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A Theory as to What Disney is "Missing" These Days

RobidaFlats

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
To a fair number of people on these forums and elsewhere, Walt Disney World has lost some of the glory that it had in the decade or so after the opening of EPCOT Center. If you don't buy into that premise, no problem, I'm not here to argue its merits, so feel free to pass on this post as it won't go anywhere of value for you. However, to the people that do think that WDW was at a high watermark during that time, I would like to offer a theory as to the core thing that prevents Disney from achieving (or even surpassing) that level now.

I would like to posit that the key ingredient that was present in the soul of the company in the late 70s that has since died out is: optimism.

The early 70s were in many ways a mess for the national mood in the U.S. The social upheaval that began in the 60s was still present and was in some ways escalating further. Vietnam, the oil embargo and other foreign tensions began a decade where most Americans had a less than rosy view of the world. Yet, it was during this turmoil that Disney was laying the plans for what would become EPCOT Center.

To say that planning for such a massive undertaking was against the prevailing feelings of society would be an understatement. Future World envisioned a world of peace, communication and progress, not one fraught with a Cold War, regional conflicts and hostage takings. Pavilions would be sponsored by companies that were to be looked to for answers as society progressed, not looked at with suspicion over environmental, financial and social abuses. World Showcase would highlight nations from around the world and display cultures without conflict, rather than reduce nations to their leaning towards NATO or the Soviet Union.

It doesn't take much to draw striking parallels between the national mood at that time and today. Concerns over terrorism, social and political upheaval and financial troubles are just as present today as they were then. Many would argue that such things are cyclical and generations will always experience periods of highs and lows. What is of more importance than the circumstances themselves, is the way that people react to them. That is where I find a stark difference between the Disney of the EPCOT Center era and today.

So how does optimism manifest itself in the world of theme parks? Simply put, everywhere. One of the biggest complaints that many people have with the current situation at WDW is funding. Attractions sit closed, expansion is too slow, maintenance is lacking, CMs are paid too little, etc. While some of these might be actual problems and others only perceptions, the root issue is the same: namely, everything costs money, and there is a feeling that Disney is unwilling to spend it. It doesn't make sense to spend money unless you think it's going to payoff.

If you look at it from the view of a pessimist, it makes perfect sense. Why make a huge outlay to build something shiny and new if the economy is having trouble or on the edge of getting worse? Why put money into maintenance or staff if people are still coming and don't notice? Why spend profit on the parks when it could be kept for the shareholders that we have a duty toward? Let's wait and see if we should add a given franchise to the parks until after we see how it does at the box office because people might not like it.

However, those same items seen through the eyes of an optimist take a different tack. If the economy is slow, then building costs are cheaper than they will be during boom time and we'll be ready to capitalize on the turnaround. If we make sure that maintenance and staff are at proper levels we'll impress guests who are more discerning than they are sometimes given credit for, and thereby ensure a steady stream of new and repeat guests in the future. Our responsibility to shareholders is to maximize value, not just in this quarter, but in the future, so if we invest in the company now, it will continue to grow and become even more valuable. Let's have faith in ourselves and develop what our guests want, even if they haven't asked for it yet.

Which of those seems like the WDW of yesteryear vs. today?

Yes, I realize that this is a massive oversimplification, but I can't help but feel that with a more positive view, things could turn around rather easily. But that could just be me being a little too... optimistic.
 

Goofyernmost

Well-Known Member
You're absolutely correct... now how does one get that to happen? It's mass hysteria either way, positive or negative. How do we turn that attitude around toward the positive side? What has to happen to make that become reality? If anyone knows the answer, please speak up.
Or perhaps does it just happen in the cycle you were talking about? And all we can do is wait for it come around again?
 

Cmdr_Crimson

Well-Known Member
What is really missing? I'll let Spongebob handle this....
giphy.gif
 

RobidaFlats

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
You're absolutely correct... now how does one get that to happen? It's mass hysteria either way, positive or negative. How do we turn that attitude around toward the positive side? What has to happen to make that become reality? If anyone knows the answer, please speak up.
Or perhaps does it just happen in the cycle you were talking about? And all we can do is wait for it come around again?

For what it's worth, I was only talking about optimism among the powers that be at the company. Mass hysteria and the cycle of ups and downs with the nation as a whole will always be and cannot be changed. There is no cycle of optimism with management. It either exists or, more often than not, doesn't.

As such, there is nothing that we can do to change it. It is up to the right individuals in the right places at the right times. The public can do a lot of things to influence a company, but influencing the leadership to adopt a contrarian optimism is not among them.
 

RobidaFlats

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
What is really missing? I'll let Spongebob handle this....
giphy.gif

I would agree, but I would also argue that lack of imagination can be attributed to lack of optimism in so much as we consider imagination a positive. For example, pessimism can lead to some rather imaginative cuts or scale-backs.
 

Tony the Tigger

Well-Known Member
I would say it's less a lack of optimism (as you said an oversimplification) and rather an overwhelming sense of pragmatism, informed largely by Wall Street and the sense of gambling each business venture entails.

Invest millions in a movie - it does great or it bombs. If it bombs, that has an effect on everything else.

Invest millions in an attraction - same thing, but more permanently.

All of these things are restrained by Wall Street. Take too many hits at one time (a bad couple of movies and a poorly received expansion) and your stock prices will plummet, leading to further belt-tightening and a downward spiral.

As we get farther and farther from the direct influence of Walt and those who worked with him, the pragmatism and the business calculations take priority over the unbridled (if unrealistic) "I'm going to do this come heck or high water" attitude of those folks, and especially Walt. I don't know if you call that optimism, genius, recklessness, or a combination of those things and more.

Let's face it, Walt's plans were an enormous risk. He's one of those people who built something that could have been a disaster and turned out to be a hit. That's the opposite of the safe way of running a business. At the time, he didn't have much to lose. Today, the company he left surely does.

And unfortunately that makes consistent successes matching the early ones very tricky to achieve - although there will be pockets of those successes like Dory, Star Wars, etc.

Just my two cents.
 

DisneyFans4Life

Well-Known Member
I tend to think some of the pessimism comes from nastalgia and from people who can't necessarily accept change. I grew up going to WDW as a kid, but being relatively young still (late 20s), I don't really recall how great the parks were and wasn't critical. After all, I was just a kid and happy to be there. Now that I'm older and more aware of things, I'm able to create a "baseline" of what I think WDW is. 10, 15, even 20 years from now I'll be able to compare WDW to what I think it was.

Personally...I think WDW is a great vacation spot. Sure it could use some help in certain areas, but as a destination, it still overs more than any other place I can think of. Are prices high? Sure...but that's a topic for a different discussion. Unless I'm going to some small resort on some small island, I expect to pay a premium and I expect prices on site to be a bit higher.

Optimism comes from within you. People have to be able to find the good in things. I'm not saying to ignore the bad, but don't dwell on them. I tend to focus on what's good in the world (both Disney and real). Now with everything going on it may be difficult to stay optimistic about things in general, but it's a personal choice that people need to make.
 

RobidaFlats

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
I would say it's less a lack of optimism (as you said an oversimplification) and rather an overwhelming sense of pragmatism, informed largely by Wall Street and the sense of gambling each business venture entails.

Invest millions in a movie - it does great or it bombs. If it bombs, that has an effect on everything else.

Invest millions in an attraction - same thing, but more permanently.

All of these things are restrained by Wall Street. Take too many hits at one time (a bad couple of movies and a poorly received expansion) and your stock prices will plummet, leading to further belt-tightening and a downward spiral.

As we get farther and farther from the direct influence of Walt and those who worked with him, the pragmatism and the business calculations take priority over the unbridled (if unrealistic) "I'm going to do this come heck or high water" attitude of those folks, and especially Walt. I don't know if you call that optimism, genius, recklessness, or a combination of those things and more.

Let's face it, Walt's plans were an enormous risk. He's one of those people who built something that could have been a disaster and turned out to be a hit. That's the opposite of the safe way of running a business. At the time, he didn't have much to lose. Today, the company he left surely does.

And unfortunately that makes consistent successes matching the early ones very tricky to achieve - although there will be pockets of those successes like Dory, Star Wars, etc.

Just my two cents.

I think that is a very fair assessment.

The companies willing to take risks and re-invest heavily are certainly few and far between (especially among those that are publicly traded). I have very much enjoyed watching the rise of Amazon particularly because of the way it highlights the lunacy of the stock market. Many times when they post an earnings report, there is this big uproar that the quarter had too low of a profit (or even a loss) because so much money is being plowed back into the business. The stock tumbles for a couple days while Wall St. pouts, and then they turn around and buy it up again sending it to record highs a couple weeks later.

Everyone likes to make money, but deep down they like the prospect of continuing to make even more money.
 

RobidaFlats

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
I tend to think some of the pessimism comes from nastalgia and from people who can't necessarily accept change. I grew up going to WDW as a kid, but being relatively young still (late 20s), I don't really recall how great the parks were and wasn't critical. After all, I was just a kid and happy to be there. Now that I'm older and more aware of things, I'm able to create a "baseline" of what I think WDW is. 10, 15, even 20 years from now I'll be able to compare WDW to what I think it was.

Personally...I think WDW is a great vacation spot. Sure it could use some help in certain areas, but as a destination, it still overs more than any other place I can think of. Are prices high? Sure...but that's a topic for a different discussion. Unless I'm going to some small resort on some small island, I expect to pay a premium and I expect prices on site to be a bit higher.

Optimism comes from within you. People have to be able to find the good in things. I'm not saying to ignore the bad, but don't dwell on them. I tend to focus on what's good in the world (both Disney and real). Now with everything going on it may be difficult to stay optimistic about things in general, but it's a personal choice that people need to make.

Based upon this response and the earlier one from goofyernmost, I think I may been a little unclear. I am not talking about optimism from the guests' or public perspective. I am specifically referencing optimism within the leadership of the company.
 

RainbowCrow

New Member
I started visiting DL in the 70s and Epcot / WDW in the 80s and I am on board with what you are saying. One of the things that always made those places so magical for me were the innovations in the parks. The AAs were amazing to me, the tech on display in FW was inspiring. We see new tech in the parks now but it's much more subtle than the giant leaps in innovation that were displayed in earlier days.

Recent park offerings seem more along the lines of fine tuning (like FEA AAs) than great leaps forward. FW at EPCOT is truly a sad shell of what I remember from the 80s. I still visit and take my kids, but I remember what my experience was at their age and I'm sad their experience isn't as inspiring (or as you say, optimistic).

The original Epcot attractions (Wonders of Life, Horizons, Sea Base Alpha, World of Motion, etc.) and the earlier versions of Spaceship Earth and Journey into Imagination all had an optimism (that is still there on the CoP) that feels like it is missing now.
 

RainbowCrow

New Member
Also to be clear, I'm also agreeing with you that the lack of optimism now seen in park offerings could easily be reflective of lack of optimism within the leadership of the company - a manifestation of it, if you will.
 

RobidaFlats

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
I still visit and take my kids, but I remember what my experience was at their age and I'm sad their experience isn't as inspiring (or as you say, optimistic).

I like the way you phrased it, inspiration and optimism seem to go hand in hand.

I have also had those same sad thoughts about my kids being unable to have the same experience.
 

RainbowCrow

New Member
Another thing I think is important to point out here is that application of technology alone isn't enough to inspire. It's a total package- the story, the artistry, the message and the technology. It's the synergy of those things that Walt Disney (the man) was a master of and that the WDC seems to lack right now. Apple is struggling with the same problem in the post Jobs era, IMO.
 

DisneyFans4Life

Well-Known Member
I'm not sure that a "lack of optimism by leadership" is an accurate statement. I think leadership is very optimistic, otherwise we wouldn't be getting the expanded lands that we are. I think they are just optimistic or have a different attitude than past leadership. It goes back to change and getting used to the way something was and not necessarily being able to handle or accept the way that it is now.
 

RainbowCrow

New Member
I'm hoping we'll see some of that synergy in some of the new lands that are coming. If that happens (and it very well might) it will be very exciting to say the least.

Edited to add that I'm not one of those that's against progress. I do think the parks need to evolve. I'd just like to retain some of the original optimism, which I think MK does to some extent now. Epcot .... not so much.
 

Goofyernmost

Well-Known Member
For what it's worth, I was only talking about optimism among the powers that be at the company. Mass hysteria and the cycle of ups and downs with the nation as a whole will always be and cannot be changed. There is no cycle of optimism with management. It either exists or, more often than not, doesn't.

As such, there is nothing that we can do to change it. It is up to the right individuals in the right places at the right times. The public can do a lot of things to influence a company, but influencing the leadership to adopt a contrarian optimism is not among them.
I suppose, but, I also feel that the optimism has to come from someplace and that would be the overall attitude of the customer as well as the business. JMHO! I guess it boils down to which came first... the chicken or the egg.
 

wwzesq

New Member
I think it's more than just a loss of vision and creative imagination. It seems that the general apathy and sense that things are "good enough" that our present society has adopted has permeated the very spirit of the parks themselves. I have been going to MK for a long time (longer than I would care to admit) and have noticed a general decline in the feeling of "magic" in the parks over the last 6 years or so. Now before anyone jumps all over me for offering a critique of WDW, let me explain that I am a true WDW devotee. I make, at a minimum, an annual trip each October with my family and have done so since 1976. Many years we make multiple trips, but our October trip is always the special one. I am fortunate to be able travel often, and to many different areas of the world, but WDW is still my favorite place on earth. It is because WDW means so much to my family and I that I feel a grudging obligation to point out what I feel is the most bothersome issue I have noticed recently.

What I have noticed over the past several years is that the parks are in a less than stellar state of repair. What I am pointing out is areas that need to be re-painted, painted areas where the paint does not match the surrounding areas, and a general dinginess in certain areas where formerly ALL areas of WDW were bright and clean. One of the most amazing things I can recall about every trip was a feeling that I was walking into the park on opening day. There was never a rusty railing, all of the sidewalks looked like they had been freshly painted; and even in the days when people still smoked, there was nary a cigarette butt that remained on the ground for more than a few seconds before a cast member swept it up with a genuine smile on their face. It was like that new toy on Christmas morning that you got to open again and again. Evey trip, every year MK looked just as amazing as it had on my first trip there. It was one of the most memorable experiences of going to "Disney" as my friends and I used to call it. I WAS magic, and I would hate to think that the magical feeling could someday be lost. Lost to a general belief that even if it's not as great as it used to be, it's still head and shoulders above any of the other parks. Of course it is, but that's not the point. WDW is not like any of the other parks, I don't believe it was ever intended to be.
 

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