Exhibit Closed

by David Koenig, contributing writer

Exhibit Closed

The Disney Gallery closes up shop

Unfortunately, Disneyland's "open one/close one" policy appears to be alive and well. According to the policy, every time the park opens a new attraction, it feels financially compelled to close one or more others.

Within weeks of the opening of the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, the Matterhorn mountain climbers received their pink slips. More significantly, on Tuesday, August 7, the Disney Gallery in New Orleans Square closed, as predicted two months earlier in "Next on the Chopping Block" (May 31, 2007)

The Gallery was supposed to close July 31, but received a one-week reprieve to give designers a little more time to get their final plans in order. What those final plans are management is being tight-lipped about, even to Gallery cast members, saying only that the merchandise/art gallery will be replaced by "a new guest experience."

The closure is being called for, however, not by the Operations department, or even the Merchandise department—but rather the Marketing department. Park marketing executives are inexplicably enraptured with their "Year of a Million Dreams" promotion and point to solid attendance at the six domestic theme parks as proof that the gimmick must be working. Few surveyed guests, though, have stepped forward to say that the promotion actually lured them into the park in the first place. So, figure the marketing gurus, the only thing that seems to be missing—at Disneyland, anyways—is a blockbuster prize so fantastic, so magical that a guest might actually dream about it. Disney World has that in the princess suite inside Cinderella Castle, a perk that truly is distinctly Disney and has helped generate plenty of media attention. Tourists who win a free night in the suite become hometown heroes. Tourists who win Disneyland's grand prize—a night at the Disneyland Hotel—usually don't make headlines in their local newspaper.

So, the idea is to transform the Disney Gallery into an exclusive "Royal Suite" as the featured prize in a relaunched "Year of a Million Dreams" for 2008. Then, after the promotion ends, the suite could be rented out for thousands of dollars a night to high-rolling day guests.

Some designers suggested turning the Gallery into a princess suite similar to Disney World's, right down to the holographic fireplace. Thematically, though, the idea made no sense. The leading concept now appears to be remodeling the space in line with Dorothea Redmond's original designs for Walt's private apartment. Marketing would have a solid hook, and purists who protested when pirates stormed Tom Sawyer Island would be robbed of their argument. How could Mr. Disney's disciples complain if management faithfully transformed the space into the private hideaway that Walt himself had originally intended?

Yet, as someone who does cringe each time Disneyland gets a little bit smaller, I'm sad, not celebratory, to see the staircase roped off. For 20 years, the Disney Gallery was one of my favorite spots in the park. Its exhibits were always fascinating. The Gallery itself was beautiful, out of the way, and always uncrowded. Ever since the PeopleMover closed, it was one of the few places I could escape the mass of humanity, yet still be enveloped by the Disney magic.

But the most special thing about the Gallery was that every time I visited I felt like I was stepping into the private world of Walt. We normal guests can't ride in the Lilly Belle. We can't sleep in Walt's apartment over the Fire Station. We can't eat at Club 33. And we certainly can't poke around backstage, exploring the hidden tunnels and private workshops.

What we could do was roam freely through what almost became his second home. Better yet, we could enjoy it as he would have, not from behind glass walls or after waiting in long lines.

As some consolation, individuals within the company are fighting to reopen the Gallery elsewhere within the park. The most natural spot is the Opera House lobby. Another possibility is the under-utilized Plaza Pavilion. In the meantime, all merchandise from the Gallery is being moved to other collectible merchandise locations throughout the park, including Disneyana on Main Street, Off the Page at Disney's California Adventure, and World of Disney in Downtown Disney.

It's also of some comfort knowing that the suite should be reconfigured so it's even closer to Walt's plans. Even if now we'll only be able to read about it.

Traveling Princesses

One attraction that will remain at least for another year is The Princess Fantasy Faire at the Fantasyland Theater. The show/sales opportunity is tentatively scheduled to play until September 2008, when the Disney Fairies are supposed to take over. Management hopes to time the opening of the Fairies show, featuring a meet-and-greet with face characters and an interactive performance similar to the current princess show, with the release of the CGI Tinker Bell movie—which has already been postponed more than once.

The princesses will then relocate to Fantasyland?s Once Upon a Time shop (ironically, the former home of the Tinker Bell Toy Shop). The store would be closed after Labor Day, gutted, and completely remodeled. The face painting and hair styling that?s such a moneymaker at the Fantasy Faire would be moved to the back of the store, where the princesses used to lead storytime.