Animation Abomination

by David Koenig, contributing writer
I don’t visit Disney parks for the roller coasters. Sure, every so often I’ll ride—and enjoy—Space Mountain or the Matterhorn. But those aren’t the reasons why I visit.

And, no, it’s not because of the parades. Or the fireworks. Or the walkaround characters. Or even the churros. Those things are all great and certainly contribute to a full, enjoyable visit.

But, as a Disney park-goer, what most deeply touches me—and stays with me, and brings me back again and again—are the small, transcendent charms, the often quiet touches that bubble up into magic.

Disneyland is filled with them. The sights, the sounds, the smells of Main Street. The twinkling lights of the Plaza. The wishing well. The deadpan Jungle skippers. The rainstorm at the Tiki Room. And the million-and-one other show details throughout every attraction.

At Disney’s California Adventure, however, there are only two such “magic spots.” One’s an attraction—Soarin’ Over California—that’s the biggest crowd-pleaser on both coasts (even though the drab exterior and queue try to convince you otherwise).

The other is a place—a place that if the Disney accountaneers have their way will not be around for long. It’s the sumptuous, expansive lobby of DCA’s Animation Building, along with the animated clips that dance on the walls to music and lighting effects.

Most of its interactive exhibits will remain. Its exterior is definitely going away, to be refaced as a period backdrop for the 1920s Red Car Trolley route currently being installed. The curbside paintbrushes that hid speakers have already been ripped out.

The current plan has the lobby next on the demolition list. Rats. It’s my favorite acreage in all of DCA, my happy place, a shelter from the heat and the rain and (once the water show opens) the crowds, to recharge the batteries and be reminded, for the first time since I crossed the esplanade, what Disney parks are supposed to be all about.

Unfortunately, that lobby is DCA’s PeopleMover—a simple refuge that guests love, but management loathes because it draws neither big crowds or big bucks. To them, it’s wasted real estate.

Management has tried over the years to boost attendance, adding meet-and-greets and art exhibits inside and attention-getters (such as caricatures, exhibit posters, and an electronic ticker) on the outside. Attendance remains modest.

How the lobby will be remodeled remains up for debate. Perhaps they’ll add character performances to boost attendance or retail kiosks to boosts profits.

In each scenario, the atmosphere is destroyed. My hope is that management will come to its senses before it’s too late (after all, they did save Mr. Lincoln.) Let Disney know you care. Burn up the discussion boards. Bob Weiss may be listening…

Raining Then Draining

Over at Disneyland, the heavy rains have not only washed away the crowds, they’ve also slowed the extensive rehab of the Rivers of America. In additions to repairs, workmen are also supposed to be replacing the track for the Mark Twain and Sailing Ship Columbia, as well as the docks for the canoes and rafts.

“All the docks will be replaced with concrete fashioned to look like wood,” shared one source. “The excuse is that it is getting too expensive to maintain them. The dock used for the guests on the island looks really bad. In my opinion, it is all the wear and tear from Fantasmic. It seems since the show started, the raft docks have been taking a real beating. That, and a combination of rot from constant exposure from the water.”

Sleeping Beauty Castle Gets Beat Up

Most susceptible to the rain is the Sleeping Beauty Walkthrough, which is increasingly closed due to leaks in the roof.

“Ever since the Resort started putting that Christmas overlay on the castle, I have been noticing a lot more damages to it,” a cast member pointed out. “The damages are most noticeable to the roof: the gold ornamental fringing on the rooftops, the tower flagpoles, and the ornamentation on the back. The gold ornamental fringing is the delicate gold work that can be seen at the apex of the roofs. They are now bent or broken. The flagpoles on the castle towers are hardly ever straight, and can be seen bent at odd angles after the overlay has been removed. In back of the castle, on the left (east) side, there are these ornamental globe-like structures that sit in the roof above the exit for the Sleeping Beauty Walkthrough. One is broken, and the rest are not standing straight. I guess what I am saying is that the Resort loves to decorate the Castle, but they sure don't pay attention in the details when it comes to putting back when they are done.”

In addition, he added, “the rooftop is a mess. Trash, wires and other equipment everywhere (to operate the pyro shows and whatnot). I have always felt that the castle was not made to take this punishment. It’s an old structure, and instead of easing off on it, more junk is being put on it.”

Blocked Out

Late last year, the Disneyland Resort made changes to the Main Entrance Passes it distributed to cast members. Conveniently missing was the list of block-out dates of when cast members cannot sign in visitors.

According to the weekly Cast Member Reference Guide, “2010 block-out dates, which vary by theme park, will be communicated on The Hub (company Web site) and other communication publications at the end of each month for approximately the next 90 days. The flexibility to change dates based on theme park demands allows us to better manage our business and the Cast and Guest experience. Our hope is we’ll have less block-out dates under this new system than we would have had if we continued to forecast a full year out.”

Cast members were naturally suspicious of the explanation. “Our feeling is that the company will increase the number of days we cannot sign family or friends in, and change them whenever they want,” said one employee. “In other words, a lot of us don’t trust them. 2009 had more block-out days than in the past; the company added days rather subtracting—even on days when we were slow.”