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Disney Has Lost It's Way - An Article From The Federalist

1LE McQueen

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
https://thefederalist.com/2019/09/04/star-wars-land-proof-disney-lost-way/

Last Thursday, the Walt Disney Company unveiled one of its largest and most promoted attractions ever. The new Star Wars Land, called Galaxy’s Edge, opened at its Hollywood Studios complex in Florida, coming on the heels of a similar Star Wars Land that opened at California’s Disneyland in May.

The Disney hype machine has long since kicked into warp speed to promote the new land, but one might suggest a note of caution. I have owned a handful of Disney shares since childhood and have followed the company closely as a result. Yet when I travel to Los Angeles this month, for the first time in my adult life, I have no intention of visiting Disneyland while in Southern California.

Apart from the fact that I don’t particularly follow “Star Wars,” two related factors explain my ennui — and Disney’s existential dilemmas.

Endless Efforts to Upsell
The company’s most recent shareholder earnings report suggested trouble ahead, as Disneyland attendance actually dropped following Star Wars Land’s opening in California. As the Wall Street Journal noted last week, “The company blames itself … claiming that its own promotion of the park sparked ‘tremendous concern’ about crowds, actually deterring visitors. That may be true from a certain point of view, but higher prices for park tickets and local hotels surely didn’t help either.”

On the latter front, Disney, by its own admission, has become “wary of appearing to gouge customers … and going against founder Walt Disney’s vision of affordable family entertainment.” Despite executives’ concerns, examples of Disney’s attempts to upsell customers abound:
  • The $299 “preview” of a new attraction at Disneyland last year, amounting to a $50-per-hour charge for the six-hour event.
  • The MaxPass option at Disneyland, costing $15 per day. This charge gives the added convenience of making Fastpass reservations for popular rides through a mobile app rather than in person at the attraction itself. (The MaxPass also includes unlimited photo downloads, but many guests, particularly those who live in Southern California and visit the parks regularly, have little use for this feature.)
  • An additional charge for premium parking. This charge eliminated one of the advantages of arriving early in the morning: command of the closest parking spots in Disney’s massive parking lots. Instead, Disneyland guests now pay an extra $15 for that privilege — over and above the existing $25-per-day cost for “regular” parking. (Disney World guests pay $20-25 more per day for premium parking.)
Playground for the Rich
All these options have the same general theme: In a place infamous for its long lines, people willing to pay upcharges can move to the head of the queue. On the one hand, both Disney and guests are engaging in rational economic behavior and maximizing profit, whether monetary (in Disney’s case) or logistical (guests who don’t want to wait in line).

At a certain level, however, Disney will make visits unappealing — through high prices, longer lines for those who cannot afford the upcharges, or a combination of the two — for middle-class families. Because Disneyland in California (as opposed to Disney World in Florida) relies so heavily on Los Angeles-area residents for its guest base, Disney continues to retain somewhat more affordable (or less unaffordable) options for Southern California residents, which grant park access only during less-busy periods.

But for this potential guest, Disney doesn’t seem worth the money and hassle. Seeing Disney’s California parks (Disneyland and California Adventure) would realistically require an outlay of at least $500, including park tickets, parking, meals, and MaxPass for two days. All that to wait in line for a Star Wars Land I care little about seeing? No, thanks.

Lack of Creativity
Star Wars Land also points at another problem facing Disney: its lack of creativity. For all of its founder’s imagination and innovation — the first talking animated short, the first feature-length animated film, the first major theme park, and many more — Disney has rapidly developed a new identity. In the past decade, the company has evolved from a content-generating organization focused on creating new stories to a marketing monolith singularly focused on milking every last dollar out of the brands it already owns, many of which Disney played no part in creating.

Disney’s parks reflect this trend. While the Disney parks have always featured some Disney-themed rides — Dumbo the Flying Elephant among the most noteworthy — some of the most iconic rides at Disneyland, from the Matterhorn Bobsleds to the Haunted Mansion to Pirates of the Caribbean, had nothing to do with Disney films. (The latter two eventually became Disney movies, but well after the rides were developed.) But over the past decade, Disney has largely developed theme park attractions based on its existing film properties:
  • Cars Land at California Adventure, an area opened in 2012 based on the Pixar film franchise
  • A “Frozen”-themed boat ride at Epcot in Disney World, which in 2016 replaced a previous ride focused on Norwegian culture
  • Pandora: The World of Avatar, which opened at Animal Kingdom in Florida in 2017, based on the James Cameron film franchise
  • Toy Story Land, which debuted at Hollywood Studios in Florida this year, based on another Pixar franchise.
Focusing on Sequels, Remakes, and Marketing

The opening of Star Wars Land therefore represents the continuation of a trend defining the term of current Disney CEO Bob Iger. As Iger has acquired more entertainment companies — Pixar in 2006, Marvel in 2009, Lucasfilm in 2012, and 20th Century Fox earlier this year — he has focused on bringing characters and stories from those platforms under the Disney brand.

The parks’ theming, however, has suffered from these changes. In 2012, Disney officially completed a relaunch of its California Adventure theme park. The company spent more than $1 billion completely renovating its second California park to compensate for a cheaply built and incoherently themed park that scarred the Disney brand.

Yet five years later, the company replaced its Twilight Zone Tower of Terror ride, which perfectly fit the Art Deco motif in the renovated park, with new “Guardians of the Galaxy” theming, because Marvel. Methinks the late Roy E. Disney, nephew of founder Walt, who twice during his lifetime helped oust CEOs of the company that bears his family name, might look askance at the way Iger has attempted to shove its new brands into every corner of the Disney parks.

With the company expanding to include franchises not traditionally associated with the Disney name, and with most of its creative content coming from existing, as opposed to new, brands — another “Star Wars” sequel or remake of an animated classic, anyone? — the company appears at a crossroads. Has a company whose founder said, “We do our best when we work with our own stories,” become, as one movie reviewer recently noted, “creatively bankrupt” and “eating its own tail” by focusing almost exclusively on sequels, remakes, and marketing? Can Disney continue to provide quality and innovative entertainment at affordable prices for families?

In his 14-year tenure as CEO, Iger has vastly expanded the Disney company’s empire. But as the underwhelming launch of Star Wars Land in California indicates, the continual acquisitions may have given the company a case of indigestion, and an identity crisis to boot.
 

1LE McQueen

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
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This is almost exactly how i've felt in the last couple of years. It's nice to see a journalist take the same stance.
 
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HauntedPirate

Premium Member
Great read. Quite a few things in there that perfectly capture what I’ve either said (just better stated) or thought as well. I’ve long thought that the company has been drifting towards creative bankruptcy. And I’ve also noted, possibly in the post in my signature, that organic growth from within is/has been a better long-term strategy than Iger’s growth-by-acquisition approach. Under Iger, Disney is no longer “Disney”, it’s a hodgepodge, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.
 

1LE McQueen

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
Great read. Quite a few things in there that perfectly capture what I’ve either said (just better stated) or thought as well. I’ve long thought that the company has been drifting towards creative bankruptcy. And I’ve also noted, possibly in the post in my signature, that organic growth from within is/has been a better long-term strategy than Iger’s growth-by-acquisition approach. Under Iger, Disney is no longer “Disney”, it’s a hodgepodge, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.
Exactly! I'm scared for the immediate future of the parks. Even more so for the long term.
 

pax_65

Well-Known Member
I remember the first time I stepped onto a Disney park, I felt like I had left the world as I knew it and entered a completely new place. To some extent I still feel that way (Pandora's great theme for example), but other times I feel like I've stepped into a movie theater. Or maybe more accurately, into a giant advertisement for a film.
 

donnylambb

Premium Member
great thread fellow Disney fans. I think there is some truth if you admit it or not. We cant look through the rose colored glasses anymore. We just got back from ten days at the beach club and for the first time my family wants a break from the world. I'm heart broke but its their vacation to. Maybe in 2021 Dad can go back.
 

1LE McQueen

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
I remember the first time I stepped onto a Disney park, I felt like I had left the world as I knew it and entered a completely new place. To some extent I still feel that way (Pandora's great theme for example), but other times I feel like I've stepped into a movie theater. Or maybe more accurately, into a giant advertisement for a film.
THIS, my friend, is my biggest problem with Disney's newest garbage.

HSM is an advertisement for SW
M:BO is an advertisement for Marvel / GOTG
Marvel Land? MARVEL
Pixar Pier? PIXAR
Galaxy's Edge? SW

Some people enjoy one, most, or all of those offerings.. I see through all of them and am disgusted at what the parks are becoming / have become.

So why don't we feel this way about Song's of the South Splash, or Indiana Jones Adventure, or Twilight Zone ToT? Because the IP was a compliment to the story, and the attraction was fairly loosely based on their respective IP. There's also a huge quality difference between the IP Disney classics, and the newer stuff. And lastly, at that time, Disney wasn't AFRAID TO INVEST IN NON-IP RIDES.
 

bryanfze55

Well-Known Member
THIS, my friend, is my biggest problem with Disney's newest garbage.

HSM is an advertisement for SW
M:BO is an advertisement for Marvel / GOTG
Marvel Land? MARVEL
Pixar Pier? PIXAR
Galaxy's Edge? SW

Some people enjoy one, most, or all of those offerings.. I see through all of them and am disgusted at what the parks are becoming / have become.

So why don't we feel this way about Song's of the South Splash, or Indiana Jones Adventure, or Twilight Zone ToT? Because the IP was a compliment to the story, and the attraction was fairly loosely based on their respective IP. There's also a huge quality difference between the IP Disney classics, and the newer stuff. And lastly, at that time, Disney wasn't AFRAID TO INVEST IN NON-IP RIDES.
Why does Universal get a free pass on making all of their rides IP-based and Disney is ridiculed? Because we expect that from Universal, I guess?

For the last decade, I think Disney’s IP in parks craze has largely been a response to Universal’s success with the WWoHP. Plus, I think Iger and Chapek genuinely believe (based on whatever data they’ve compiled) that park-goers want IP-based attractions. We will never see another Expedition Everest for a long time, because Imagineers simply aren’t given the leeway to create something like that. They’re told to create something within the confines of modern Disney IP. I believe that’s where the root of this “creative bankruptcy” lies in the parks.

Not everything is shot to hell, though. I think Disney has managed to build two of their best lands (Pandora and Cars Land) this decade, both lands containing their own respective all-time great theme park ride. So while the value of the Disney experience may have gone down for some depending on their sensitivity to price increases, I think the overall quality is still there.

I think one of the issues with IP overload is that the parks seem to be losing some of their charm. This particularly affects Disneyland and MK. But the truth is, the shine eventually wears off of everything. As Robert Frost wrote - nothing gold can stay.
 

erasure fan1

Well-Known Member
Why does Universal get a free pass on making all of their rides IP-based and Disney is ridiculed? Because we expect that from Universal, I guess?
Yes, they never gave us that expectation because they just don't make them. Disney on the other hand, gave us some of the greatest rides ever made that aren't IP based. So we expect it from Disney. So I think it's more like giving a pass to a taco bell taco, you expect it to be what it is.
 

Shouldigo12

Well-Known Member
Yes, they never gave us that expectation because they just don't make them. Disney on the other hand, gave us some of the greatest rides ever made that aren't IP based. So we expect it from Disney. So I think it's more like giving a pass to a taco bell taco, you expect it to be what it is.
Universal is one of the top competitors of Disney, with many on this board even saying it surpasses the World. It's definitely one of the top theme parks of the country. It's not like comparing fast food to fine dining- they're both in the same category.

Either IP is ok, or it's not. I don't really see the logic of it being good in one park and a sign of a creative lapse in another.
 

erasure fan1

Well-Known Member
Universal is one of the top competitors of Disney, with many on this board even saying it surpasses the World. It's definitely one of the top theme parks of the country. It's not like comparing fast food to fine dining- they're both in the same category.

Either IP is ok, or it's not. I don't really see the logic of it being good in one park and a sign of a creative lapse in another.
My point was not comparing Uni to fast food. It was Uni isn't expected to make IP-less rides. Kind of like Taco bell isn't supposed to make great tacos. In my opinion, Uni has out Disneyed, Disney in many ways. I would actually love to see what they could do with an original concept.
 

bryanfze55

Well-Known Member
My point was not comparing Uni to fast food. It was Uni isn't expected to make IP-less rides. Kind of like Taco bell isn't supposed to make great tacos. In my opinion, Uni has out Disneyed, Disney in many ways. I would actually love to see what they could do with an original concept.
This is what I don’t really get... in general, all Universal builds is IP attractions, usually screen-based ones. Outside of hitting a home run with WWoHP, how exactly are they out-Disneying Disney? Expectations shouldn’t play a role in that equation. Quality is quality, and expectations don’t change the raw quality of something.
 

Animaniac93-98

Well-Known Member
Either IP is ok, or it's not. I don't really see the logic of it being good in one park and a sign of a creative lapse in another.
Universal's ad slogan used to be "ride the movies", their very first tourist attraction was a tram ride through their Hollywood Backlot, years before any formal park was built. Their whole gimmick from day one was simulating scenes from movies and explaining how that was done. The only changes have been the inclusion of movies not made by Universal, such as Harry Potter, and not focusing on the "how to" side.

Disney used to treat attractions as their own creative medium to explore. The golden age of Imagineering from the early 60s to the early 80s saw them consistently take this approach, which was still sometimes continued in WDW until the opening of Expedition Everest. While some non-IP attractions have been built overseas in the past decade (such as Mystic Manor), in the states Disney has completely abandoned this kind of thinking with only minor exceptions like Awesome Planet. In a number of cases these IP rides have been made on the cheap, with the thinking that the brand association would make up for any shortcomings in quality.

Universal's approach to attraction design had a built in shelf life. The soundstage look of the park was intentional. Don't spend a lot on exterior scenery because what's inside will be gone within 10 years. That obvious lack of quality is what set Disney apart. They built beautiful, timeless attractions that lasted for generations and did not chase fads. When Disney blatantly tried to copy Universal with MGM Studios and its cast of current movie and TV characters, the results did not match the attendance of Magic Kingdom and the shows became stale within a few years.

What Harry Potter did was show Universal what the public really responded to; beautiful design. No more beige boxes with a "Harry Potter" marquee. The attraction looked like Old Europe and was far and above anything else at the resort. Universal has responded by committing to a new third park with this level of quality. That represents and improvement for them from their humble beginnings, but the park will still be tied to IP that may date itself over time, or already be past its prime (Fantastic Beasts).

Just like in the mid-80s when MGM Studios was first announced, Disney is now trying to copy Universal. Avatar and Star Wars are so obvious attempts to recreate that Harry Potter magic that even the general public has noticed. Now Disney is being compared to Universal and not always in a positive way like it used to.

We as Disney fans don't want to see WDW become an imitation of Universal. Whether that's the Universal of 1990 or 2010, the WDW parks need something substantial to differentiate the experience or else all Orlando parks are just going to become more or less the same thing with the only difference being the movie the ride is based on (keep in mind now BOTH parks are using IPs not originated in house).

IP is tolerated at Universal because it's been their sole focus from day one and their attraction design approach has improved over time. There are exceptions like Fast and Furious, but that's been the trend for the last decade. We like seeing Universal do better.

Disney has almost completely abandoned their approach of treating attractions as their own creative medium, something WED realized and wanted to pursue once Disneyland was a financial success. Disneyland's use of IP in the beginning was to help compensate for the lack of funds to build quality attractions and some of those (like the 20,000 Leagues set tour) were scrapped before Walt passed away. The E-tickets that made Disney famous like Space Mountain and Haunted Mansion are no longer appreciated by current leadership, even though people still line up for them decades after opening. We want Disney to do better and build better, and not just rely on the crutch of IP to justify everything they do. We became Disney fans because they saw the potential in a blank canvas, not because the parks looked like a version Universal Studios with Disney movies.
 
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