
You bring up a number of interesting points, and yes, some of the
answers do come down to personal opinion (
but since I'm the
one writing the column, I get to put my opinion in there). Let's
take them one at a time.
How can Disney be an expert and a failure at the same time?
Well, I'm not talking absolute failure. You can be a failure compared
to your potential and previous work, or you can be a failure compared
to everyone else out there. Also, expertise doesn't guarantee execution.
Disney's Imagineers can have wonderful plans, but if their budget
gets cut and that eliminates the details that would make something
work, or if they are presented with an assignment that guarantees
that they will not succeed to their prior levels, there's not much
that they can do. Also, if they don't work to their previous levels,
that doesn't mean that they're doing worse than the competition.
Is transition really necessary, and why is some abrupt transition
OK and not others?
Well, let's look at some of the examples that you've listed. The
transition between Main Street and Tomorrowland: the main connection
from Main Street to Tomorrowland is via the hub, which I consider
neutral space. It's an open space that allows you to choose your
next adventure, and all themes are separate from it. The secondary
connection is via the Plaza Pavilion restaurant, which is a little
futuristic next to Main Street, but there is that small neutral
zone after you pass the restaurant that gives a little breathing
space and a feel of being out of all themes for a bit. Not completely
smooth, but about as good as you can expect for such disparate lands.
Fantasyland and Tomorrowland: OK, this is one that I don't really
like, either. Everything is a little too close, and the Speedway
alongside the Mad Tea Party and the walkway to Toontown Fair feel
disruptive to me.
I had originally thought that I remembered that there was more
room between the lands and that when they expanded Cosmic Ray's
later on, it shrunk the gap, but I've since discovered earlier maps
proving that, at least as far back at 1979, that theory is wrong.
I don't know why this was done, and much work was done to minimize
the disruption, but it's not one of the happiest junctions in the
most happy place. In fact, of the big circle of the hub, Adventureland,
Frontierland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, and back to the hub, this
is the one weak link.
The countries in Epcot's World Showcase? Well, there's only so
much that you can do here. And, if you notice, there's quite a bit
of green space between each pavilion, giving a small transitional
space so that the change isn't too jarring. The green space is also
themed, representing native flora (or the closest approximation
that will survive in Florida) of each country. Also, the theme of
a global village allows the establishing shots of multiple
pavilions visible around the lagoon to be part of the theme of the
Yes, Adventureland, Frontierland, and Liberty Square are better
suited for the transitions, but the other transitions are still
quite well made, considering the changes between the lands. For
example, how about Liberty Square to Fantasyland? When you go under
that bridge, it isn't very jarring at all. The architecture changes
moderately, but not enough to be noticeable, and it's not until
you turn the corner that the fantasy elements of the new land become
apparent the colors, the music, and the fanciful ride marquees.
Regarding Islands of Adventure, I must confess that I have not
yet been to this park, although it is on my future to-do
list. My information is solely based upon hearsay and reports from
others both on MousePlanet and other sites. There are a few issues
At a number of attractions at IoA (such as Dueling Dragons, Hulk,
and Dr. Doom's Fear Fall), the elaborate theming stops as soon as
you board the ride, at which point it becomes a standard (if extremely
well-done) thrill ride.
However, IoA has also been called the best-themed park next to
Disney parks. One of the reasons why is that many of the people
developing the attractions at IoA are former Disney Imagineers who
either left on their own or were let go by Disney during the many
rounds of cutbacks. They, obviously, brought not only their various
talents (which they wouldn't have been originally hired at Disney
without), but also their Disney training.
Also, some may make the argument, they even brought their work.
Many have remarked that Dueling Dragons appears to be very similar
to the concept for the Dragon's Tower attraction originally planned
for Disney's Animal Kingdom.
Thus, the reason why IoA is so well-themed and very competitive
with Disney parks is that it was themed by the same people who worked
on Disney parks. I'd also feel comfortable making the statement
that the general overall theming at IoA is probably better Disney's
California Adventure at this point. And DCA will continue to have
issues, as the Tower of Terror will be visually disruptive in various
locations in the park. And wait until the sound of those screams
comes floating across A Bug's Land. That'll be interesting.
To sum up (and I'd better do that, since this response is almost
as long as the original column already), you have many valid points
and some of them are merely a matter of opinion.
Everybody's got a different one, which they are certainly entitled
to, and there is not necessarily one correct answer. To my mind,
however, Disney's Imagineers are the best in the theming business
as long as they are able to work to their potential.
Thanks for writing!
Thanks for you feedback. I kind of consider myself a Disney enthusiast
as well and after reading MousePlanet articles for like the last
few years, this is the first time I actually responded. I appreciate
your time to respond.
After reading your response, I'd say I'd agree with you probably
98 percent. Your points are well taken, but
Green grassy buffers? World Showcase as a single land? Well, I
suppose those are valid descriptions, one could accept. I think
my initial response to your article was that it seemed very "rah-rah"
Disney the masters of transitions when we both agree
there are some failed areas (which you did mention in the article).
I think we also agree that budget cuts affect product. I think
we can both agree that with unlimited budgets Disney can do wonderful
things as they have with Indiana Jones Adventure (in Disneyland
in California), and Tokyo DisneySea and Disney's Animal Kingdom.
My issue is that if Disney continues to produce sub-par products
(due to budget cuts or not) should they continue to be considered
the masters at what they do, regardless of what they've
done in the past? Universal's upcoming Mummy roller coaster sounds
like it is going to knock Disneyland's Space Mountain right off
its 1970s foundation... revamped queue line or not! We'll wait
and see what budget restraints allow in 2005.
My point with IOA is that with wonderful Disney-Imagineered theming,
they abruptly change theme by just crossing a bridge no
transition at all which seems to suit the park fine without
any guest complaints, which was kind of contrary to your article.
Thanks again Mark for your responses and feedback. I'll look
forward to reading
and debating your articles in the future!
PS: I haven't seen anything from Al Lutz on MousePlanet in a
while. Is he still around? Was there a fall out?
I suppose that, taking into account the restrictions that Imagineering
has been operating under, one could say that Disney does not enjoy
quite as much of a lead as they have in the past. However, while
the lead is smaller, I still believe that they do have the
lead. In addition, since I frequent Walt Disney World and not Disneyland,
which I assume is your home park, I see a bit more quality coming
down the line than you.
In the next few months, we've got both Mickey's PhilharMagic and
Mission: Space opening, and in 2005/2006, we're looking forward
to Expedition Everest, which is supposed to blow the doors off of
the Mummy coaster with tremendous theming and a thrilling ride.
I guess you missed it, but Al left MousePlanet back in December.
It was before I came on board, so I don't know a lot of the details,
but I understand that it was a mutual decision.
While he has taken his commentary to his own site, I can assure
you that we will still give you plenty of Disney information, every
weekday. One of the benefits of being a large site with many contributors
is that, if some people leave, there will be others to pick up the
slack to make sure that we can continue to provide the coverage
that our readers want.
While I don't think that my next few columns lend themselves to
much debate (I'm working on a series about the windows on WDW's
Main Street U.S.A.), feel free to write and to suggest any column
ideas that you might have. I'm always looking for things that might
To send your comments, you can contact Mark here.
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