Catching Up: Fantasyland Refurb

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I don’t get my Disney news like a lot of other fans do. I’m not one to hang out on the Disney websites for very long, as I’m very much into other things besides Disney and I have to bide my time carefully. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very interested in what’s coming up at Disney and with the theme parks in particular. But in the last few years, Disney hasn’t exactly been a land flowing with milk and honey. About the only good news I was getting was hints and suggestions from anonymous insiders that good things were coming. That things were going to get better, and that we just had to hang in a little longer. I have to admit that for a time, with the force fits of characters in every nook and cranny and the random, and meaningless, celebrity apperances in the theme parks, I wasn’t exactly feeling hopeful.

The first good news I got in a long time came when Re-Imagineering posted this Photoshop masterpiece with nothing more than some uplifting West Side Story lyrics beneath it. I have to say, I still get chills when I see it. Never before had the removal of something from EPCOT Center, given me so much joy. Much more recently, these same insiders indicated that the Godforsaken hat was coming down from Golden Age Hollywood Boulevard. More good news for sure, but again, we were talking about removal. And while the Bad Show of both of these monstrosities needed to go, we were still talking about taking stuff away from the parks that shouldn’t have happened to begin with. It remained to be seen if anything new would be the source of something uplifting.

Then I started trying to catch up on my Mousestation podcasts. If you’ve never listed to the Mousestation you should give it a go, as Mike and Mark have taken their networking seriously over the years and have an impressive set of interviews to show for it. A recent discussion on Episode 346 with Steven Ng brought some of the best news I’d heard in a long time. Obviously, I’m pleased with the news about Star Tours II. I wouldn’t be worth my screen name’s sake if I wasn’t. Without a doubt, Star Tours is showing its age, so a revamp is more than welcome. But if you can believe it, I find myself strangely more entranced with the Fantasyland refurbishments in Orlando than most anything else.

On the podcast, Mark says that he doesn’t think they’re gearing anything up for boys, as the changes are mostly drawn from the Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Pixie Hollow and Beauty & the Beast mythos, so they’ll likely spend most of their time over in Adventureland. As much as I admire what Mark and Mike do on the Mousestation podcast, I have to respectfully disagree. Not so much with the point that boys aren’t interested in princesses and fairies, but I think that it’s the wrong way to look at it.

Disneyland didn’t open in 1955 targeting any specific demographic, other than the kid at heart. Disney’s animated films, while heavily themed towards princesses, weren’t targeted to just Disney’s girl audiences, either. If your son is a Disney fan, like you, just how may “Disney Princess” movies has he refused to watch because it was too “girlie”? Does he refuse to pick a favorite if you asked him for that same reason? Children’s gender bias is partly the nature of youth and partly what they’re exposed to in their everyday life. But when you’re talking about “The Happiest Place on Earth”, that dynamic dramatically changes.

After listening to the rundown of the additions to the new Fantasyland, I was taken by one thing. How when distilled to describing this in everyday conversation, you basically wanted to use the word “awesome” a whole lot. Awesome attractions, awesome thematics, awesome show pieces. (And yes, I count restaurants as attractions when their theming is great and nonstandard.) From the rose effect at The Beast’s Castle to the “transformation” of Cinderella before your eyes, at least on paper, it sounds like an incredible spectacle, one worthy of bearing the name Disney and Imagineering. It sounds like they intend to make incredible attractions, base them on existing properties, and then just open the door for people to come see them. Not only that, but it seems like great effort is being made to do something Disney had forgotten how to do. They’re sticking to theme.

They said nothing to specifically indicate that some of these new features were intended just to draw in the girl crowd. Granted, Pixie Hollow is more than likely to draw young girls then most areas, but until we see the entirety of the refurbishments completed, I think we’d be jumping the gun to conclude that’s all we’re looking at here. I don’t fault people for thinking that way, though. We’ve been trained to think it couldn’t be any other way. Disney is partially responsible for that. Over the last few years powerful emphasis has been placed on a little line of merchandise called “Disney Princesses” and some sort of female creature known as a “Tween”. But again, I got the sense that this area of Fantasyland wasn’t designed with them exclusively in mind. It was deigned to be interesting. To everyone. A principle that resulted in a decidedly “girlie” object being the centerpiece for every flagship Disney park. I know for a fact that a boy in Disney will go where it seems interesting, whether it’s Belle, Beauty or Babette, they’re not going to care, as long as the theming captures they’re imagination and the attraction is entertaining. Even Mark, on a previous episode of his podcast, was commenting on a discussion he and his ten-year-old son were having about his son’s favorite effects in Snow White’s Scary Adventure.

I don’t blame anyone for thinking of this in terms of gender, other than previous Disney antics and marketing schemes. But the one thing those were, that this isn’t, or at least doesn’t carry that same vibe, is that those were blatant, pandering attempts at marketing. There’s nothing subtle about a Ariel, Jasmine and Belle in a collection of dolls dressed as pop stars. Nor is there anything subtle about the target demographic of The Disney Channel. But now were dealing mostly with characters from classic Disney features, not because there’s a DVD, or a popular live-action remake, or because Pixar did a better movie again to tie it in to. In fact, this feels very much like a nice mix of, to borrow a trapping from the comic book industry, the Golden, Silver and Modern Ages of Disney animation. For once, it doesn’t feel like pandering, just good business. The kind Walt was famous for.

As with all things, I’ll reserve the final judgment on the finished product. I’m sure some things will be better, worse or simply different than I imagined. But for once in a great long while, I feel very hopeful about Disney. That’s not to say there still isn’t a mile long list of things that are wrong with the place. A lot of damage was done during the previous administration and from what I hear, the old internal politicking still festers in Disney’s ranks. EPCOT’s Future World and both Disney’s Tomorrowlands still languish. EPCOT’s World Showcase runs the risk of becoming the world’s most elaborate Disney Store. There’s still plenty of campaigning against the system to be done. But I have to say, it’s nice to have a sense of what I’d feared we’d lost over the last couple of decades. Its nice to feel that sense of what Walt used to instill in his Guests, even after he had passed away. In short, it’s nice to feel the Magic again. It will be even better to experience it.

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