Reasons to Rejoice

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The following is an article I found in my drafts from years ago and I had apparently forgotten all about posting. I’m thinking it was intended as a submission to the blog I discuss in the article, but I can’t really be sure. I don’t actually remember writing most of this. It’s a really interesting look into what I was thinking at the time when Disney…actually started building new stuff at the parks. I had no idea how big it would actually get. I have 0 idea why I picked Morpheus as the main image, but I’m keeping him…because.

I discovered Re-Imagineering by accident, many years ago. I tried looking for the first comment I ever left here to get an idea of when I started, and the closest estimate I can come to is sometime around 2006. I absorbed the blog. The first, and possibly only time I’d read a website in its entirety.

You see, right around the time of my family’s last trip to Walt Disney World, I had come back feeling very different about The Happiest Place on Earth. Couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I was certain it wasn’t the first time I’d felt it. Simply the first time that feelings were clear enough to acknowledge there was a problem. Reading through the pages of Re-Imagineering, it was amazing how clarified my feelings had become. I’d taken the red pill and suddenly, I understood. The rabbit hole went deep, and Wonderland was burning.

But what people at the time didn’t understand, or necessarily believe, was that all the talk, criticism and indignation wasn’t just another blustery day. But a rallying cry to inevitable change.

Reflections on the Future

We were eating in The Land at EPCOT when it initially hit me. I remember admiring the architecture and finishings, and thinking about how the seating arrangements had vastly improved compared to how crowded the place was when I was kid. I also remember lamenting that Living with the Land was one of the few remaining attractions from classic EPCOT. That The Land in general was one of the few places that had undergone mostly positive refurbishment, rather than utter replacement.

And for the first and only time in my adult life, I seriously considered that my disappointment stemmed from the trappings of getting older. I didn’t really like the new stuff. Not that I hated it, but not like I loved Horizons or World of Motion. There was a connection there that wasn’t being made with me now, and I seriously and sadly wondered if this was the turning point in my life where I would become like every other old guy I’d ever met, and only find joy and satisfaction in nostalgia or ideas that catered to old sensibilities. I’ll tell you this. It was quite possibly the most depressing moment I’ve ever experienced in a Disney theme park.

It also didn’t last very long.

I couldn’t accept that I was just getting older. I’m too much of a proponent of change and often express a loathing for tradition. Not to mention, I was still an utter and complete geek. I hadn’t owned a shirt that didn’t have some kind of superhero/sci-fi logo in (at the time) ten years. I suddenly remembered that my daughter, then 2-years-old, still hadn’t gotten her room decorated, because of a vast Star Wars toy collection that I had no place else for. I may have had a daughter, a wife and responsibilities. But clearly, I wasn’t an adult. Much less an “old guy”.

And while I remember audibly breathing that sigh of relief, I still knew that something was very wrong. But if I was to presume I wasn’t the problem, was Disney? While not being very conscious of that question, I still turned to the internet for answers. I simply loved Disney, and I thought maybe I could snoop around online and find something to rekindle the magic. Maybe there was something more going on that I didn’t understand, or lived too far away from to completely grasp. Maybe DCA, on the other side of the country, was getting all the love, while WDW languished. That had to be it. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Right?

Then sometime after that vacation, I stumbled across Re-Imagineering. While it was unthinkable that I was just some old fuddy-duddy a day away from chasing kids off my lawn and tucking my shirt in my underwear, it was almost as unthinkable that Disney could do wrong. But wrong they were. On so many levels. And the insider explanations, examinations and critiques of parks both far and near  clarified that indescribable weakening in my relationship with Disney. “Disney, it’s not me. It’s you.”

Latent Attractions
When I was kid we used to visit Walt Disney World yearly, sometimes twice a year. And one inescapable trait of those visits was the “Coming Soon Effect”. Almost every time I went, something was always under construction that I wouldn’t be able to see until the following year. On my second ever visit to EPCOT, I remember seeing the construction area for what would become Journey into Imagination. I was grateful, as I had always said the pavilion needed a ride, and couldn’t wait to go back after construction had finished. The following year, excited at the prospect of riding a something new, I notice this monolithic spaceship-shaped structure looming on the horizon (pun intended), with the signage saying that it wouldn’t open until October of 1983. It was currently July. I believe I cussed quietly to myself.

Looking back, this was a common theme to all of my visits to Walt Disney World, post and pre-EPCOT Center. On a previous visit, I recall looking at the construction of an ominously lit mountain range from the windows of the Mile Long Bar in Frontierland. Another time, I remember reading about a giant sea aquarium that was going to be built in EPCOT Center, which would be finished nearly a year after our scheduled vacation. It didn’t matter when, or how often we went to Disney, something was always being built and just out of reach for that year. That may sound frustrating on the surface, and to some it might be. But however frustrating you might find it, it’s a symptom of a park that’s in constant creative motion. You knew even if you weren’t going to get to ride something this year, you were going to something new this year. Every trip to Disney World carried with it the anticipation of an untested adventure.

Then, somewhere in the 1990s, that all began to change. Little by little, construction of new and innovative attractions was more of an anomaly than an expectation. And by the 21st century, it hadn’t just ceased, but reversed course. And I honestly can’t tell you why I didn’t notice this was a problem. The last three trips to Disney, prior to my revelation in The Land pavilion, had been marked by one significant behavioral pattern. I kept telling people who were with me on those trips what used to be there as we approached different sections of the park. “Oh, this used to a great 15-minute ride about future technologies. I don’t know why they closed it.” “Yeah, there used to be this ride about transportation here that I think you would have liked.” “No, I don’t know why they closed it down. But the building has been empty for years now.” “Yeah, I guess we did ride everything. I didn’t realize we’d be done this early, since the old rides used to take so much longer.” At every turn I was being reminded by ghosts of Disney’s past what was missing from my Disney experience, and I was just too clueless to see it.

Epoch Mickey
If I’m being honest, by the end of 2007 I was getting worn out. Re-Imagineering was making the posts, rallying fans behind them, and clearly (at least to me) upsetting people in important places. Angry comments about how Disney is a business, not a museum, supposed to change regardless of what form that change takes and how this blog should just do the “honorable thing” and shut down, always drew suspicion from my eyes, since it seemed 90% of those comments were made by “anonymous”. If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, then you know I always had (lengthy) answers for these brave souls. But even with Re-Imagineering leading the charge, nothing in Disney seemed to be changing. And you can probably find one or two of comments to the effect that my faith in change was dwindling. But I forgot forgot one thing. I forgot about the planter.
Re-Imagineering railed on little details, with good reason. In Disney, the little details matter. So when Tomorrowland was to be redecorated with planters designed by a legendary Imagineer, Re-Imagineering enthusiastically Struck up the Band!
In the months and years to follow, we continued to see the much needed criticisms of the Disney parks, but we also saw, interjected in between, regular and growing praise, culminating with the last official post by the Re-Imagineering staff, Greater Moments with Mr Lincoln. And since 2010, we’ve seen nothing else.
Well, nothing on the blog. In Disney, however, something interesting has returned. And again, I hadn’t recognized how my feelings towards them was starting to change.
Fantasyland was to get total and utter refurbishment. And while people quibbled about the details, whether it was too “girl-centric” or whether or not they should close down yet another classic attraction in favor of something new, these arguments were irrelevant in the face of the most important aspects of the refurb. The ideas presented were innovative, imaginative, and consistent with theming. Three elements that, when combined, trump any other concerns. Three elements that were dripping from Walt and his Imagineer’s ideas. Three elements that were either out of balance, or totally bereft of, in the previous decades. Once again, no matter what you thought of some of the details, both you, and I, whether we knew it or not, were looking forward to something being built again. The “Coming Soon Effect” was back in effect.
Even before the news of Walt Disney World related upgrades, Disneyland’s California Adventure, a park critically panned by most Disney fans, was receiving a multimillion dollar upgrade that would see a more imaginative theme overlay, in addition to an elaborate, painstakingly detailed new land. New Fantasyland, which officially opened shortly before I started this article, still isn’t quite finished. As of this article, we have news of a potentially elaborate and imaginative new land being added to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. An improperly themed attraction at EPCOT recently received more appropriately themed upgrades and renovation. And, what do you know, I’m excited about Disney again. And it all started with a planter.
What Comes Around Goes Back to the Future
Ironically, a lot of us are on the side of defending Disney now. People are lamenting the change or removal of old attractions on the basis of pure nostalgia, though without the argument we used to make about theming, quality of the replacement or lack of innovation. I even had one person suggest to me that Test Track didn’t a need a futuristic theme because none of the other rides in Future World had one. I’m pretty sure, somewhere at that moment, a Figment died.
Though Disney is still far from perfected, the fact that so much forward progress has been made renews my faith in Imagineering and in people like the Re-Imagineering staff. They championed a cause that few were willing to listen to, and fewer still were willing to accept in the face of Disney making money hand over fist. When looking back at one of my old comments, I found I had likened Disney to an entity or an idea, that no matter what you did to it physically and emotionally, it could not truly be changed from it’s core. That it would ultimately reject bad organs, and regrow severed appendages because the people who believed in it, believed in it too strongly for it to ever truly be obliterated.
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