Whaddya Think, Walt?

by Mike Scopa, contributing writer

Whaddya Think, Walt?

During my most recent visit to Walt Disney World I found myself constantly running up against walls... real walls.

There was a huge one blocking off guests from the Haunted Mansion, walls around Spaceship Earth, walls surrounding the Sorcerer's Hat in (from now on referred to by me as) the Studios, walls on the fourth floor of the Contemporary Resort.

Walls, walls, walls. This is no doubt the Year of a Million Refurbishments for Walt Disney World. Make that the Year of Two Million Refurbishments.

As I strolled through the parks or jogged through the resorts and noticed these areas closed for refurbishments, I could not help but think that this place never rests. There is always something going on.

I was recently invited to the AllAboutTheMouse podcast hosted by Bryan Ripper and Jonathan Dichter to discuss a what-if scenario. The discussion focused on what the Walt Disney world resort would be like today had Walt still been around.

The discussion went from looking at whether or not the resorts we see today would still be in existence, to whether the partnerships with Pixar and Henson Associates would ever take place, to what would Epcot be like today.

But other than a brief discussion on the existence of Epcot we never really got the chance to focus on the parks themselves.

So, if Walt Disney was alive today, and of sound mind, what would it be like to saunter through the four parks with this man and pick his brain about the attractions, the restaurants, and other goodies awaiting his guests?

Well, I love to speculate so let's give it a shot. We'll go in the order of reverse appearance from Disney's Animal Kingdom and finish with the Magic Kingdom.

Disney's Animal Kingdom

I think that Walt Disney would give a big thumbs-up to Disney's Animal Kingdom simply because I think he would have done the same regarding championing the effort to design and create a natural habitat for the animals as the park is today. Walt seemed to be an animal lover and I think he would applaud the amount of care given to the animals in his theme park.

I also think he would have loved the notion of dividing the park into areas such as Africa and Asia taking note of the difference that each land has and how unique it would be for the guests to visit each land.

Finally, I think he would relish in that attractions such as Festival of the Lion King and the Finding Nemo musical because both are fine examples of extending the popularity of their respective films. Walt would be delighted at the entertainment these films are bringing to his guests well after they have left the theater.

The Studios

When this theme park first opened we were all told it would be a working studio as well as a theme park. We would get to see how Hollywood put together films and television shows. We'll, I'm not so sure the first statement is still true but there are attractions which illustrate the making of movies and shows.

I think Walt would enjoy walking through this theme park and discover what it holds for its guests. Of course I also have to think he'd have some ideas of his own as well.

I think he would look at The Great Movie Ride and wonder, "Hmmm why couldn't that have been "The Great Disney Movie Ride?" It makes sense; the attraction could have easily been designed to go from animated features to live features and actually while you're at it why not have "The Great Disney Television Ride" where you could go through the evolution of Disney on television?

I don't particularly think he would be pleased with the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, or Muppetvision 3-D. You may also want to toss in Star Tours in that group of attractions.

I think that Walt Disney was very much proud of the fact that the Disney Company was a pioneer in so many areas and I think he would wince at the fact that there would be these partnerships with LucasFilm and Henson Associates and others. He would probably wonder out loud as to why his imaginers couldn't come up with their own storyline to use the technology used in these attractions.

I do think he would enjoy Lights! Motors! Action! Stunt Show and the Animation Tour of the past and of course the Backlot Tour. They would so much support the premise of this theme park.

I'm not sure about Rock n' Roller Coaster... there's that partnership thing again. I'll speak more to this when we get to Epcot.

Like Festival of the Lion King, Voyage of the Little Mermaid would be a Walt favorite. Any attraction which appears as an extension of an animated feature would definitely warm his heart.


Okay stand back. I personally don't think that if Walt lived to see the building of Epcot that we would not have a theme park to visit today. Instead we'd have something like the Town of Celebration on steroids. But let's leave that for another day of discussion.

He was on "hiatus" when Epcot was built and he's virtually with us now to pass judgment on this park.

Regarding Future World, he would absolutely be thrilled at Spaceship Earth simply because Walt loved history and how the story could be told with the latest technology.

I think he would enjoy Ellen's Universe of Energy because he would have enjoyed seeing the marriage of education and entertainment resulting in an enjoyable exercise in knowledge transfer.

If Walt and I were standing in front of Mission: Space I have to think he would have, at best, mixed feelings about the attraction.

He would turn to me and say, "Mike, y'know, I sort of like the idea of giving the guests the chance to experience weightlessness and... hey where is Horizons?"

Well after breaking the news of the fate of Horizons to Walt I would expect him to say to me that although he would like giving that weightlessness experience to the guests there would be a factor that would make him think long and seriously about giving the okay for such an attraction.

Remember that moment when Walt first thought of an amusement park for the whole family? It was when he took his girls to a park and he sat on a bench and watched them have fun. He started to wonder back then how it would be to have parks where the whole family can do things tougher.

Well, that was the case with Horizons but you can't say that for Mission: Space. Walt would enter the queue and wince at all the warnings. Then he would want to know about the green card and orange card options and hoo boy, can you guess what his reaction would be?

I think he would not like the fact that this attraction is not the type of attraction that would allow for the whole family to ride and he would be very uncomfortable to hear of the ride's history.

He may turnaround and in his best Gene Wilder (in Young Frankenstein) impression, say, "Put Horizons back!"

I base my assumption on his original thought some 50-plus years ago that amusement parks should offer rides for the whole family. He would not put Mission: Space in this category.

He would probably like Test Track as it is for the whole family and it entertains.

He would fall in love with The Seas with Nemo and Friends and would join in the laughter with Turtle Talk. The first attraction is close to a classic Disney dark ride and picks up from the movie and the latter attraction offers interaction with the guests which I think Walk would very much approve.

In fact I think that Turtle Talk would vie as Walt's favorite Epcot attraction along with Spaceship Earth and one other Epcot attraction to be named later.

I really think he would enjoy Journey into Imagination because of its originality and appeal to all ages. I think Figment would tickle Walt's funny bone.

Soarin' would be very much welcomed by Walt as he would marvel as to how the attraction was put together to give the experience of gliding over some breathtaking scenes and allowing the whole family to enjoy the attraction. He would judge this attraction as being a gentle thrill ride.

I really think that he would just be overwhelmed with the American Adventure pavilion. A lover of history, Walt would simply adore the multimedia approach to telling the story of the American Adventure. This may very well be his most favorite attraction within the walls of Epcot.

Let me also say a little bit about The Maelstrom attraction in Norway's pavilion. I think Walt would wonder why the other World Showcase pavilions would not also have a similar ride that would, if you pardon the word, showcase their land.

Those are the primary Epcot attractions that I think Walt would have a reaction to while wandering through Epcot.

Now on to the crown jewel.

Magic Kingdom

No doubt he would be fine with Main Street USA as it has been pretty much left untouched; that is with the exception of the removal of the Penny Arcade and the Main Street Cinema.

Adventureland would be fine as long as Walt finds his Jungle Cruise and Pirates of the Caribbean. I would even go so far as to say Walt would be fine with the recent changes to PotC because it was as a result of a Disney company film.

I think he would be okay with Aladdin's Magic Carpet Ride. It's Dumbo done over and it's an extension of a film so it's okay.

On to Frontierland and I think he would absolutely be thrilled over Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad because of the story-telling and the fun involved in the attractions. I think he would also be pleased with Splash's Audio-Animatronic entertainment.

Country Bear Jamboree would make Walt smile because of its very simple, clean, fun loving nature.

The Haunted Mansion is a classic Disney attraction in which Walt would enjoy.

Do I have to talk about the Hall of Presidents? Walt. History lover. Understand?

Fantasyland would have Walt jumping for joy. Peter Pan, Small World, Snow White's Adventures, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Dumbo, and of course Mickey's Philharmagic would all remind him of his animated features success so there's no question he would be happy.

Tomorrowland would find Walt possibly having mixed emotions. I think that Walt saw himself as an innovator and a pioneer and a showman to showcase the latest in technology.

Tomorrowland offers, among others, Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, Stitch's Great Escape and Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor. He would probably wonder why these attractions aren't perhaps in the Studios.

I think he would be very proud to see the Carrousel of Progress and the Tomorowland Transit Authority and he would like Space Mountain; all offering great family fun.

All in all I think he would be very pleased with this theme park.

Walt's Vision

Remember that Walt's vision included amusement parks where the whole family could have fun together. Also remember his love for history, animals, storytelling, showing the latest progress in technology and of course his love for his animated features, the latter of which saved his company.

It was with that vision that I surmised what Walt would have liked and smiled upon, what he would have raised an eyebrow to, and what would have assured him as something that would have helped his guests...

...Remember the Magic.

Next Time

Two words: Party talk.