Thursday, September 29, 2011

Disney Parks: DAK getting an added land...

If the blog reports are true (I've read it in several locations now, including FutureProbe and Voyages Extraordinaires), Disney's Animal Kingdom is adding a whole other land, to be based on the movie Avatar. Reactions appear to be mixed.

The most common objection seems to be that Disney is not trusting enough in its own properties and its Imagineers to come up with something interesting enough to base an entire land on. Instead, they are "copying" off Universal and licensing a franchise to create content for their park. I suppose there is something to this. Not so much the properties part, because, well, what does Disney have as far as film that would fit with an entire land in the Animal Kingdom? I'm not sure; perhaps someone has some ideas. I understand the objection, but I don't know what the content that they already own that they're supposed to use is.

The second part is that the Imagineers could come up with something more engrossing than Avatar. This is a stronger objection, in my view. The Imagineers have proven themselves over and over again. Could they, on their own, have come up with a Beastly Kingdom conceptual overlay, for example, that would work better than Avatar? It's likely they could.

It does seem that Robert Iger likes acquiring properties rather than developing them, so the licensing of Pandora fits in with his modus operandi. Then there's cost. I'd guess that, since this story and theme have been pretty well developed for the film, perhaps it is somewhat cheaper to turn it into a land. Perhaps it's even significantly cheaper. I don't know. But it does take out the beginning stages of development, with all the failed ideas and directions, and sets the Imagineers firmly on their path. And there is no reason that they cannot shine in what they finally conceptualize and develop for the theme park land.

In the end, I don't care. This development addresses some significant problems that Disney has. They need something more at this park, and they need something to add capacity to the parks at the resort, on a whole. A while back I posted an entry wishing for a fifth gate, and in the comments it was suggested that they can't (or won't) maintain what's already there, and that what they really need is to turn DAK and DHS into something closer to a full day park.

This development may just do that for Disney's Animal Kingdom.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Low Season?

I was thinking about the possibility of going back to Disney, probably sometime after the new Fantasyland opens in the Magic Kingdom, and the major negative of a Disney visit are the crowds. Elbowing your way through a crowded concourse in the heat is not that much fun, and waiting in line for as much as an hour or 75 minutes to get on a ride is not the highest, best use of my limited vacation hours in my opinion. If I was someone who had an annual pass and lived close, I might not mind the waits as much; I wouldn't mind experiencing the queues at, say, Toy Story Mania, or Big Thunder Mountain or the Jungle Cruise, or Everest or Mission:Space or Test Track. All good queues, by all accounts. But not the way I want to spend my handful of vacationing hours.

Is there a "low season' anymore at Disney World? I've been to the park at the end of September, a couple times in the middle of October, once over Thanksgiving (last year), once in the middle of January around MLK Day, and once in early June. There were two days I remember light crowds: Thanksgiving Day, and the day after Hurricane Jean struck in 2004 (I think it was). Every other time we've been there, it's been uncomfortably crowded at all the parks.

It was similarly crowded at Universal's Islands of Adventure last November, and it is always very crowded at Six Flags Great America during their limited summer months. The only park I've been to where it really wasn't crowded at all was Michigan's Adventure, on opening weekend of the last two years (Memorial Day weekend). (Later in the summer, when we visited Michigan's Adventure once in the middle of August, it was extremely crowded.) I will suggest that Disney's California Adventure over Easter Break was not as crowded as Disneyland or as any Magic Kingdom park, though it wasn't exactly what I'd call "empty" either, on our two visits to it.

Crowds are not fun. If I want to play in a mosh pit, I'll go to a punk rock concert! I want a modicum of personal space. I want to see a clear path ahead of me not jammed by people from the left of the concourse to the right, all wanting to get to the same somewheres. For me, it's the major negative about a Disney experience. I would hope they can figure out a way to make it less of a negative at some point...


Friday, September 16, 2011

The Opening Sequence...

Sam Gennaway at Samland (too lazy to put this link in, sorry) had a post that caught my interest a short time ago, titled The Magic Kingdom: A Grand Entrance> In it he talks about the approach to the Magic Kingdom from the guest's perspective, and the way that Walt Disney and the Imagineers wanted to control the experience. Sam also talks about the "storyboarding" of the event, as many of the Imagineers came from a film background. So it was no surprise that the experience has parallels to the opening sequences from a film.

I never really thought about the approach to the Magic Kingdom, or to any Disney park, from this exact perspective, but I think it can apply to every park. Think about an opening montage of a film, then compare it to the "framed" view from, say, the monorail coming up on Epcot. You get your wide shot, narrowing in focus as we approach the park, the Sphere getting larger and larger, until finally it disappears out of the shot as we loop around FutureWorld, and again the wide shot shows the American Adventure in the distance, teasing us with the view for a few seconds until we loop back around and exit the monorail. The Sphere looms now, and as we pass through the entryway we have a still shot of the icon. As we walk toward it, it gets larger and larger, until we are in its shadow, and now we're part of the story.

It works for Animal Kingdom, too, as you drive in. You see the huge Tree of Life in the distance (the wide opening shot) then it disappears behind the foliage as you approach the gates. Finally you (the camera) are passing through the lush jungle, animals on either side of you, exploring a bit along the way, until you burst into the clearing, and there it is, a closer "wide" shot, now looking absolutely huge. And you are into the story.

I don't know film terminology, I am not from a film background. Yet I love watching movies, and I find this comparison to be almost inspiring. It's a whole other way of experiencing the park as I approach it.

Filmmakers build excitement and suspense, setting up the entire story through the use of their opening montages; Disney Imagineers do much the same thing. I'm looking forward to visiting in the future, to consider my approaches to the parks in these terms. I'm also going to think about this as I continue to armchair imagineer my own parks...

Thanks, Sam, for a Disney enthusiasm boost.