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Disney Dish Ep 291 2020-10-12_Show
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Intro: Welcome back to another edition of the Disney Dish podcast with Jim Hill. It’s me, Len Testa, and this is our show for the week of Shmursday, October 12, 2020.  Happy Thanksgiving, Canada!

ON THE SHOW TODAY

On the show today: Listener questions! Surveys! And in our main segment, Jim finishes up the history of Disney princesses in the parks.

JIM INTRO

Let’s get started by bringing in the man whose mail-in voting ballot was addressed to Chanandler Bong. It’s Mr. Jim Hill. Jim, how’s it going?

SUBSCRIBERS

Let’s do a shout-out to subscribers over at DisneyDish.Bandcamp.com.  

 Thanks to new subscribers SBanders, P Coleman, and Kelley W, and long-time subscribers Janet P, DH, and Douglas I.  Jim, these folks are the mechanics employed in Hondo’s shop that you walk through on your way to board the Millennium Falcon, in the Smuggler’s run attraction. You might wonder how people from Earth learned to work on the Falcon’s lightspeed-capable hyperdrive engine, but Kelley says most of it is from a ‘65 Pontiac Catalina, which everyone knows how to fix. True story.

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Listener Emails

Jayson We talked last week about a lack of female leads in Disney rides.  Jayson wrote in to say that there’s a number of rides that focus on female characters: The Little Mermaid Rides, Snow White, Alice in Wonderland.  I’d point out that in many of those rides, they’re not the narrator in the way that, say, the ghost host is at Haunted Mansion; they’re not the lead character in their own stories.  We need a ride that’s hosted by a woman who tells her own story.

Nicholas adds to this:

After Disney acquired Fox, there was no small amount of discussion

online about Anya from Anastasia being added to the princess family.

She basically checks the boxes, and the animation of the original film

was very much in the Disney style, even of the music was not.  Then

again, the movie was not a big money maker for anyone, even if it did

spawn a very nice Broadway show 20 years later .

Jim’s response:

This is still an ongoing discussion. "Anastasia" is complicated for a variety of reasons. Chief among these being that this 1997 Fox Animation release was directed by Don Bluth, and there are still a number of Disney old timers who still hate Don for what he did back in September of 1979 (i.e., walking out the door with a third of the Studio's animation staff so that he could then set up his own animation studio that would directly compete with Disney).

That said, Don was on the Lot earlier this year (before COVID-19). Supposedly as part of a larger discussion to someday officially bring him back into the Disney fold (The guy worked at Disney for 20 years after all. Starting wth "Sleeping Beauty" and then exiting while "Fox and the Hound" was still in production). As I understand it, as sort of a good will gesture to the people at Fox, there was some talk of making Bluth a Disney Legend. And -- as that was being done -- to then fold "Anastasia" in with the Disney princesses.

But then Don (who was largely retired at that point. The guy's 83 after all) threw a monkey wrench into the proceeding by setting Don Bluth Studios last month. Which is reportedly dedicated to reviving hand-drawn animation. Disney was willing to welcome back a guy who was basically out of the business, not someone that -- through his proposed "Bluth Fables" series -- will once again be in direct competition with Disney.

Like I said earlier, it's complicated. But sure. We could talk about this on our next show as we wrap the Disney princess thing.

And speaking of Haunted Mansion, there’s a new book out called “Boundless Realms” by our friend Foxx Nolte, who writes over at http://passport2dreams.blogspot.com/.  I’m about halfway through it, and it’s fabulous. Foxx used to work at the Magic Kingdom’s Haunted Mansion, and provides an amazing amount of detail on the design and inner-workings of the ride.

One of the great things about the book is that it starts off by saying it’s not going to cover the history of it that we all know - that Walt wanted a haunted house, how the Imagineers approached it, and so on, because that’s already covered in other books, and Disney has effectively woven that stuff into the canon we all know.

One of the great things Foxx does early on is try to identify the specific architecture style for the Haunted Mansion, as well as where it would live in the United States.  For example, I always thought it was neo-Gothic and somewhere in the Hudson River Valley, because that ties in to colonial America.  But Foxx argues that if you look at the surrounding context of Liberty Square, the Haunted Mansion has to live by the sea.  I won’t spoil the details - you should buy the book and read it - but it’s enough to convince me that Foxx is right.

Another great insight in the book is to explain how the moving candlelight effect works in the Mansion.  If you’ve never seen this - and amazingly, I’ve never noticed it - a light appears to move throughout the Mansion, from room to room, on a regular basis.  I’m going to stay late in the park one night and show this to literally everyone.

The third thing I like about the book is that Foxx goes through archival footage of Disney Imagineers talking about how they designed the mansion, and Foxx identifies the specific books that Disney used as design inspiration.  And that’s really, really important, because (1) Disney doesn’t do that sort of thing; and (2) it helps us better establish the context of the ride’s design and show that the Imagineers are really, really serious about place-making.  

Anyway, the book is fabulous, it’s called Boundless Realms, it’s by Foxx Nolte, and you can pick it up on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle.  

Surveys

Devin sent in a Universal Survey that asks about how Universal’s recent discounted ticket offer affected the timing and length of his stay:

Universal’s survey also asked why Devin was planning to go to Walt Disney World:

Shannon sent in this DVC survey that Disney had sent out to people who bought points at Saratoga Springs. And the interesting thing about this survey is that it asks why you didn’t want to buy at the Riviera:

Shannon also said: “What I noticed is that they don’t ask about the high point charts for the Riviera. Many, like me, think that is just as much a factor as the resale restrictions. It’s expensive points-wise to stay there. We loved our stay, but we splurged for 2 nights and we were in a standard studio. Anything more than that it’s just too many points.”

Susan sent in a multi-part survey that had some interesting questions.  One of them is “Are you a grandparent”, which I don’t recall seeing on any recent surveys.

Susan also got a survey question that asked whether recent changes to park operations affected her trip:

Jim, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I’m pretty sure I know the kinds of responses Disney’s going to get here.  Do you think they’re just looking at the magnitude of the responses?

Commercial Break

When we come back, Jim finishes up the discussion of the Disney princesses.

Main Topic:

Final Disney Princess story

RECAP:

September 2011 -- New Fantasyland for WDW’s Magic Kingdom announced at that year’s D23 Expo. Will more than double the size of the most popular land in Disney’s most popular theme park in Central Florida (jumping from 10 acres to 21 acres).

November 2011 -- Bob Iger announces Jay Rasulo (the then-Head of Disney Parks & Resorts) and Tom Staggs (the then-Chief Financial Officer of The Walt Disney Company) will be switching roles. As Iger tries to decide who he will pick as his No. 2.

January 2012 -- As site prep begins at WDW’s Magic Kingdom, Tom Staggs -- the father of three sons --begins expressing his concerns about New Fantasyland. How it may be too little-girl-centric to really appeal to the bulk of the Guests who visit The Walt Disney World Resort.

The Imagineers’ response was … We’ve already begun clearing the construction site for that massive show building which will eventually house the Cinderella / Sleeping Beauty meet-n-greets. There’s no time now to design something different. Something new.

STORY STARTS:

Tom Staggs’ response to WDI was … “Well, show me something old then. Something Disney Princess-related that you guys designed but never got built. That way, we can maybe hit the ground running when it comes to a replacement to that Cinderella / Sleeping Beauty meet-n-greet.

Because -- as far as Staggs was concerned -- New Fantasyland just had too much of that same thing. As the Imagineers had originally designed this expansion of WDW’s Magic Kingdom, there was:

  • “Enchanted Tales with Belle” -- a meet-n-greet with an interactive element
  • A Cinderella-themed meet-n-greet that also had an interactive element
  • And a Sleeping Beauty-themed meet-n-greet which also had an interactive element

As far as Tom was concerned, this was like building a brand-new ice parlor and then just serving three different kinds of vanilla. When it came to New Fantasyland, Staggs wanted the Imagineers to vary the menu. Find a way to fold a ride or an attraction into this expansion of the Magic Kingdom that would then appeal to the whole family. Not just little girls.

And -- as it turned out -- as the Imagineers went through their files, trying to find something Disney Princess-related to show their new boss, they came across the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Which was an idea that had originally been pitched to the Oriental Land Company back in the late 1970s as WED was working on Tokyo Disneyland.

The thinking back then was that Tokyo Disneyland needed an attraction like “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” or “Casey Junior Circus Train” or “The Storybook Land Canal Boats.” Something of size that could be build towards the back of Fantasyland that would then add a lot of energy & kinetics to this land.

By then, WDI had already built Space Mountain & Big Thunder Mountain stateside. So they knew how popular a family-friendly coaster would potentially be with Guests at Tokyo Disneyland.

Plus -- if they built the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in Fantasyland at Tokyo Disneyland … Well, that then potentially freed up space in Fantasyland that would have been used for “Snow White’s Scary Adventures” for a different dark ride. One that the Imagineers had designed around Disney’s 1940 animated feature, “Pinocchio.”

Side Note: “Pinocchio’s Daring Journey” had originally been designed in the mid-1970s for Disneyland Park in Anaheim. It was one of three rides that were supposed to have been built for Dumbo’s Circusland. Which was to have been built right across from “it’s a small world” where the Fantasyland Theater is now located / where Videopolis was once located.

When the “Dumbo’s Circusland” project was cancelled, the Imagineers didn’t waste all of the effort (not to mention money) that they’d already poured into the design & creation of this “Pinocchio” -themed dark ride. Which is why WED then shoehorned “Pinocchio’s Daring Journey” into Tokyo Disneyland (which opened on April 15, 1983) and into New Fantasyland at Disneyland Park in Anaheim (which opened just six weeks later on May 25th of that same year).

The only problem was that executives at the Oriental Land Company didn’t want new & innovative. They wanted tried & true. Which is why -- when Tokyo Disneyland opened to the public back in April of 1983 -- this theme park was loaded up with all sorts of clones of rides, shows & attractions that had been previously built for Disneyland Park in California & WDW’s Magic Kingdom Park in Florida. It wasn’t until the Tokyo DisneySea project (which didn’t open ‘til September of 2001, more than 18 years later) ‘til Oriental Land Company executives embraced the idea of doing something new.

As for “Pinocchio’s Daring Journey,” the only reason that Oriental Land Co. execs eventually agreed to let this then-brand-new dark ride be an opening day attraction at Tokyo Disneyland was because “Pinocchio’s Daring Journey” was already in the works for the New Fantasyland project (which was being developed for Disneyland Park in Anaheim in the late 1970s). So the way that the Imagineers convinced Oriental Land Co. execs to greenlight a version of “Pinocchio’s Daring Journey” for Tokyo Disneyland was to say “ … Look, we’re already building one of these dark rides for Disneyland in California. And if we were to build a second set of ride vehicles, sets & props at the exact same time as we were building the Californian version of ‘Pinocchio’s Daring Journey,’ there’d be a considerable cost saving to you.”

So this was kind of the theme park equivalent of the My Pillow deal. That we’ll throw in an additional dark ride at no extra cost to you if you just agree to pay an additional fee for its shipping & handling.

Anyway … Whenever Disney would propose building a new theme park around the globe (i.e., Paris, Hong Kong, Shanghai), the plans for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train would once again get pulled out & dusted off. But because this proposed attraction was tied to Disney’s very first full-length animated feature (which was originally went into wide release back in February of 1938) and the Studio had released so many other hit films since then … The usual response was “Well, that’s nice. But do you have something based on a hit film that was released in the past few decades?”

Side note: Proposed “Seven Dwarfs Mine Train” project took on a new urgency after Hong Kong Disneyland opened in September of 2005. Guests wouldn’t read safety warnings / got on Space Mountain without realizing it was an enclosed roller coaster. Terrified older visitors.

Open coasters going forward. Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars at HKDL in July of 2012. TRON Lightcycle Power Run & Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Shanghai Disneyland in June of 2016.

But as far as Staggs was concerned, as soon as he was told about the concept for “Seven Dwarfs Mine Train,” he immediately knew that this would be the attraction that would solve New Fantasyland’s too-many-interactive-meet-n-greets problem. This family-friendly coaster would immediately appeal to the whole family, not just little girls. Plus -- what with all of the mine cars that would regularly come whizzing through this part of the Park -- this thrill ride would then added a lot of kinetics & energy to New Fantasyland.

So -- as quickly as he could -- Staggs pulled the plug on the Cinderella / Sleeping Beauty interactive meet-n-greet project and had the Imagineers then adjust their original plans for the “Seven Dwarfs Mine Train” attraction so that thrill ride could then somehow fit in the very center of New Fantasyland.

And the beauty part was … Because WDW’s Magic Kingdom didn’t really need two attractions that were based on an animated feature which had first premiered back in December of 1937 … Well, than then meant that Staggs was now free to shut down Florida’s version of “Snow White’s Scary Adventure” and then set up a different sort of meet-n-greet as part of the New Fantasyland project.

You have to remember that Disney’s “The Princess & the Frog” had opened in theaters back in November of 2009. More to the point, that both Disneyland Park in California & WDW’s Magic Kingdom had presented “Tiana’s Showboat Jubilee.” This live show had debuted in Florida on October 26th of that year and then out in Anaheim on November 6th.

Disney’s “Princess and the Frog” opened in theaters on November 25, 2009. “Tiana’s Showboat Jubilee” (which was actually more popular than the animated film that this live in-park show was based on) only ran at Disneyland Park & WDW’s Magic Kingdom ‘til January 3, 2010.

“Tiana’s Showboat Jubilee” only ran for six weeks because it was Walt Disney Animation Studios -- rather than the Parks themselves -- that was covering this live show’s production costs. And as soon as it got past New Year’s Day 2010 (which is when the kids would then start heading back to school. Which meant that ticket sales for Disney’s “Princess & the Frog” would fall through the floor starting on January 2nd), it just made no sense -- from the studio end of things -- to continue to fund the cost of presenting “Tiana’s Showboat Jubilee” at the Parks. Which is why they then shuttered that live show on January 6, 2010.

But Tom Staggs knew -- from having read Guest surveys from Disneyland Park in California & from WDW’s Magic Kingdom in Florida -- that Disney’s first-ever African-American Princess was hugely popular with theme park visitors (even if the “Princess & the Frog” film hadn’t actually delivered on the Studio’s initial expectations for this animated feature). Which is why Tom wanted to provide Tiana with a home of sort at WDW’s Magic Kingdom as quickly as possible.

Which is when the Imagineers came up with the concept for Princess Fairytale Hall. Which would be this flex space in New Fantasyland at WDW’s Magic Kingdom that could then serve as home to multiple Disney Princesses.

See, that was the thing about Tom Staggs. In his previous job at The Walt Disney Company (i.e., Chief Financial Officer), Staggs had been allowed to peek over the horizon. He had seen that Disney had not just one but three Princess movies in the works.

  • “Tangled” -- which would arrive in theaters on November 24, 2010
  • Pixar’s “Brave” -- which would open in theaters on June 22, 2012
  • And “Frozen” -- which would arrive in theaters on November 27, 2013

As far as Staggs was concerned, it was far more important for Disney Parks & Resorts to properly set the stage for the upcoming arrival of Rapunzel, Merida, Anna & Elsa than it was for New Fantasyland to find yet another way to celebrate Cinderella & Princess Aurora.

Besides, these two Disney Princesses already had rather sizeable tributes to them. Aurora had Sleeping Beauty Castle in California. Whereas Cinderella had Cinderella Castle, which was not only in WDW’s Magic Kingdom but also found in Tokyo Disneyland.

So this is why Tom Staggs totally upended Jay Rasulo’s original plans for New Fantasyland at WDW’s Magic Kingdom. Which -- let’s remember -- had been heavily influenced by all of the market research that Andrew Mooney & his team had done when they were initially getting the Company’s Disney Princess franchise up out of the ground.

WDI’s revised plans for New Fantasyland at WDW’s Magic Kingdom were revealed on January 18, 2011. Which was just one year since Tom Staggs had expressed his initial reservations about what Jay Rasulo had ordered to be built.

Mind you, construction never stopped on New Fantasyland while all this design work was going on in 2010. The Imagineers just focused their efforts of the periphery of the project -- working on “Enchanted Tales with Belle,” the “Be Our Guest” restaurant, and “Under the Sea -- Journey of the Little Mermaid” -- while the site where that massive show building which was to house that Cinderella / Sleeping Beauty meet-n-greet (at the very center of the New Fantasyland project) was curiously quiet.

How did Andrew Mooney feel when Staggs’ plans for the new version of New Fantasyland were announced? To be honest, Andrew was ready to move on from the Mouse House at that point. He officially announced his resignation from Disney in September of 2011. In June of 2015, Mooney -- who is an avid collector of electric guitars -- landed his dream job. Which was CEO of the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation.

Back to New Fantasyland … Because Tom Staggs had made such a huge course correction mid-strem, new Fantasyland now had to open in two phases. Phase One -- which mostly consisted of those periphery projects I previously described -- had its grand opening on December 12, 2012.

WDW’s version of “Snow White’s Scary Adventures” closed some six months prior to the opening of Phase One of New Fantasyland to then allow for construction of Princess Fairytale Hall. This Magic Kingdom dark ride - which had been an open day attraction at that theme park -- would finally close on May 31, 2012.

Makes me wonder whatever became of Ben, that autistic teen who loved “Snow White’s Scary Adventures” and -- before this WDW attraction closed -- officially rode this dark ride 3500 times.

Princess Fairytale Hall officially opened on September 18, 2013. Just in time for the most popular Princesses Walt Disney Animation Studios ever created, Anna & Elsa from “Frozen” (which opened in theaters just two months later).

But before Princess Fairytale opened, we saw perhaps the most unusual aspect of the New Fantasyland project open on March 14, 2013. And that was the Tangled Toilets, just across the way from “it’s a small world” and “Peter Pan Flight.” Though -- if you asked WDW’s Ops Team -- they’d tell you that the most important part of this Disney Princess-related project wasn’t those “Tangled” -themed bathrooms. But -- rather -- being able to reconfigure stroller parking for this part of the Magic Kingdom.

Phase Two of New Fantasyland at WDW’s Magic Kingdom was completed just 8 months later with the May 28, 2014 opening of the “Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.”

There are other aspects of the Disney Princesses in the Parks to tell. But given that this is Part Four of a story that I originally told Len that I’d be able to tell in just two installments, I think we’d better stop there for now.

BCX:

Wrap-Up

LEN: That’s going to do it for the Disney Dish today.  Please head on over to DisneyDish.Bandcamp.Com where you’ll find exclusive shows never before heard on iTunes, including new in-park audio and that special series on the Disneyland circus.

LEN: That’s going to do it for this Bandcamp-Exclusive Disney Dish show.  Thanks very much for subscribing, folks.

On next week’s regular show: We have an actual person who knows what they’re talking about: Bethanee Bemis, a museum specialist in Washington, DC, who’s talking to us about Disney Theme Parks and the American narrative.  

Week after that: Wonders of Life pavilion.

BCX: Circus Fantasy

You can find more of Jim at JimHillMedia.com, and more of me at TouringPlans.com.

Random state generator: https://www.springhole.net/writing_roleplaying_randomators/random-us-state.htm

Producer Credits

We’re produced fabulously by Aaron Adams, who’s creating the “holiday selfie” backgrounds for this year’s Suburban Indy Home & Outdoor LIving Show, October 16-18 at the Grand Parks Event Center in beautiful, downtown Westfield, Indiana.

While Aaron’s doing that, please go on to iTunes and rate our show and tell us what you’d like to hear next.

For Jim, this is Len, we’ll see you on the next show.