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OPINION: On the eve of D23 Expo 2017, Disney theme park fans must learn to accept change

in Disney, Disneyland, Disneyland Resort, Theme Parks

As we approach the D23 Expo 2017, I wanted to write about something that’s been on my mind a lot lately. As a lifelong Disney fan and a member of the theme park news community for the past two years, I’ve noticed that the only constant in this industry is change.

Actually, I take that back. There are actually two constants: change – and people complaining about change.

The Disneyland that opened in 1955 would be almost wholly unrecognizable to guests today. Other than Main Street USA and Sleeping Beauty Castle, you’d be hard-pressed to find an area in the park that hasn’t been completely overhauled during the ensuing sixty-two years. In fact, many attractions now considered time-honored classics (Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain) didn’t welcome their first guests until the 1960s or 70s.

A problem arises when we, the fans, are unwilling to let things go.

Last year, when Disneyland Resort announced an end to The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney California Adventure, it spurred a fan uproar that rages on and on, despite the fact that this change led directly to the opening of the park’s excellent new Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! attraction.

And just a couple weeks ago, when the park revealed additional upcoming changes to the Pirates of the Caribbean boat ride in an effort to once again eliminate some of the more politically incorrect elements, even I wasn’t hesitant to protest. Why change something that worked for fifty years, something that Walt Disney himself oversaw and approved? You wouldn’t go back and take a scene out of an old movie just because it doesn’t suit today’s social sensibilities.

But what I didn’t consider in that moment is that theme parks are not movies, nor are they paintings or even sculptures. Unlike most other works of art, theme parks are constantly changing and evolving and we in the theme park community have to learn how to accept that. (Don’t worry — I’m talking to myself here as much as anyone else.)

It helps, of course, when said changes are perceived mostly as a good thing. For example, when the Indiana Jones Adventure Outpost shop was removed to add an indoor dining area for the Bengal Barbecue food counter at Disneyland, many fans responded with overwhelming positivity. The move cleared up foot traffic in Adventureland and helped the park breathe a little, an especially welcome adjustment in the hot, crowded summer months.

When the change isn’t a popular one, however, things can get a little contentious. Sure, Disney has been known to make some big mistakes from time to time (see the altered Journey into Imagination at Epcot, Rocket Rods at Disneyland, or Stitch’s Great Escape at Magic Kingdom) but by and large we have to recognize that the company– for the most part– knows what’s best for itself and its parks. And that in the course of time the errors will hopefully iron themselves out.

Look at everything you know and love about the Disney theme parks, and consider where those ideas came from — by and large the same accomplished minds who are coming up with the changes you dread so much. Walt Disney Imagineering, partnered with the larger Disney Parks and Resorts corporate umbrella, has far more successes than failures under its belt. I have to think that by now they know what they’re doing.

Never mind the fact that, as is often quoted during arguments such as these, Walt Disney once famously said “Disneyland will never be complete. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.” Citing that concept is almost a cliché by this point, but it remains true to this day, and it’s important to have endorsement for these evolutionary steps from the man himself.

So as we enter into this D23 Expo weekend, where many more announced alterations to the parks are already either rumored, leaked, or anticipated, let’s keep in mind that while change isn’t always for the best, the best things are always born out of change. That’s as true in life as it is in theme parks. And as a fan, I can’t wait to see what Disney’s Imagineers come up with next.

13 Comments

  1. Fred

    Amen! Thank you so much for this post. 🙂

  2. Sean

    As a cast member we strongly believe in that idea. Sure we have rides we miss but we know our brothers and sisters over at imageineering won’t let us down and for sure they won’t let uncle Walt down.

  3. Ann

    I could accept the changes if they were good… they’re not. They’re not even logical.

    Disney is ruining DCA. Period.

    So it’s not so much about accepting change as it is

  4. Stephen - QLD Australia

    I am all for change, however, please never forget it started with a mouse and friends. I would be devastated if the fab 5 were to become less and less in the world of Disney. Change helps make it fresh, but we do have to be mindful ‘It all started with a mouse’,

  5. DAVID H SCHROEDER

    Double Amen! The world isn’t what it was when we were young. There’s no way that it could be. I want to accept that.

  6. Aaron

    My biggest issues are with the large scale changes. The parks, which used to represent certain themes, are now becoming largely homogenized. In Florida, we used to have one park dedicated to Disney intellectual properties, one themed after science, innovation, and multiculturalism, one that focused on movies and Hollywood, and one based around wildlife and conservation. Now, we’re bringing the IP’s into every park. Epcot is losing it’s educational value because it’s too expensive to keep updating attractions as the world advances, so we add rides based on movies, instead. Hollywood studios is being converted into just a place to showcase Disney IP themed rides and attractions, just like Magic Kingdom, and we’re pushing for more movie attractions in Animal Kingdom, as well. What’s the point of having four parks if they all offer the same basic experience, just with different IPs?

  7. Nathan Eldred

    Whoever is in charge of change over the years, are for the most part short sighted, reactionary, lackluster boneheads. They make many bad decisions, and often the coolest things on the property (I can only specifically speak for my experience at WDW Florida) are the ones that get the axe. Adventurer’s Club, 20k Leagues Under the Sea, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Imagination, Horizons, adding Starbucks, Mainstreet Cinnamon Buns, adding Pandora, etc etc. They do some cool things too, but I don’t know if it’s some out of touch corporate nerd who thinktanks this stuff ($$$ boner), they have the largest built in, bound to be successful imagineering dept, their fan base. You will ultimately

  8. I love Star Wars…I love Avatar…I like some of the Marvel Heroes….But…Disney characters are all I want to see walking around Disneyland…it was Walts original and meant for Classic Disney Film themes and characters….the odd introduction over the years has been fine..Indy fits in well in Adventureland….but everytime lately I see new additions to the parks…its more other company film and characters than Disney’s own…and Disney have lots more films and characters they can call upon. Guess as Im an old geezer now, nostalgia plays more important part in my life. Disneyland though especially, should be kept pure DISNEY…..love Chewbacca…but want to meet Beast, Dopey or Peter Pan when I visit Disneyland 🙂

  9. MrMark

    Change for the sake of change is ok. But change a classic because someone today may be “offended” is not good change.

    The ONLY reason Pirates is being “updated” is to keep some snowflake from getting their feelings hurt.

    What’s next? Taking the collar off of Goofy? Removing the bow from Minnie Mouse?

  10. Aaron

    Here’s the thing, though. I can’t rely on WDI all the time. The team that made my favorite attractions was the teams at WED and MAPO. I know, you can argue it’s the same thing, as sims of the WED imagineers like Tony Baxter worked WDI years after the changeover. The values and ideas of both versions of that company were night and day. Or at least, the ideas that corporate made them uphold. Two different companies. Two different eras. I can’t always accept that WDI will do their research before changing WED’s original intent. (The constant muddling of Pirates’s storyline is a perfect example of this. Same with IPcot.) I can accept change, but I won’t like it if it’s I’ll-informed, mis-directed change.

  11. Jeremy Perskin

    Socialist and Islamic Change is NOT the change we should accept or look forward to. Disney censoring Princess Jasmine’s costume so as to not offend Muslim men is just one of the many extreme things that Disney is doing to appease the alt-left.

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