Preserving Old Disneyland

“Remember when there were always people, but never a crowd?”

This saying comes from a calendar whose theme revolves around the past.  It also reflects how I feel about Disneyland.

As a kid, I thought Disneyland was crowded. I didn’t realize how wrong I was.   Now when I go there, it is so packed with people that it is difficult to be happy at the so-called happiest place on Earth.

As much as I still like Disneyland today, it doesn’t have the same feel as it used to due to the crowds.  It doesn’t seem to matter how high the admission is, money has no effect on thinning out the masses.  Multiple hour long lines for rides and bumping into people when walking around do not make a visit enjoyable.

This thought has been running through my mind ever since I visited “That’s From Disneyland!” a 20,000 square foot temporary exhibit of Disneyland artifacts housed at the old Sports Authority building in Sherman Oaks which will be auctioned off this weekend.

For those of us who grew up with the park, this time capsule of Classic Disneyland is an emotional trip down memory lane, a reminder of simpler and less congested times.

Richard Kraft, a talent agent representing famous composers, has collected a massive number of items from Disneyland over the past 25 years and is now selling them all.  For $150,000, you can go home with a Dumbo from the Fantasyland ride.

What impressed me most about the exhibit was its scope. Never again will one be able to walk into one building and view vehicles from defunct rides, menus from bygone restaurants, posters of rides old and new whose bright colors stir anticipation, as well as artist conceptions of attractions never realized.  There are even some animatronic robots including Jose the parrot from the Enchanted Tiki Room and singing children from It’s a Small World.

When I was a child, my family did not have the wherewithal to take elaborate summer vacations so the one big trip each year was going to Disneyland.   We knew we had to make the most out of that one day, arriving at 8:00 a.m. and staying until midnight.  Back then, we were able to get on most of the rides, an impossible task today.

I was allowed to get one souvenir and each year I chose the same one, a large foldout map of Disneyland, which was continuously being updated with areas labeled “future attractions.”   Some of those places such as “Liberty Square” off of Main Street never materialized.  How strange to see some of these maps framed and mounted on display for sale.

It would be hard to believe that anyone else has as immense a collection as Kraft does.  This makes visiting the exhibit bittersweet because once the auction is over with, all these items will be disbursed to who knows how many people.

Funny how Walt built Disneyland as an idealized facsimile of America at the turn of the 20th century, and now his creation has become an idealized version of mid-20th century America.

What a shame that the Disney company can’t or won’t swoop in like Dumbo and buy the entire Kraft collection.  Keep it there in that building, and with the help of the creative folks at WED, re-imagine the displays like a Smithsonian museum, preserving it for future generations to learn the history of the one park Walt Disney supervised and visited.  Include videotaped testimonies of surviving workers and artists who were there from the beginning as well.

With lines outside waiting to get into this exhibit, it is surprising that the marketing marvels at Disney don’t realize the financial potential that could made from such an endeavor, or can’t see how this would continue the legacy of its founder in preserving the past.



Making Pirates of the Caribbean Ride PC or Ruining Walt Disney’s Legacy

If you haven’t heard, Pirates of the Caribbean, the last ride Walt Disney himself personally supervised, is going to be changed for 2018.

The ride has previously been altered.  Pirates no longer chase women (it’s food they really crave), and Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow appears a few times to help take us out of the original ride’s storyline.

Now, it’s about to be butchered, further desecrating the legacy of Walt Disney.

The famous “take a wench for a bride” auction scene will be replaced with “surrender yer loot” where wealthy people stand in line to give up their possessions.  The famous redhead will transform into a pirate.

For those who feel that too much emotion is placed on preserving a ride, not a national monument by far, remember this.

Pirates of the Caribbean was “the final attraction which Walt saw basically to its completion . . . the pinnacle of his theme park career . . . perfect on every level,” according to what Disneyland expert David Koenig said in a documentary on the ride, often referred to as the “greatest theme park attraction ever made.”

That is why preserving it exactly as it was originally intended is so critical.   If Disneyland were a museum, this would be its Mona Lisa.

The auction scene in particular tickled Disney’s fancy.  In a 1965 episode of “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color,” he narrates a scale model of the ride, referencing this scene:  “here their shipmates are auctioning off the town’s beauties.”

The auctioneer pirate, which was the most sophisticated audio-animatronic built by Disney Imagineers at that point, was the only fully-dressed and operating pirate that Walt saw in a mock-up at the WED warehouse in Glendale shortly before he died.

Disney was pushed through on a dolly as if it were one of the boats to see the progress of the ride.  As mentioned in David Oneal’s documentary, “this test run-through of the auction scene would be Walt Disney’s last time working on any Disney theme park attraction.”

It would be curious to find out if Disney has had endless guest complaints about this scene or if just a few company officials were bothered by it.

Let’s face it, there is more scandalous female objectification in a Carl’s, Jr. commercial.

If you are going to ruin the ride, you might as well go all the way and drain all of the offensive material; in other words, the best parts.

Too many drunk pirates are seen in the ride.  Replace all bottles with baguettes.

The pirate who tries to have a cat drink rum can instead offer some Meow Mix.

The jailed pirates trying to get a dog to give them the keys so they can escape say “grab his ears” and “hit him with a soup bone.”  Delete these lines before the SPCA claims animal cruelty.

Change the signage on all the rum barrels to read “root beer,” then sell Pirate Root Beer in the gift shops and restaurants.

Do away with the burning of the town.  Turn it into a 4th of July firework spectacular (another thing that can be used by the marketing department).

And the dunking of the town magistrate is an act of water torture.  Replace him with the executive who approved this idea.

Of all the amusement parks, Disneyland is the only one supervised by Walt Disney.  That is why it needs to be protected more than any other park.

What I don’t get is how come a made-up fantasy of pirates’ lives holding an auction of women in an amusement park ride (emphasis on “amuse”) is viewed so inappropriately, yet no one seems to complain of billboards advertising cartoon excrement in “The Emoji Movie,” an upcoming PG-13 movie geared towards children?

It’s a small (minded) world, after all.


Disneyland: The Costliest Place on Earth

Many families cherish the memories of taking their children to Disneyland for the first time.   I just experienced what in all likelihood will be my last.

This week my wife and I treated our youngest son to an overnight trip at the Disneyland Hotel. A stay in a small 364 sq. ft. room is $595 with tax. This luxurious cost should be reserved for four-star hotel in Midtown Manhattan.

But I was just warming up my credit card.

This month Disney introduced tier pricing, three different prices contingent on attendance figures. Instead of the old $99 any day price, now Disneyland charges $95 for “value” days, $105 for “regular” days, and $119 for “peak” days.

The rationale is that by charging more during busier periods, fewer people will go, thus lessening the crowds.

So far it’s not working.

Just our luck we happened to go on a “peak” day paying 20 percent more than if we had visited a couple of days earlier.   And the whole area from Downtown Disney to lines for rides and food was clogged with people.

A family of four will have to budget a one-day trip to the Magic Kingdom on a peak day as it were a three-day excursion elsewhere.

First, just to walk through the gates is $476. Each meal with drink costs around $20 meaning for four people, one meal is $80; multiplied by three, the total food tab soars to $240. Add $80 for souvenirs and snacks and $18 for parking and the whole day at Disneyland costs a family of four $814.

That nearly matches the gross median weekly earnings of an American, “$825 in the fourth quarter of 2015” as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And with the ubiquitous crowds, lines lasting up to two hours for a ride, it is doubtful that they will get to experience one-quarter of the 58 attractions.

I would not mind paying an extra $20 if the Disney company would guarantee fewer people. But they do not.

The “you get what you pay for” adage does not apply here. Except for the rides, nothing at Disneyland is of high quality.

The souvenirs ranks slightly higher than those found at a carnival midway, and the food whether bought at a stand or a sit-down restaurant is the same caliber—average—at an exorbitant price.

It’s like buying Target-like clothes at Nordstrom’s prices among Black Friday-level crowds.

It is not just the $4.25 for a churro that ruins the experience; it is the line of 10 people waiting to buy one.

There is only one way to improve the Disneyland experience and that is to limit the number of people coming into the park.   Only on rare occasions does Disney do this when attendance reaches around 65,000 people.

Here’s a marketing suggestion: limit capacity to 30,000 but charge $300. I bet there would not be a shortage of people going for that promotion. Of course, by limiting attendance you are also limiting sales in food and souvenirs.

When my brother worked for Disney, he revealed an internal acronym widely circulated: GTG—Gouge the Guest.

According to Disney, its theme park division earned $2.2 billion in profits in 2013.

Ultimately, my son had a wonderful time. But at $1,200 for this 24-hour excursion (that’s $50 an hour), I’ve had my last “yo-ho-yo-ho.”

Disneyland employees are trained to tell customers, “Have a magical day!” Magic has its price.