Disneyland has lost its context

It’s been a while since I’ve been to Disneyland. Last time was a company picnic last year. One thing I noticed was that the attractions no longer have any context. The “Swiss Family Treehouse”? How long has it been since Swiss Family Robinson was released? Do kids even know the story? I think it’s called “Tarzan’s Treehouse” now. Same thing, different name. Tarzan? I used to watch Ron Ely as Tarzan when I was little. Sure Herr Maus released an animated feature, but it’s not the same.

While I’m in the jungle, what about the “Jungle Boat Ride”? For those who don’t know, it was sort-of based on The African Queen. At least the boats were. When I was a kid the “guides” would pretend it was all real. The intent was to draw the riders into the fantasy. Now the guides are wannabe stand-up comedians. Fantasy? Forget it. These guys are too hip to believe in the “magic” that Walt Disney believed in.

“Rivers of America” reflects Disney’s Huckleberry Finn. Do the kids know?

“Pirates of the Caribbean” had always been my favourite ride. Nothing like a good pirate movie! But there are no pirate movies. Not any more. How is a child supposed to relate to pirates if they’ve never seen any, Peter Pan notwhithstanding? When was the last time you saw Treasure Island? The ride itself is in need of repair. The sounds of the gunshots are out of synch or simply missing. Instead of a “bang”, there is only tyhe hiss of the smoke coming out of the barrels. The battle between the fortress and the pirate ship takes place in a large room. But there is usually so much fog that the tourists can barely see what’s happening.

Tomorrowland! This is the way the world will be… tomorrow! Well, tomorrow ain’t what it used to be. Remember the “People Mover”? This was supposed to be a model for urban transportation. Good idea! When I was a kid I could imagine a city where people would travel between buidings in those little trains. The “Monorail”? Yes! Fast trains raised above the road surface. No more waiting at crossings for people who still drove “cars”. None of those archaic iron tracks. The Monorail was the Transportation of the Future! “Journey Through Innerspace” (brought to you by Monsanto!) was fun and educational. Tomorrowland was Walt’s vision of the future., which was to be a cleaner, faster, people-friendly place. So what is it now? Sciencefictionland. Forget about social engineering. Forget about improving our cities. Let’s pretend we’re in “Star Wars”.

Frontierland. When was the last time you watched Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett on teevee? For that matter, when was the last time you saw a good western? Do your kids know what a “western” is? I may as well bring up the Steam Train ride around the park. Last time I was there it was still passing through the Age of the Dinosaurs, wher the dinosaurs were being killed by volcanic forces. They didn’t know about the Collision Theory when the ride was built. But you think it could have been updated sometime in the last couple of decades.

Disneyland used to be a place where the imagination could flourish, aided by the movies the Disney Studios were turning out. There was a direct connection between the rides at the park and the movies. Treasure Island and Davy Crockett. Huckleberry Finn and Swiss Family Robinson. The rides at the park used to have counterparts in these films. People knew what the rides were about. Context! There is a whole set of experiences adults have that are not shared with their children. These experiences made Disneyland special. The “Indiana Jones” ride is familiar to most kids, I think. The movies are not that old (but close!). How long until it loses its context? How long until “Indy” becomes a faded memory of someone’s parent instead of being a portal to the fantasy of Great Adventures?

Would that Walt were still alive!

Anyway, that’s My Humble Opinion, and you’re welcome to it.

The problem, Johnny L.A., is that you are old school. You see, Disneyland is slowly updating Disneyland with modern attractions. But the problem is, the Imagineers are up against Disney purists who are hostile toward any change at all.

On some level, I think that’s why they built Disney’s California Adventure. They needed a modern them park over there to keep people coming to Anaheim. And I suppose they’ll start aggressively re-working Disneyland now that the crowds are over there at DCA.

My $.02

I think rastahomie is right about part of the problem being people hostile to change. I went to Walt Disney World last summer, for the first time since I was about 10 years old. I was furious that Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was gone. I wanted to see the train that comes right at you that scared me so bad all those years ago! I wanted to laugh at the Carousel of Progress! I wanted to see Figment the Dragon at Epcot! What’s this Lion King crap doing here? As far as I know, there are a lot of people who feel the same way.

slight hijack-
did anyone notice how the pirates in Pirates of the Carribean don’t chase after the women anymore? The women chase after the pirates with rolling pins and brooms now.

I don’t think I’m hostile to change at Disneyland. Maybe I’m concerned about the lack of change? No, I think it’s that the attractions at Disneyland used to use themes from movies. There seems to be a lot more difference nowadays between “family movies” and other fare. It seems that the movies made up until the mid-1960s were suitable for just about everybody. Swiss Family Robinson had adventure for the kids and romance for the adults. I think Raiders of the Lost Ark was similar. Good for Disney for putting in the ride! Indeed, I think that “The Haunted Mansion” should be changed. We don’t see The Canterville Ghost much on teevee any more, but there are still ghost stories out there that can be used to update Disney’s classic ride.

Should they change “Pirates of the Caribbean”? Not necessarily. I think Disney should make another rollicking pirate movie. Maybe another (good) version of Treasure Island. Just to put things in context. I do think that “Pirates” could be spruced up quite a bit though.

So my gripe is not necessarily with the rides. It’s that Disney is not making movies to give them context.

IIRC, the pirates still chase the women. But now the women are carrying food, and the pirates are supposed to be chasing them for that. The scene as it was originally was meant as a joke. There were several pirates chasing pretty women, and the last one was a fat woman chasing after the pirate. The fat woman is still chasing the pirate, but now it’s because he’s trying to abscond with her food.

I was pretty upset about Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride myself. But I read the Mr. Toad books. (I’ve also read Swiss Family Robinson) Only the fact that they replaced it with a ride that lets me bounce with Tigger saved them from my wrath.

And we won’t go into my horror about losing Figment. I loved Figment. I was mollified by the Buzz Lightyear ride.

But I can see the point of needing context that kids can identify with.

IIRC At DisneyLAND the pirates chase the women and at DisneyWORLD the women chase the pirates.

What I like about Disney is the blend of change and tradition. I mean it is exciting when a grown-up can turn into a kid again. I was at the park with a woman who IMO was not in touch with her inner child. Her favorite book as a kid was The Swiss Family Robinson and when we hit the tree house it was like she was 7. She knew exactly what everything was in every room of the house.

The river boat is still cool I just think that when you were a kid you bought the acting of the captain more.

I do agree that Tomorrow Land is turning into Sci-Fi land but Alien Encounter is cool.

My biggest loss at DisneyLand are the 20,000 Leagues under the sea ride and Mr. Toad.


Actually, from following the Disney die-hards on the web (a good site is http://www.mouseplanet.com/), I get the impression that problem isn’t that they’re opposed to change, but that current Disneyland management is too damn cheap to spend enough money to do any upgrades right.

The revamped Tommorowland was supposed to be “Tommorland 2050,” for instance, but got reworked into a Jules Verne-wanna be to save money. Ditto the Swiss Family treehouse. Attractions like the Jungle Cruise and the Tiki Room are falling apart at the seams, but nobody cares. Even the new California Adventure (which is proving to be a major dud so far) was done completely on the cheap – most of the rides are repainted versions of third-party amusement park staples, and they’d rather stick in a winery and a hotel than offer more attractions for young children.

Don’t blame the traditionalists; blame the penny-pinching managers.

I would like to point out that I did not spam you all by posting the link to MousePlanet. Though now that someone not affiliated with the site has posted it, I feel compelled to second the recommendation.

Johnny L.A. is correct. With the last major rehab (the current rehab is minor) the scene with the pirate chasing the girl in circles was changed so that the girl is now carrying a plate of food.

But Johnny, your memory may be playing tricks with you, the Riverboat schtick has been part of the ride since the very beginning.

As for change in the park, people who don’t follow it closely are always amazed when shown just how much and how continuously the park has been changing over the years. Always battling both the traditionalist who want it to forever be as Walt left it and those people who want something more like Knott’s or Magic Mountain and those people who view anything less than the coolest thing on the Imagineers’ drafting tables to be a complete sell-out by Eisner.

Just for the record, though, there are no crowds at Disney’s California Adventure. There haven’t been since the preview events BEFORE the park opened. I expect that will slowly turn around (I don’t think Disney did enough advanced advertising to get the out-of-town traffic they were expecting) and it will eventually be considered a success. Just like Disneyland Paris.

But if you want my $.02 review of the new park: Two fabulous rides, decent overpriced restaurants and worth nowhere near another $43 dollars for admission.