How Much Change Is Too Much at Disney Parks
They’re changing the theming on WHAT?
They modified some of the scenes WHERE??
I nearly wrote this article a couple of years ago when Disney introduced a new auction scene for Pirates of the Caribbean.
Last year, I thought about it again when Disney announced an entirely different theme for Splash Mountain.
Now, I’ve decided to have the conversation in the wake of the impending changes to Jungle Cruise.
So, how much change is too much at Disney theme parks? Let’s discuss.
Establishing Walt Disney’s Beliefs
Something that bothers me about Walt Disney comes down to perception. Many people think of Disney as a showman and a creator, an illustrator who utilized technology at just the right time.
Right when Hollywood expanded its boundaries and needed more content than ever, Uncle Walt appeared with a Lucky Rabbit and then a Mouse and a Duck. And another Mouse and Duck.
Mickey Mouse and the rest of the Sensational Six turned into staples of animation pre-movie entertainment in theaters. These shorts set the mood for movie-goers before they watched the feature.
After a few years, Disney wanted more and created Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first feature-length animated movie.
Once Disney conquered the movie industry, he eyed television, an expanding medium with massive potential.
After Uncle Walt did all that, he still hungered for more. He desired a destination for families to spend the day harmoniously and happily. Yes, that one is Disneyland, the best family vacation ever.
I’ve just listed four different business ventures Disney attempted. Also, I casually added Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, the first attempt at Mickey Mouse.
The illustrator lost the licensing rights to his own creation there and had to start all over again.
Walt Disney demonstrated a tremendous amount of success, perseverance, and drive in his career. And he never displayed a willingness to rest on his laurels.
Even during his final year on Earth, he plotted EPCOT, an entire futuristic family community.
The driving force behind Disney theme parks always looks forward, never backward.
He even said of his first feature film: “A picture is a thing that once you wrap it up and turn it over to Technicolor, you’re through. Snow White is a dead issue with me.”
Evaluating Walt Disney’s Vision for the Future
The misperception about Uncle Walt centers on his skill set. People overlook what a masterful businessperson he was.
Walt Disney learned a harsh lesson during the early 1920s. Creators who don’t own their own content may be casually brushed aside once they’ve outlived their purpose.
After losing Oswald, Disney and his brother, Roy, started from scratch in building what we now know as The Walt Disney Company.
The siblings invented Mickey and Minnie Mouse plus Donald and Daisy Duck as part of a business strategy. With their own established intellectual properties, they possessed a guaranteed revenue stream.
Then, the Disney brothers utilized fairy tales and fables, stories already in the public domain, as a basis for feature films.
Once Disney movies had earned a place in fans’ hearts, Disneyland retold those stories from a different perspective.
Every step of the way, the Disneys employed remarkably savvy business strategies, ones that would establish a baseline for future success.
In truth, Walt Disney thought about the future often. He experienced that early setback in his career. Later, he faced financial struggles in making Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and building Disneyland.
For this reason, Disney always cast an eye toward the bottom line, understandably worried about potential budget issues.
After Disneyland opened, he famously overheard a conversation between a mother and son about a ride, which was fittingly Jungle Cruise.
The boy asked whether they could ride it, but the mother firmly stated no. From her perspective, they’d already ridden it on a previous visit.
At the time, Disneyland still sold individual ride tickets. The parent didn’t want to spend money on a repeat experience.
From that moment on, the entrepreneur cast a more critical eye toward his theme park and its sedentary practices.
How Imagineers Honor That Vision
“The park means a lot to me in that it’s something that will never be finished. Something that I can keep developing, keep plussing and adding to—it’s alive. It will be a live, breathing thing that will need changes.”
Walt Disney lived by this edict. He would famously tell Imagineers and other cast members that they should plus various aspects of attractions.
In fact, one of Uncle Walt’s most recognizable park quotes is:
“I wanted something live, something that could grow, something I could keep plussing with ideas, you see? The park is that.
Not only can I add things, but even the trees will keep growing; the thing will get more beautiful every year.
And as I find what the public likes—and when a picture’s finished, and I put it out—I find out what they like, or they don’t like, and I have to apply that to some other thing; I can’t change that picture, so that’s why I wanted that park.”
From these comments, Walt Disney’s opinion is clear. He’s pro-tinkering. He couldn’t stand the finite nature of movies and television shows. They ended, and once they were done, he couldn’t plus them.
The Disney employees in charge of Uncle Walt’s legacy face the same challenge today. Some Disneyland attractions might as well be permanent. Imagineers may never remove them.
Snow White’s Scary Adventures was there on opening day in 1955. It’ll be there after we’re all dead.
However, Imagineers are currently plussing this ride as we speak. For whatever reason, we haven’t noticed a public outcry about this one.
Instead, Disney fans sound quite excited by the proposition of the ride changing to Snow White’s Enchanted Wish.
On that attraction, everyone loves the idea.
But How Much Change Is Too Much?
Here’s the challenge that Imagineers face. We live in a society where some people will complain about anything. And others will complain about the complainers. Frankly, it’s repetitive and exhausting.
We’re all stuck in a vicious cycle, a feedback loop of negativity. With Disney park changes, the problem escalates. Any perceived change to something from our childhood strikes some as ruinous.
Some Disney fans lament that a slave auction is no longer on display at the Happiest Place on Earth.
Others vent that racially dated ride elements will vanish when a ride receives a re-theme to celebrate a beloved Disney Princess.
Now, fans of bad puns fret over removing insensitive caricatures on a boat ride through the jungle.
There’s an Occam’s razor aspect to these discussions and civility in modern society. I’m going to ignore that part, though, as I recognize politics seeps into everything today.
Instead, I circle back to the words that Walt Disney spokes and the actions that he performed.
The individual responsible for all Disney theme parks – and thereby ALL theme parks – understood that change even when it’s against our wishes. The world’s gonna keep on spinning.
As an entrepreneur, Disney refused to allow such changes to disrupt the sustainable business he’d created. He was willing to move forward rather than resting on his laurels.
In fact, Uncle Walt expected that his loyal Imagineers would follow his lead, even after he was gone.
So, when someone asks me how much change is too much at Disney parks, I always have a simple answer.
Disney parks must change enough to maintain their excellence as the best family vacation ever. It’s what Walt Disney wanted. That’s enough for me.
Feature Image Rights: Disney