Normal Open: 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, November 28, 2022.
ON THE SHOW TODAY
On the show today: News! Listener questions! And Surveys! Then in our main segment, Jim finishes up the history of when McDonalds proposed a new attraction for Disneyland.
Let’s get started by bringing in the man who always sets two wakeup alarms: one for the person he wants to be, and one for the person he is. It’s Mr. Jim Hill. Jim, how’s it going?
iTunes: Thanks to new subscribers Max Falvey, James Vasquez, Tay Disch, and Adam Fortner, and long-time subscribers Elvin Torres, Jim Burmeister, and Mike DBO 523. Jim, these are the folks now in line to head various Disney Theme Park Divisions such as “The Cabinet of Haunted Mansion Overlay Ideas”, “The Department of How Much Candy Can We Stuff in a Halloween Bag” and “Churro Acquisition, North America”. True story.
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Our friends Jim Martin and Kathy and Shawn Evans sent in screencaps from a Universal Orlando survey asking how familiar you are with various TV and movie franchises, and, interestingly, what you’d do with them. Here’s some of the franchises mentioned:
And then this question about whatever IP you’re familiar with:
Here’s one from Keith:
I just wanted to make a couple corrections to what Jim was saying about Mickey's Kitchen and McDonald's. First he stated that Schaumburg, the location of the second Mickey's Kitchen (in Woodfirld Mall I presume) was NE of Chicago. He meant NW as NE of the city is mostly wet.
Second, he stated that McDonalds was based in Oak Park which, while a suburb of Chicago, is not the home of McDonald's corporate headquarters. He meant to say Oakbrook.
Coincidentally, Woodfield Mall later became home to one of the two (I believe) Doorway to Dreams stores in which Disney sold DVC memberships and had full scale mockups of the rooms built inside the store.
We’re going to take a quick commercial break. When we return, Jim finishes up the story of when McDonald’s proposed a new attraction for Disneyland.
Disney & McDonald’s
Where we left off in our last show … McDonald’s franchisees were upset with upper management of that fast food chain. Disney & McDonald’s had had a falling-out over … Well, a couple of things:
It was this one-punch (i.e., the Mouse seemingly making a move on McDonald’s turf AND franchisees being stuck with all of these “Dick Tracy” Happy Meal toys that no one wanted) which made McDonald’s senior management think “Maybe we don’t want to be promotionally partnered with Disney right now.”
This was a historically bad move. Burger King swooped in when McDonald’s hesitated to renew its deal with Disney. When meant that Burger King got to sell Kids Club Meals that featured toys that were themed to “Beauty & the Beast,” “Aladdin” and “The Lion King.”
Fun fact (This comes from Jim Shull, veteran Imagineer who actually was part of Disney’s later-on collaboration with McDonald’s. That 10 year-long deal we’ll be talking about shortly): Half of McDonald’s business is done thru their drive-thru. And what largely powers Mom’s decision about which fast food restaurant she’ll be driving thru to get dinner is the kids in the back seat. And the kids would typically want to go to the fast food restaurant that – at that moment – had the best toy. I mean, a burger’s a burger … right?
So McDonald’s franchisees are looking on in frustration as their direct rivals – the Burger King chain – are doing enormous business at their drive-thru windows because that fast food chain now has an exclusive on toys tied to Disney’s films & TV shows. McDonald’s franchisees revolt. Tell upper management “Fix this.”
Now continuing our story … So McDonald’s representatives reach out through back channels and try to get some sort of dialogue going at Disney. See if these two corporate giants can find a way to repair their relation.
But – to be honest here – 1994 was kind of a challenging year for The Walt Disney Company. I mean, sure. All of that “Lion King” money was pouring into the Company’s coffers.
But in that same window of time:
I’ve always heard that it was Jane Eisner (Michael’s wife) who actually got Katzenberg fired. Jane was reportedly furious that Jeffrey was putting unnecessary pressure on her husband while Michael was still recovering from quadruple bypass. And Eisner … Well, he’s one of these guys – like myself & Len – who lives by the old adage “Happy wife? Happy life.” So Michael cut Jeffrey loose in all due speed.
However, some two months later (on October 12, 1994), Steven Spielberg, David Geffen & Jeffrey Katzenberg announce that they’re forming DreamWorks Pictures. With this company’s initial mission being to take on The Walt Disney Company.
Side note: I remember talking with a senior VP at Warner Bros. around this same time, just as DreamWorks was getting up out of the ground. And his take on this whole situation – which had Katzenberg forming a brand-new entertainment conglomerate just to go after his old boss at Disney – was “ … revenge is never a good business plan.”
Anyway … Long story short: There’s a lot going on at Disney in the mid-1990s. And here’s McDonald’s – in the late Fall of 1994 / early Winter of 1995 – trying to get Mouse House managers’ attention / re-open negotiations. But here’s The Walt Disney Company crowing to Wall Street in March of 1995 that – because “Lion King” toys sold so well the previous year – Mickey can now extract even higher royalty fees from manufacturers who want to make & sell “Pocahontas” merchandise.
Meanwhile the franchisees are still getting killed at the drive-thru – at least when it comes to Happy Meal sales – because they can’t offer McDonald’s customers Disney-themed toys and Burger King can. So there’s this constant drumbeat of “Fix our relationship with Disney” that’s hammering on McDonald’s management that’s coming from franchisees. “Do whatever you have to wrestle those rights away from Burger King.”
Which is why – in 1995 – McDonald’s reaches out to The Walt Disney Company and then offers the Mouse a deal that this corporation just can’t refuse.
It’s a 10-year-long multi-divisional, multi-national arrangement. Where – every year for a decade – all McDonald’s restaurants in North America will then promote 12 different Disney-related properties annually. We’re talking animated films, live-action features, TV shows, video releases, even the Company’s theme parks.
Think about that, Len. There are only 12 months in a year. And what with McDonald’s promising to use its Happy Meals to promote 12 different Disney-related properties every single year for a decade … There’s just no room left for McDonald’s to promote any other studio’s movies or TV shows.
Not all that surprising to note here … As soon as Disney’s promotional arrangement with Burger King fell by the wayside, DreamWorks swooped in and cut a deal with that fast food chain.
Back to Disney & McDonald’s here … What really sealed the deal here was that the McDonald’s Corporation offered to sponsor Dinoland, U.S.A. at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (which was slated to open in less than three years time at the WDW Resort. April 22, 1998 to be exact).
Mind you, there were certain terms & conditions that McDonald’s set that Disney had to agree to prior to signing this decade-long deal. First and foremost was that Disney needed to abandon its “Mickey’s Kitchen” fast food franchise idea. Mickey D didn’t want the Mouse horning in on its turf.
Dumb move on McDonald’s part. Disney had already decided – all on its own – to get out of the fast food business. It had already closed its two prototype “Mickey’s Kitchen” restaurants some three years earlier in the Spring of 1992.
McDonald’s also wanted the rights to build some stand-alone McDonald’s on Disney property as well as offer popular McDonald’s food items like Chicken McNuggets or Big Macs at select Disney restaurants.
What was interesting about this is … Well, as Disney & McDonald’s lawyers are hashing out this deal, Michael Eisner (at his wife Jane’s insistence) is asking that the quick service restaurants at the Disney Parks now begin offering more heart-healthy fare. Things like turkey burgers, salads, veggie dogs, non-fat yogurt, spaghetti with meatless sauce & fruit plates. Left hand isn’t really paying attention to what the right hand is doing.
Deal finally gets hashed out and is formally announced on May 23, 1996. Effective as of January 1997, Disney & McDonald’s are now joined at the hip (at least from a promotional point-of-view). The downside is … Disney Feature Animation is now on something of a cold streak. It’s no longer regularly churning out huge hits like “The Lion King” & “Aladdin.” It’s now making full-length animated features like “Hunchback of Notre Dame” & “Hercules” that are having trouble connecting with moviegoers.
Luckily Disney’s also got the rights to release Pixar films like “Toy Story” & “Monsters, Inc.” And given how popular those animated features are with McDonald’s customers … Well, they picked up the slack.
Want to talk about some of the restaurants that McDonald’s then built on property. Take – for example – the one that was built at Downtown Disney which opened
The Downtown Disney McDonald’s Restaurant opened in December of 1997 and quickly became one of Top Five restaurants in this fast food chain in regards to foot traffic & in the top 1 percent in the world in sales volume.
A similarly popular McDonald’s – with the exterior of this structure festooned with Happy Meal characters – opened on West Buena Vista Drive in 1998 just outside of the security gate for Disney’s All-Star Resort. And Guests staying at that value resort drove this particular McDonald’s also to record sales.
That same year, Restaurantosaurus opened at Disney’s Animal Kingdom which had Chicken McNuggets & McDonald’s French Fries on its menu.
On the West Coast, Conestoga Fries opens at Disneyland Park back in November 1998. Set up along Big Thunder Trail, this fast food cart was deliberately designed to look like one of the wagons Guests used to be able to ride in as they experienced “Nature’s Wonderland.”
Disneyland’s Conestoga Fries proved to be so popular that the Magic Kingdom got a variation of this fry cart in 1999. This busted-down Conestoga Wagon was positioned on the walkway between Caribbean Plaza & Frontierland and did land office business. Selling fries & fountain drinks to all the Guests who came marching down that hill as they headed to Big Thunder & Splash Mountain.
Fairfax Fries – which opened as part of the Sunset Ranch Market at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in 2001 – did equally impressive business with all of the folks who were walking down Sunset Boulevard looking to experience Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and/or Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster.
That same year, at the Disneyland Resort, Burger Invasion – a fast food joint that had been set up at the edge of Paradise Pier in Disney’s California Adventure Park – began selling McDonald’s Big Macs along with Chicken McNuggets & Fries. And over in Disneyland Park, the Harbor Gallery also began selling McDonald’s Fries & fountain drinks.
This seemed like a pretty lucrative arrangement for all parties involved. So why did Disney opt to renew this cross-promotional deal with McDonald’s before it then ran out in January of 2007? From what I’ve been told, Disney execs had become concerned with childhood obesity rates in North America (especially all of the talk about what American’s over-reliance on fast food had to do with this rapidly rising childhood obesity rates). The thinking – at that time, anyway – is that it might be a smart move on Disney’s part to put a little distance between itself and the McDonald’s corporation.
This is why – in 2006 – Disney announced that it would be changing the menus at its U.S. theme parks and deliberately begin offering Guests food items that had reduced calories, fats, and sugar. The company’s PR team (at this same time) stated that the Disney Parks would make a concerted effort to offer healthier alternatives / cut back on the fried foods and sodas it was serving to its customers.
Which – as you might guess – didn’t make McDonald’s feel all that welcome in Disney’s magic kingdom. Again, this deal runs out in early 2007. Which you’d think would be the end of it. But -- very quietly in the 15 years since this ambitious 10 year alliance lapsed -- Disney & McDonald’s have gotten back together and started once again doing Happy Meal promotions together.
Just in the past year, this fast food chain has helped promote the following Disney-produced films or IPs:
Admittedly, that’s not the 12 Disney films that McDonald’s was promoting per year back in 1997. But it is six Disney-produced movies & TV shows.
As for the McDonald’s stuff in the Parks … Most of those operations were phased out in 2008 after Disney’s cross promotional deal with that fast food giant lapsed.
That super-sized McDonald’s in Downtown Disney (which also went by the name of “Ronald’s Fun House”)? That was officially closed in the late 2000s and eventually became a dual fast food venue, serving Pollo Campero and Fresh A-Peel.
That McDonald’s right outside of the security gate at Disney’s All-Star is still there. It closed back on October 30, 2019 and underwent an amazing reinvention. It re-opened in July of the following year as the first McDonald’s on the planet to generate enough renewable energy on-site to cover 100% of its energy needs on a net annual basis.
That news kind of got lost in the shuffle during the pandemic. But this McDonald’s is definitely worth visiting during your next WDW vacation just to check out its innovative design.
It’s nice to see that McDonald’s is still trying out new things on Disney property. AND you can still get your Fries & McNuggets there.
That’s going to do it for the show today. You can help support our show and JimHillMedia by subscribing over at DisneyDish.Bandcamp.Com, where you’ll find exclusive shows never before heard on iTunes.
ON NEXT WEEK’S SHOW: It’s the 121st anniversary of Walt Disney’s birthday, and we’ll be talking about all the ways Disney has celebrated this event over the years.
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iTunes Show: We’re produced fabulously by Aaron Adams, who’ll be showing this year’s cultivars of Climbing Mademoiselle Cécile Brünner and Mister Lincoln roses, at the 2023 Orangeburg Festival of Roses, May 6-7, 2023, at the Edisto Memorial Gardens in beautiful, downtown Orangeburg, South Carolina.
While Aaron’s doing that, please go on to iTunes and rate our show and tell us what you’d like to hear next. And for each week in November, we’ll be giving away a free Disney Dish t-shirt to one lucky iTunes reviewer drawn at random.
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For Jim, this is Len, we’ll see you on the next show.