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 26, 2020.  

ON THE SHOW TODAY

On the show today: News! Listener questions! And I go on a rant about California!  And in our main segment, Jim tells us about the history of the Wonders of Life pavilion.

JIM INTRO

Let’s get started by bringing in the man who says you should keep people close and love them for what they are on the inside: which is a bunch of spare organs that you might need someday. 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 SpiritImagineer, Kevin R, and TubbyDaddy, and long-time subscribers Dan S, Christopher S, and Justin H .  Jim, these are the folks who came up with the first three themes of sports, music, and movies for Disney’s All-Star Resorts.  Other ideas they considered were All-Star Cooking and All-Star Television but apparently a giant fiberglass rutabaga and Joanie and Chachi frightened both children and adults, so those ideas were never used. True story.

News

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News

News

All-Star Movies set to reopen February 9, 2021 - announced along with a Disney hotel discount.

ASMo is another 1,920 rooms.  Coronado Springs just re-opened, that’s 2,400 rooms, and Art of Animation opens this coming Sunday, that’s another 2,000 (suites and regular rooms), or around 6,300 rooms total.

Jim, the obvious question is where in the parks you’re going to put another 6,000 families.  

My friend Matthew pointed out that Disney was testing last week, late after the parks closed, a data feed for virtual queues for Jungle Cruise and Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run.

(from WDWMagic) Ride testing has begun at Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure

California issues re-opening guidelines for theme parks

  • CA Guidelines for businesses have four tiers for determining which kinds of businesses are open:
  1. Widespread (purple) - More than 7 cases per 100K residents
  2. Substantial (red) - 4-7 new cases per 100K residents
  3. Moderate (orange) - 1 to 3.9 cases per 100K
  4. Minimal (yellow) - fewer than 1 case per 100K residents, or in CA
  • CA put Disney’s and Universal’s theme park reopenings in the yellow category.
  • CA has around 39.5 million people, They’re currently over 700 cases per day, in the Widespread category, so Disneyland can’t re-open until California gets under 395 new cases per day.
  • Here’s the first part of problem as I see it:
  • That’s not going to happen in 2020. It’s unlikely to happen in 2021. Here’s why:
  • We’ve achieved herd immunity from smallpox through near-universal vaccinations, and the vaccine is something like 95% effective.  But we’ve had decades to refine the efficacy of that vaccine, and we haven’t with COVID.
  • A COVID vaccine efficacy of 70% - which hasn’t been determined yet, but that seems like a reasonable estimate - is going to require between 75% and 100% of the population to take it, along with other safety precautions like social distancing.
  • The manufacturer, distribution, and administration of that many vaccines is going to take well into the second half of 2021.  
  • AND THAT ASSUMES that everyone in California is willing to take the vaccine, when we’ve seen surveys that say something like 30% of American’s won’t.
  • So it’s unlikely that this metric is going to be met until late 2021 or beyond, as far as I can tell. And it may not be met for much longer, depending on a bunch
  • Which is fine.  I’m a Progressive - or as my friend Phil says, a wacky-ass liberal - and I believe California leads this country forward in any number of social and economic good things.  California Uber Alles.  I get that the safety of its citizens is at the top of California’s highest priorities.
  • However, California hasn’t explained how the workers and business owners who’re affected by this are supposed to use for money for the next eighteen months.  
  • CA’s unemployment provides up to 70% of worker pay through the end of 2020.  But not many working families can afford a long-term pay cut of 30%.
  • California has a balanced budget requirement, and there’s a clause that allows deficit spending in cases of fiscal emergencies, but I don’t think CA has declared one yet.  That might help.

Disney shares some blame here.  They had the ability to take care of their employees longer - they have access to funding for that.  They chose to use that funding on, for example, more television shows for Disney+.  

Let's assume that Disney doesn't use its $3B annual dividend (which it suspended, fair enough) or cash on hand, and they don't issue new stock or sell assets, and let's assume they set aside $1B for those 28,000 employees - $36,700 for a year.

I think they tapped $18.2B in debit in 3 rounds earlier this year [cite] in debt that comes due in 6 to 40 years, at interest rates of 3.35% to 4.7% [cite].

Adding $1B in debt at 4% interest for 30 years would've cost Disney $4.8MM per month, or $57.6MM per year.

Bob Iger got $65MM in compensation in 2018. [cite]

So yeah, to help 28,000 people for a year they would've had to expend slightly less money per year than they paid that one guy.

That does not, in the overall scheme of things, sound like it's a huge risk.

And again, there's no guarantee that "markets" would've viewed this negatively. It would've been a massive positive PR story.

I’ve said stuff like this before, and obviously I don’t expect everyone to agree with me.  But before you write in, let me add a couple of other points:

  1. Some people think that Disney has a “legal obligation” to make as much money as possible for its shareholders.  This isn’t true, and I refer you to the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Hobby Lobby in 2015.
  2. If you think $1B in pure expenses is going to break the company, keep in mind that’s the production cost of around 3 Avengers films.  Or put another way, Disney’s stock price fluctuates by around $5 billion every day, give or take. If the company’s finances are so precariously balanced on knife’s edge that $1B in unexpected costs ruins it, then the company is already doomed.

My point is that we all need to acknowledge that the there are huge gaps at the corporate, state, and federal level in our country, because we have economic crises every 10 to 15 years, and it seems like there’s a bunch of people who work really, really hard, and who just can’t get ahead - or even break even - through no fault of their own.  We’ve had now two generations of kids growing up with these crises, and if the best we can say is “this is how capitalism works in America”, then we shouldn’t be surprised when those kids look for something different.  

Listener Questions

From Devin: We have seen lots of movement in the crowd calendar lately as can be expected with the changes brought on by COVID. Could you speak to how your teams are handling adjusting crowd calendars in a post COVID park world?

From DVCFamily: With so much uncertainty and the long term closing of DL and revenue being limited do you see down the road if this trend continues a selling of Disney hotels or a third party getting involved? And what about the DVC? Can they withstand this storm?

From Hunter: Now that Disney has cut many on-site benefits for resort guests during COVID, which do you think will return in the future, and which do you think we will never see again?

  • Extra Morning/Evening Magic Hours
  • DME luggage delivery/baggage check at the hotels
  • FastPass+
  • And if FastPass+ does return in some form or iteration, will it be a pay-to-play service similar to Universal’s Express Pass?
  • 180 day ADRs, etc.

 

From JoeTV: I wish you guys would give the update on what happened with the void. It’s so sad that it closed.

Surveys

Our friend Chris sent in a DVC survey with this question:

Our pal David sent in this one:

Commercial Break

When we come back, Jim tells us the history of the Wonders of Life pavilion.

Main Topic:

Last monday was the 31st anniversary of the opening of the Wonders of Life pavilion over in EPCOT.  It’s hard to believe, Jim, that it’s been closed almost as long as it was opened, and that an entire generation of children haven’t been able to vomit on Body Wars like my sister and I did growing up.

Wonders of Life

Feature story

Monday, October 19, 2020 … is the 31st anniversary of the opening of The Wonders of Life pavilion at Epcot.

As far as Future World pavilions go, it had a fairly good run -- 17 years & 4 months -- before it then became the Festival Center at that theme park.

  • To contrast, the original World of Motion was open for 13 years & 3 months before the Imagineers reimagined it as “Test Track.”

  • Likewise, Epcot’s Horizons pavilion was open for 15 years & 3 months before that show building was leveled and then turned into “Mission: SPACE “

You have to remember -- though -- that there was a six-year lag between when EPCOT Center officially opened back in October of 1982 and when Wonders of Life finally threw open its doors in October of 1989. And that kind of shocked the Imagineers. When they first proposed that Future World would include a pavilion that would celebrate health care, which focusing on the human body, physical fitness, medicine and nutrition … WDI thought they’d be fighting off HMOs & pharmaceutical companies with a stick when it came to which company would then have the honor of sponsoring this Future World pavilion.

Right from when the EPCOT Future World Theme Center was first officially announced on July 14, 1975, health was supposed to be a major focus of this project. Back then, of course, there were only supposed to be three major Theme Center Pavilions around Communicore. It was inside this trio of massive structures where (I’m quoting from Disney’s 1975 annual report now)

American corporations, industry associations or consortiums, foundations and government will be invited to sponsor major Disney-designed and operated showcase attractions.

As for where EPCOT Center’s health care exhibit would be located … They weren’t to be slotted in the Future World Theme Center’s Science & Technology pavilion. No, that’s where this theme park’s exhibits showcasing advances in energy, transportation, oceanography, space flight & agriculture were supposed to be built. Health Care, on the other hand, would be housed in the Community Pavilion, along with exhibits that celebrated economics & education.

Given that Health Care sounded like almost an after-thought in this iteration of the EPCOT Future World Theme Center … Well, is it really a surprise to learn that -- when Disney approached various corporations about possibly sponsoring an exhibit celebrating Health Care at the Community Pavilion -- there were no takers?

You also have to remember that -- in 1975 -- the United States was also still coming out of the recession that started with the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973. Which was also why a lot of health-related companies said “No” when the Imagineers came calling back then, looking for EPCOT sponsors.

The message that the Imagineers took away from this initial round of would-be sponsors of EPCOT’s Health Care exhibit all saying “No” was that they hadn’t developed a strong enough idea for a show yet.

As 1975 gave way to 1976, EPCOT’s Future World section came a bit more sharply into focus. It was now going to be the part of this theme park where Guests could (quoting from Disney’s 1976 annual report now) could …

experience and learn about the future of energy, health and medicine, oceanography, space, agriculture and nutrition, communications, transportation and other topics.

Please note that -- in this version of Future World’s proposed batting order of importance -- that EPCOT’s health and medicine-based attraction is now No. 2 behind energy. The Imagineers had learned the hard way that -- if they were going to persuade pharmaceutical companies or HMOs to fork over the tens of millions of dollars necessary to build this proposed Future World pavilion, they were then going to need to persuade these “participating companies” that EPCOT’s health and medicine pavilion was going to be one of the most dynamic shows in all of Future World.

But what was going to be in that show? By 1977, the Imagineers had zeroed in on what they thought was a workable concept. It was called the Life & Health Pavilion.

Here’s how this proposed Future World pavilion was described in Disney’s 1977 annual report:

Visitors to the Life & Health Pavilion will experience a new awareness and appreciation of themselves. “The Joy of Living,” a multimedia show, will extol the beauty, the dignity and strength of man from birth to the golden years. “The Incredible Journey Within,” will take Guest to explore the inner workings of the fascinating, complex human machine. Along the “Great Midway of Life,” they’ll participate in a whimsical series of experiences, learning that good health is based, more than anything else, on their own personal responsibility and behavior.

Now what’s intriguing about this description of EPCOT’s Life & Health pavilion is that -- if you take the 30,000 foot view and then squint a little -- the key components of “Wonder of Life” are already there in place.

  • “The Joy of Living” provides a template for Martin Short’s “The Making of Me,” that humorous & touching film about human development & birth.

  • “The Great Midway of Health” actually did get built. This is where -- in the “Wonders of Life” pavilion -- you could explore the Sensory Funhouse, watch the Anacomical Players perform or catch a showing of the “Goofy About Health” multi-media presentation.

  • And “The Incredible Journey Within” is just “Body Wars” at a far slower pace. You were supposed to ride through the human body aboard an oversized blood cell, rather than inside of a miniaturized probe.

So if all of the key components of this proposed Future World pavilion were already in place as of 1977 (five years before EPCOT Center opened), why then did we have to wait ‘til October of 1989 (some seven years after Disney World’s second gate first opened to the public) to get a “Wonders of Life” pavilion?

Part of this multi-year delay was brought about because … Well, when WDI first began working on a “Life & Health” pavilion, to insure that Disney was sharing the most correct, up-to-date info with Guests who were visiting this Future World pavilion, they set up an advisory board.

And -- as Marty Sklar, the then-President of Walt Disney Imagineering, explained in a 1989 interview -- …

in many ways, Epcot’s “Wonders of Life” pavilion was much more controversial than any of the other topics we built Future World pavilions around. Largely because theories about health care and how you manage your own body have changed a lot over the 14 years since we first got started on this project.

When we put together people from related areas together -- medical people, academics, potential sponsors from different kinds of companies, whether it was pharmaceuticals or insurance -- there were sparks. There was real friction.

So it basically took far longer than anyone ever expected for all of the parties involved to then settle on a single overarching message for EPCOT’s “Wonder of Life” pavilion. Which wound up being the relatively safe & bland “Your role in managing your own body and your own health.”

Then there was all of the technical issues that forestalled construction of this Future World pavilion’s marquee attraction, “The Incredible Journey Within.” Again I’m quoting from that 1989 interview with Marty Sklar …

As we were developing this attraction which would then take Guests on a ride through the human body, we immediately came up against what the real limits of technology were at that time.

I mean, it’s one thing to make a concept painting of a red blood cell full of people passing through an oversized lung. And you can then build a model of that scene from a proposed attraction. But then you have to actually figure out how to move these giant set pieces.

That section of lung I just talked about? In the real world of ‘The Incredible Journey Within,’ it would have been huge. 30 feet high. And it would have had to have moved continuously, 18 hours a day, 365 days a year. From an engineering point of view, you can’t even begin to imagine how difficult, ponderous & expensive it was going to be to build this proposed marquee attraction for the “Life & Health” pavilion.

We scared off so many would-be sponsors for this Future World pavilion when we told them about how much it was going to cost to build & then maintain ‘The Incredible Journey Within.’ That’s why this pavilion sat on the shelf for so long. It wasn’t until we hit upon the idea of using the simulator, as a result of the success of ‘Star Wars,’ that this pavilion finally became viable.

Interesting side note here: One of the reasons that “Star Tours” was a success right out of the box was that Guests already knew all about the world of Star Wars as they entered that attraction. There was so much in that show building that Guests could instantly recognize, they felt immediately at ease and could then quickly settled in to the story that was being set-up in the pre-show of this motion-based simulator.

“Body Wars” didn’t have that luxury. The Imagineers had to establish the backstory of Miniaturization Exploration Technologies corporation was, explain to Guests what the mission was that they were about to go on as “MET Observation Team Members,” as well as get all of the necessary pre-ride safety spiels out of the way.

As the Imagineer were nailing down what Miniaturization Exploration Technologies corporation would look and sound like … Well, the thinking here is that the world set up in the pre-show of this Future World attraction (And speaking of the future, Body Wars was indeed set in the future. According to the pre-show film, the Miniaturization Exploration Technologies corporation was founded in 2063. Some 43 years in our future. Anyway … )

Again, the thinking here was that this pre-show space had to give Guests the exact opposite feeling than one you got entering “Alien Encounter.” There, the vibe that X-cess Tech gives off is that your safety -- as a Guest -- is not their top priority. The scientists who work at X-cess Tech are clearly rushing things. Cutting corners. Putting the Guest in jeopardy.

Whereas on “Body Wars,” the vibe that the Imagineers wanted to give when it came to the Miniaturization Exploration Technologies corporation was that these guys were incredibly competent. That -- should anything go wrong while Guests were exploring the inside of the human body -- that the people who worked in that lab would then move Heaven & Earth to save us.

“You know,” said one Imagineer in a meeting with Michael Eisner as they were trying to nail down specific details of the pre-show for “Body Wars.” “Like Star Fleet in the ‘Star Trek’ movies.”

Eisner’s response was “ … I know the perfect guy to direct our pre-show film.”

And that person was Leonard Nimoy. Eisner & Nimoy went way back at that time. You have to remember that, in the mid-1970s, Nimoy had basically turned his back on the character of Spock in “Star Trek.” He had even written an autobiography in 1975 called “I am not Spock.”

But then -- in 1977 -- came “Star Wars.” And suddenly every studio in Hollywood wanted a big budget sci-fi film franchise. Including Paramount Pictures, which Michael Eisner was in charge of at the time.

Now Eisner wanted to make a big screen version of “Star Trek.” But Michael also knew that this movie wouldn’t succeed if Captain James T. Kirk wasn’t reunited with his good friend & loyal Science Officer, Spock. So Eisner sent Jeffrey Katzenberg to New York -- which was where Nimoy, at the time, was appearing in the Broadway production of “Equus.” And Katzenberg then persuaded Nimoy (by piling up a considerable amount of cash) to come back to Hollywood & play Spock in “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.”

That film comes out in December of 1979 and does well enough that Paramount now wants to do a sequel. So Eisner once again goes to Nimoy and says “Will you play Spock in another ‘Star Trek’ movie?” And Leonard’s response is “Yes. But this is the last time. I’ll only agree to come back and play this role one last time if you then agree to kill off Spock.” And Michael’s response to Leonard is “Sure. Whatever you want.”

So Nimoy makes “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” for Paramount. The only thing is -- in comparison to “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (which was a miserable work experience for virtually everyone involved) -- Nimoy has fun making “Wrath of Khan.” And that “Star Trek’s sequel -- when it’s released to theaters in June of 1982 -- is a smash hit and gets great reviews.

So Eisner goes to Nimoy again and says “We want to make another ‘Star Trek’ movie. Is there anyway that we could maybe persuade you to unkill Spock?” And Leonard’s response is “Sure. But only if I get to direct ‘Star Trek III.’ “ And Eisner says “Yes.”

“Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” is released to theaters in June of 1984. It’s virtually the last film Paramount released before Eisner then heads out the door to go run The Walt Disney Company. And Michael is justly proud when “The Search for Spock” is a hit. Because Eisner’s the one who took a chance on letting Nimoy try his hand at directing.

Nimoy then directs “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.” Which is released to theaters in November of 1986 and becomes (at that time, anyway) the top grossing / best reviewed films of the series.

Nimoy is at home when he got a call from Michael Eisner, congratulating him on the success of “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.” Michael also mentioned to Leonard that Disney has just had the director of “Three Men & a Baby” bail on that project. And would Nimoy now like to come direct a non-Star Trek movie for Disney Studios.

Leonard said “Yes.” And five weeks later, he was up in Vancouver directing “Three Men and a Baby.” Which was released to theaters in November of 1987 and then went on to become the top grossing film of that year. It was the first official blockbuster of the Eisner era at The Walt Disney Company, grossing over $167 million worldwide.

This is why -- in 1988 -- as Eisner & the Imagineers were finalizing the pre-show for “Body Wars,’ Michael made a point of bringing Leonard up. At that time, Eisner was still trying to persuade Nimoy to come back to work at Disney and direct “Three Men and a Baby 2.”

Anyway … This is why -- when you were in the queue for “Body Wars” -- things felt very familiar. You had the guy who had directed two very successful “Star Trek” movies making the Miniaturization Exploration Technologies corporation feel as much like Star Fleet as they could.

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.

On next week’s regular show: What Buzz Lightyear and other Disney ride-through target gallery games means for Disneyland’s upcoming Spiderman attraction.

Then: River Country/Reflections

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 doing the ribbon cutting at the grand opening of the Greenbrier Junction Model Railroad at 12 pm on Saturday, November 23rd at the North House Museum, as part of the annual Lewisburg Holiday Festival in beautiful downtown Lewisburg, West Virginia.

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.

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