When I had the opportunity to visit Walt Disney World in Florida last year, I was incredibly struck by an exhibit called “One Man’s Dream”. It was the origin story of Walt, his dream, and how that dream came to life. Walt didn’t invent amusement parks, but he changed the game with one key ingredient: magic. That invisible but omnipresent something in every Disney park comes from so many sources…characters, impeccable storytelling, obsessive attention to detail, and attractions that invite you to participate in far away worlds. And with last year’s 60th anniversary celebrations at Disneyland, we were all reminded of how much the park has grown and reinvented itself, all while holding onto that special something that keeps us Disney fans obsessed.
If the 60th anniversary was a year of nostalgia for Disneyland, this year is the year of change. It’s time for Disneyland to start a new era, the next 60 years of growing and upgrading and entertaining new generations of fans. Change is necessary, and change can be a great thing. But sometimes it’s not. For the first time, I will admit to being worried about the Happiest Place on Earth.
Disney recently announced budget cuts for several parks, Disneyland included. This means fewer cast members, closed restaurants and attractions, and entertainment reductions. These reductions were implemented at Disneyland just weeks after yet another round of price increases for admission. Hollywood Land in California Adventure has closed its entire rear section, and half of the land is currently empty space. It’s an eye sore.
At the end of the day, Disneyland is a business. I get that. But I also know that it doesn’t feel good to be paying more to wait in longer lines to see fewer things. There’s nothing magical about that. People pay a premium because of the little things that add up to be a big thing, and cutting those little things chips away at the magic.
I also worry about Disneyland closing attractions in favor of in-park commercials. The show in A Bug’s Land goes dark constantly to show extended trailers of new Disney movies, and the smaller theaters in Hollywood Land and Tomorrowland do the same thing. The latest rumor is that the Tower of Terror will be re-themed with the Guardians of the Galaxy. The Tower is the focal point of a land supposedly set in old Hollywood. There are ways to integrate a franchise into the park without diminishing a land’s theme. Look at how Indiana Jones joined Adventureland, or Star Wars joined Tomorrowland. Disneyland has always mastered cross-promotion, but the beauty lies in the subtlety of it.
Walt has been gone for 50 years. That’s a very long time. We can’t ask him what he thinks, and we can’t possibly guess. But I can’t help think about what Tomorrowland was like in the 50’s – a string of attractions that were pure advertising – and how much Walt hated it. Of course he wanted to celebrate his movies and his characters, but Disneyland was meant to tell stories. It gets harder and harder to do that when you replace performers and parades with movie screens. When that happens, Disneyland isn’t a one-of-a-kind experience anymore.
My love for Disneyland hasn’t changed, and neither has my plan to be a Disneyland blogger and annual pass holder. But it’s disingenuous to pretend I think it has no flaws. The point of this blog is to share my experiences, and this is part of my experience. You can love something and worry a little too. That’s ok. That’s real.
There are so many fantastic things on the horizon for the Disneyland Resort. Star Wars Land is going to be just an incredible place: state-of-the-art, exciting, and fresh. Hollywood Land now has the space to build something really great, even a mini land within a land (maybe Downtown Monstropolis?). I genuinely believe that Disneyland will continue to be a magical place, and that it will survive this awkward transition period. But I also believe that Disneyland is currently at a critical moment. The health of magic in Disneyland will directly impact the health of its fan base. The magic is what keeps me blogging. It’s what keeps millions and millions of visitors walking through the park gates every year. It’s what keeps Walt’s dream alive.
I hope that this year of change will only serve to strengthen the magic. I believe it can. I choose to believe it will. I choose to believe in the mouse.