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The Who, Where, When, What, and Why? An introduction to Utilidork and me Who am I ? My name is Justin. I am a former Walt Disney Wo...

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Taking Back Main Street

Main Street U.S.A. — A nostalgic trip down a small city street at the turn of the 20th century. A walk down memory lane in a typical American town of old. There's City Hall and the fire station. There's a barbershop on that corner, and a hatter in the opposite. A Confectionary sits on the Town Square, right across from the town's main Emporium. Walking down the street we find a cinema (somewhat anachronistic, but I digress), a jeweler, a baker, an ice cream parlor, a tobacconist, a magic shop, a penny arcade, and several more places of business one would expect to find in such a place and time.


Town Square — Source: KeanesPics.com

Unless you go inside, that is.

When the Magic Kingdom first opened, it actually had all of these things and more. Like its Disneyland counterpart, the Penny Arcade was filled with actual vintage nickelodeons, mutoscopes, love testers, and other entertainment novelties from the 1900s. The cinema had fold-down seats and showed an assortment of silent movies, as well as Mickey's debut, Steamboat Willie (again, anachronistic). Exposition Hall had an exhibit on Walt Disney. And the Emporium was one of several individual stores.

Over the course of the '90s, Main Street saw some drastic changes. The Penny Arcade was closed, and while a few of its coin-op devices were relocated around Main Street, most were removed entirely. Its location was replaced by more shopping space. The Main Street Cinema also turned into a gift store, with movies projected onto the wall in the back while guests shop.

Originally, Main Street was comprised of four "city blocks" with themed "alleys" called Center Street at the corners. The east side of Center Street featured a toy store, a candle store, and an art festival in the middle of the street, showcasing actual artwork by selected artists. On the west side was a flower market like one would find in Covent Garden of London. Down this alley was a clock shop, a china shop, and the famous Harmony Barber Shop, where vocal quartet The Dapper Dans hung out and serenaded guests. In 2001, the west side was filled in and turned into an expansion of the Emporium. The barber shop moved south, in a corner next to the firehouse. Everything else is gone.
Flower Mart, circa 1977 — Source: Yesterland.com
Over the course of the past twenty years or so, both sides of Main Street have been opened up into long, expansive gift shops, with each "shop" being a separate room of a single store. You won't find magic tricks anymore, or fine china. The glass blower has been replaced by the more modern Arribas Bros. Crystal Arts shop, and the old camera shop has been relocated to Exposition Hall, its former location absorbed into the Confectionary. The Emporium now stretches all the way from Town Square to the Hub.
Emporium expansion — Source: Yesterland.com

The first question we have to ask is "why?"

The answer is "money".

Penny Arcade — Source: InsideTheMagic.com
(One of the things Michael Eisner was tasked with when he was brought on in 1984 was literally saving the company. It's hard to believe now, but from the '70s into the early '80s, the Disney company, then simply known as Walt Disney Productions, was too small and financially unstable to sustain itself.)

The Penny Arcade required a lot of specialized maintenance. Those machines were authentic, and required a delicate touch from someone who knew about their intricacies. Not only that, but at the price of an actual penny, they didn't exactly pay for themselves or the space they occupied. Also, in the 21st century, the novelty of turn-of-the-20th-century entertainment just wasn't enough of a draw. Even on busy days, most guests just walked by it. Maybe a small number walked in and tried a machine or two, then moved on. Nowadays, few people even carry pennies.

What about all the specialty shops, like the candle shop, or the china shop, or the magic shop? When Walt Disney World opened, it was pretty much the only shopping center in Central Florida, so having specialty shops actually benefited the resort. Locals could pay a small admission fee and buy some nice thing they otherwise couldn't get without traveling 50-100 miles to a major city.

By the mid-'90s, the Orlando area had expanded exponentially to include countless shopping centers, accessible without having to fight the tourists or pay admission. Also, in October 1981, the Magic Kingdom did away with the General Admission and Coupon books in favor of an all-inclusive admission, and in one year, the price increased by nearly 50% from $9.50 to $15.00 (I'll let you calculate the inflation for whenever you happen to be reading this). By fall of 1985, it had more than doubled.

A casual afternoon excursion to the Magic Kingdom for shopping and a couple of rides was no longer financially practical. Of course, guests and locals could still shop at Lake Buena Vista Village — which later became Downtown Disney, now Disney Springs — making Main Street's specialty shops redundant.

Okay, so nobody wants to buy china from a theme park anymore. What about everything else? Does that justify what has been done to Main Street? From the exterior, Main Street looks like a row of individual store fronts, many with the original signage, but from the interior, there are really only a few stores, stretched out and broken up like a department store.

On the west side, there is the Emporium, which stretches from the Town Square all the way up to the hub, with Casey's Corner the only deviation. The east side is a little more varied, with a hat shop, candy shop, media, jewelry, and pins in the south building, all interconnected. The north building is the most diverse, housing all of the contracted businesses such as Arribas Bros., Edy's, and Starbucks, most of which are separate, with no entrance into the next store.

For over a decade, I have referred to this as the "Main Street Strip Mall". Aside from the architecture, vehicles, and cast member costumes, there is nothing old-fashioned about this town square anymore. Inside the stores are CDs, DVDs, and Blu-rays, license plates, Disney trading pins, and merchandise from movie franchises such as Marvel, Star Wars, and Pirates of the Caribbean. It's essentially Disney Springs' World of Disney or Epcot's Mouse Gear in a more condensed form.

So when Main Street was converted, Disney was on hard times, right? They needed to generate more income, and more relevant commercial space was the answer. What about now? I don't think it's any secret that Disney is practically printing money at this point. Star Wars and Marvel alone generate regular billion-dollar profits for the once failing company. What harm can it do to transform Main Street back to its former gay '90s glory?

Less merchandising space? Please. Almost every attraction empties into a themed gift shop where guests can buy stuff they don't need related to the experience they just had. If they forget, or can't commit at the time, there are countless other stores willing to sell them the same item at the same price all over Walt Disney World, even at their own Disney Resorts. Disney Springs alone is an admission-free one stop shop for anything available in the parks and more. Run out of time or money before you have to return to the real world? Good news: there's an app for that! The Shop Disney Parks web store and its corresponding mobile app will sell you just about anything available at either U.S. Disney Resort, and ship it directly to your home!

Disney has no shortage of income sources or merchandising opportunities. So what do they need the Main Street Shopping Center for? I don't think guests will complain too much if Disney downsized their Mall of Main Street a little. At this point, a lot of guests bypass Main Street altogether because either they're not ready, first thing in the morning, to buy any junk that they'll have to lug around all day, or they've already spent enough money in the rest of the Magic Kingdom's gift shops, and don't want to be faced with more (especially if there are children involved).

But a magic shop? That might get some attention. I remember one of my first visits to Universal Studios, I curiously wandered into their magic shop, saw an impressive demonstration, and walked out with several items — an organic impulse purchase, something I never do in the Emporium or pretty much any Disney gift shop anymore.

A penny arcade might not be a big money-maker, but the novelty of it will draw in passersby for a few minutes, reducing a bit of congestion in the streets. Imagine the benefit of that after the fireworks or parade.

The cinema would be a good place to show the new Mickey Mouse shorts the upcoming Hollywood Studios ride will be based on. There's some synergy for you. They could even project them in a scratchy, grainy black & white for authenticity's sake.

We may never get West Center Street back, due to the amount of demolition and construction necessary, but that doesn't preclude a hidden gem in the corner of East Center Street. (Although I would miss my favorite quiet corner to enjoy a Plaza Ice Cream Sundae.)

I don't mind the closing or changing of something as long as what is replacing it is either necessary or an improvement. I feel like most of the changes to Main Street have been to its detriment. Sure, the company has an opportunity to make more money, but at what cost? Loss of atmosphere? Theming? Personality?

Main Street is supposed to feel like a real place — like a step back into a simpler time — a place to smoothly transition guests out of the real world, and into "a World of Yesterday, Tomorrow, and Fantasy". Its idealistic depiction of a pre-technological age draws guests into a strange world that still has all the familiar comforts of home, before leading them into the more fanciful lands beyond the hub.

I suppose my soft spot for Main Street comes from that place of familiarity. I grew up in a small, post-Revolution Era town in Upstate New York, not unlike the city of Saratoga Springs, upon which many of Main Street's buildings were based. My parents owned and operated the corner drug store for more than thirty years. We had a general store (where I bought a LOT of candy and balsa wood gliders), a movie theater (where I saw many first and second run films), a pizzeria (where I spent much of my allowance on New York-style slices and arcade games), a tobacco and newspaper shop (where I bought several years' worth of comic books and gaming magazines), and a salon (where I got my hair cut for most of my early life). Everything about the atmosphere of Main Street USA in Florida's Magic Kingdom reminds me of home.

World Bazaar in Tokyo Disneyland — Source: TDRfan.com
In Tokyo Disneyland, turn-of-the-20th-century Main Street USA is replaced by World Bazaar, a pan-20th-century pastiche of Downtown New York City architecture, covered by a glass canopy reminiscent of the 1876 Philadelphia World's Fair. For Shanghai Disneyland,  Mickey Avenue — a homogenized hodgepodge of century-plus-old architectural styles — replaces Main Street, featuring two blocks of buildings instead of four, and a much wider road with planters in the middle. This is because neither Japan nor China has nostalgia for small American towns as they were over a hundred years ago.
Mickey Avenue in Shanghai Disneyland — Source: OCRegister.com

Then again, neither do we. I have mentioned before how nostalgia for any time prior to the 1980s is waning, beyond the 1950s is all but nonexistent. Most people today didn't live in a small colonial- or Victorian-era town, and if they did, it was probably heavily modernized by the time of their childhood. Main Street is a temporal anomaly to most guests.

Maybe, like Carousel of Progress, it too needs to be updated or replaced. Maybe take the Tokyo Disneyland approach, and add some architecture from more recent history (World Bazaar features a '50s-style diner, complete with neon signs and brushed steel exterior). Or maybe take the Shanghai Disneyland route,and replace it with something more fanciful entirely. Maybe Disney should redesign Main Street to appeal more to our parents than our grandparents' parents.

Whatever they decide to do, if anything (probably nothing), Main Street needs a direction and a purpose. Just being a big Disney galleria is not aesthetically appealing to anyone. What's there now is an awkward juxtaposition of classic style and modern commercialism. Main Street USA needs to be a place that feels like home. We need to take Main Street back to a place that takes us back.

Be sure to read Building a Better Main Street for some of my ideas on how to improve Main Street for modern audiences.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Anniversary of an Anniversary



I honestly didn't know what to write for today, but I knew that I had to write something. It is the 46th anniversary of Walt Disney World, after all. It is also the 35th anniversary of EPCOT Center. I would love to be there today, but living in Upstate New York, and having saved all of our money for our upcoming trip in February, that's just not possible. But I was there for Epcot's 25th anniversary, so I can talk about that.

I was a cast member at the time, living just outside of the Lake Buena Vista district. Earlier in the year, nobody was sure if there would even be an anniversary celebration. As late as August, we had heard nothing about it. Not even acknowledgement from the company that the date was approaching and important.

Disney hadn't had a major anniversary celebration for one of their parks since Walt Disney World's 25th anniversary in 1996. The Florida property's 30th was overshadowed by 100 Years of Magic, a celebration of what would have been Walt Disney's one-hundredth birthday (which oddly lasted from October 1, 2001 — two months before his actual birthday of December 5th — through December 31, 2002 — almost a month past his 101st). Their 35th anniversary was similarly ignored in favor of Disneyland's global 50th anniversary, The Happiest Celebration on Earth (which, again was extended well past the actually anniversary date). Disney World's 40th and 45th passed by with very little fanfare.

So when it came to acknowledging the silver anniversary of Disney's first second gate park, we had low expectations. We figured there might be a couple of pins, maybe a quiet re-dedication, some disposable buttons for cast members, and that's about it. I don't know whether it was public opinion, fan petition, or one little spark of inspiration, but sometime around early September, Disney nonchalantly announced a daylong celebration for October 1st, with special guests and events, and several limited edition items. And as luck would have it, it was my day off!

I planned on showing up early, at 8am. If you know me, you know that doesn't happen. My friends and I got there at about 9:30. By then, there was already a long line for pins. We waited for at least 45 minutes, maybe even an hour or more. I got one of each of the limited edition pins I could, and a Figment plush limited to 1,982 units. My friend bought a t-shirt reproducing an opening year design that had a painting of Spaceship Earth with the text "The 21st century begins October 1st, 1982." (Ⅰ was actually wearing a threadbare original, a hand-me-down from my brother which he got on his first Disney World vacation in 1983.) We also picked up a special Epcot guide map made specifically for that one day, as well as a 25th anniversary events times guide.

Unfortunately, the merchandise line was so long that we missed the re-dedication ceremony (although we were standing right behind the fountain stage where it was held), which featured a partial recreation of the original opening ceremony with dance, a flag parade, fireworks, and speeches from some of the original Imagineers and then-current executives. Later, we made our way to the Circle of Life theater in The Land pavilion for an hour or so long talk from former head of Imagineering, Marty Sklar. He talked about the concept and creation of EPCOT Center, the construction, opening day, and changes to the park. I don't remember most of it, other than the fact that he was very entertaining.

After Marty Sklar, I realized I should have gotten a Figment for my brother, who worked at Journey into Imagination during his Career Start Program (read about his experiences here). We ran all over Future World, from the Innoventions pin station, to Mouse Gear, and finally back to the I-mag gift shop before I found one of the last plushies available anywhere. I bought it, and gave it to him that Christmas.

The rest of the day was kind of a blur. We hoped to ride the newly refurbished Spaceship Earth, but it hadn't reopened yet (although the atrocious Epcot/2000 wand had been completely demolished in time for the event, as promised). At some point during the festivities, I ran into an old internet friend whom I had known for about five years via AOL, but only met in person once. We also made two new friends, whom I am still in touch with to this day. One of them is now married to the friend who came with us. It's a small world, after all.

We all made our way to the Japan pavilion, which is typically one of the best locations to watch IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth. Unfortunately, an atypical autumn rainstorm dumped on the park for most of the rest of evening. The wind and rain not only left us cold and wet, but also delayed IllumiNations for about a half-hour. On top of that, my decision to watch the fireworks from Japan backfired horribly, as the wind was blowing hard from about five degrees east of due north, pushing all the smoke directly into our faces.

At the end of the long-awaited fireworks, we were treated to a four minute medley of music from Epcot's first quarter-century, during which they shot off more fireworks than in the entire rest of show. It was intense and magical — a once-in-a-lifetime experience I will never forget.

On our way out, I looked out for whatever leftover souvenirs I could snag. Although most of the LE items were sold out, I did manage to grab a handful of anniversary maps and times guides. I brought some into work the next day, and one of my coordinators used the laminator to preserve at least one of each. I still have all of them in a Sterilite bin in my cellar. I really ought to frame them someday.

Later that week, I went to Company D, which is a backstage store that sells cast member exclusive merchandise, and bought several limited edition pins commemorating the event. I kept one for myself, and in the coming weeks, I took the rest to the Innoventions pin station and negotiated trade deals with Disney Vacation Club members, Annual Passholders, and Disney Cruise Line guests for the exclusive limited edition pins only they could buy. I put them all on a special 25th anniversary lanyard. I still have them all in a suitcase in my closet.

I've only ever been to a Disney Park on the day of its anniversary once since, and that was the 10th anniversary of Disney's Animal Kingdom, but that was pretty uneventful (see comments below). Unless I can somehow miraculously be at the Magic Kingdom for its 50th in 2021 (doubtful), Ⅰ don't think anything will be able to beat Epcot's 25th. I'm disappointed that I got there late, and missed the re-dedication ceremony, and didn't get myself one of the limited edition T-shirts (it wouldn't fit me anymore anyway), but I have a day's worth of irreplaceable memories and a couple of new lifelong friends from the experience.

Maybe on October 1st, 2032, my son can be working at Walt Disney World in time to attend EPCOT Center's 50th anniversary in person.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Sharing an Experience — Memoir of a Cast Member

One of the reasons I pursued a job at Walt Disney World in the first place was that I was inspired by my brother, who worked both as a Career Start intern, a full-time Cast Member, and eventually a "Casual Temporary(/seasonal)" before his life pulled him in other directions. Yesterday, on the 25th anniversary of his first day working for Disney, he shared some of his memories from those experiences on his personal blog. Please enjoy.

A Walt Disney World 25th anniversary

Saturday, August 19, 2017

An EPCOT That Never Was
and Always Will Be — Part III

The World of EPCOT

This is part three of my D23 Epcot reaction. (I haven't decided whether I care enough to write about any other D23 announcements) In my first part, I discussed how sponsorship was a huge part of EPCOT Center's backbone, and shaped what the park became. Without financial assistance from corporations and governments, many of the pavilions we know now and knew then would be drastically different, and likely much smaller and less ambitious, than what we got. In Part II, we discussed the new plans for Future World, and touched on the effects of introducing intellectual properties to the park.  In this final part, we will be dealing specifically with World Showcase announcements, and how all of these ideas could come together.

As I mentioned in my Frozen blog a few years ago, World Showcase has always had trouble in the attraction department, in every sense of the word. One ride at opening, with only one more a few years later, a handful of movies, The American Adventure… and nothing more. From 1988 to now, no new rides or even movies have been added. The two rides there have been refurbished and re-themed, but even their infrastructures have gone essentially unchanged.

This is often a bone of contention with unknowing guests. If you're not interested in international shopping or dining, and thirty-year-old tourism movies do nothing for you, there's not a whole lot to do in World Showcase. The indirect result of this is that Future World is usually packed with people, even late into the day. Rides are what Disney refer to as "people-eaters". On a busy day, something like The Haunted Mansion can hold approximately 500 people at any given time. That's not even counting the people waiting in line who are therefore not cluttering the walkways.

For quite a while it has been rumored that Disney would be bringing the Ratatouille ride from Walt Disney Studios Paris to the France Pavilion at Epcot, a rumor that was confirmed at D23. Like any other proposed change to Epcot that does not directly involve a middle-aged man with a red beard and a purple tuxedo, this announcement has been met with mixed opinions. While I think most people are happy to have a new ride in World Showcase, especially one that actually fits in its native country (the film takes place in Paris), there are still those who believe — somewhat justly — that cartoon characters don't belong in the "realistic" environments of World Showcase. When the park first opened, excluding Disney characters was the rule.

Ratatouille: The Adventure façade and courtyard at Walt Disney Studios Paris park

But that didn't last long, and Disney's animated and fantasy properties have been appearing in World Showcase with increased prominence over the past few decades. Mickey and friends started showing up in various countries dressed in traditional clothes since the mid-to-late '80s. In the '90s, the princesses started showing up in their respective countries of origin. In 2006, El Rio del Tiempo in Mexico closed and reopened a few months later as Gran Fiesta Tour starring The Three Caballeros. Frozen Ever After replaced Maelstrom in 2016. Now we have Ratatouille moving in.

First of all, I don't believe it was the lack of Disney IPs that resulted in Rio's and Maelstrom's reduced attendance. The rides were old, slow, and noticeably cheap compared to the rest of Epcot. It is entirely possible that a major overhaul to both attractions could have drawn larger crowds, but as large as Frozen did? I don't know…

The advantage to using established characters and scenarios is that it makes communicating who and what the attraction is about a lot easier. Your average first-time Disney guest isn't going to know what a Figment, Dreamfinder, or Imagination Institute is, but they will more than likely recognize Nemo, Dory, and Crush. They can't tell you what a Spaceship Earth or a Universe of Energy is, but they can tell you all about the Circle of Life and how it moves us all. Even Mission: Space and its trip to Mars was meant to tie in with a Disney film that unfortunately ended up flopping both critically and commercially, Mission to Mars starring Gary Sinise (itself loosely based on the former Disneyland and Magic Kingdom attraction of the same name).


Frankly, I think it's past time we got over this hang up that EPCOT must be a sterile, strictly educational, magic-free environment. Some of that magic is important in helping people to learn. The same magic that made us believe a singing frog could overcome an existential crisis about what color he is, also made us believe that a movie theater could transport us back to the mesozoic era.

Perhaps it's the expansion of Walt Disney World, and Orlando in general, that has caused this rift. When the resort only had two parks and no competition, it was okay for one of them to be a drastic departure from the norm. Guests who came to Florida for Disney visited EPCOT Center regardless of whether it was "their thing". A week at Disney World left a lot of time and comparatively few options. A day or two at Magic Kingdom, a day at River Country or Treasure/Discovery Island, a day of shopping, resort exploration, water sports, or golf — if you're into any of that stuff — and, of course, a day at EPCOT Center.

Now, not only do guests have the choice between four Disney theme parks, a water park or two,  a score of resorts, a huge shopping district (plus a smaller one at the Boardwalk), golf, mini-golf, a full sports complex, and
seasonal special ticket events; but also (if they feel like venturing off of Disney property) two Universal parks, two newer water parks, Sea World, countless shopping plazas and two major malls, several themed dinner shows, and (as I mentioned in part one) both a WonderWorks and a Ripley's Believe It or Not. That's not even mentioning the various conventions, events, and exhibits in the city of Orlando itself. Having a full-day park that caters primarily to a minority of nostalgic and sentimental guests might sound great to us, but with such a wealth of other things to do, does not look good on the books. A half-full park is a waste of space and a drag on the budget.

Are we losing the spirit of EPCOT? I don't think so, but I also think it's a delicate balance to maintain. Keep too much the same, and you run the risk of alienating new guests, boring non-fanatic repeat guests, or letting the park stagnate thereby losing cultural and technological relevance, something that has already happened at least once in the park's history — arguably twice. Change too much, and EPCOT could lose its unique identity and become yet another homogenized Disney property, its primary purpose to sell toys, T-shirts, whatnots and doohickeys featuring Mickey Mouse, Marvel, or Star Wars characters.

Has Frozen ruined Epcot? Again, I don't think it has, but it opened the door for more IPs entering the park, and that could have either positive or negative results in the long-term. The last thing any longtime EPCOT fan wants to see is a fully overlayed park. Although, to be fair, Frozen Ever After was the biggest opening Epcot has seen in a decade, possibly longer. The Norway pavilion has undeniably seen a boost in visitation thanks to its Frozen ride (more so than Maelstrom had achieved in many years). So again, whatever puts butts in the seats.

What about the rest of World Showcase? What reason would guests have to visit these pavilions that offer little more than shops and a restaurant or two? If a ride based on a film set in Paris draws guests into the France Pavilion, that can only be a good thing, right?

In fact, I say bring on more Disney-themed rides! Blasphamy, you say? Hear me out.

What if at next D23, executives and Imagineers stepped out on stage and told you classic attractions such as Snow White's Scary Adventures and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride were coming back to Walt Disney World with new modern enhancements? That the Florida resort would finally get a version of Pinocchio's Daring Journey and Alice in Wonderland? That Tokyo DisneySea's incredible original attraction, Sindbad's Storybook Voyage, would find a home in the western hemisphere, and the proposed English version of Meet the World would finally have a place as well?

Here's the catch: they would all be built in Epcot.

And since each attraction has a suitable pavilion in World Showcase — Snow White in Germany, Pinocchio in Italy, Alice or Mr. Toad in the United Kingdom, Sindbad in Morocco (a bit of a stretch, but it is an African nation on the Mediterranean, so it still works… kinda… better than Aladdin does, at least) — you're not breaking the atmosphere or even the cultural relevance of the pavilion. There's still Canada to consider, but hey, Brother Bear was a thing, or they can just reshoot O Canada in seamless CircleVision like they're doing with Reflections of China. It's not like Canada has ever been without an attraction.

Not only have you brought several attractions (back) to Walt Disney World for relatively cheap (they've already been designed and built at least once, dramatically decreasing their initial cost), but now almost every World Showcase pavilion would have a people-eater, taking the weight off of Future World's abundance of rides, and shortening wait times across the board.

So do IPs belong in Epcot? Do Disney characters belong in World Showcase? I answer with a resounding "maybe". I don't see any harm in placing characters and IPs in the edutainment park, as long as they fit with their host pavilion. Fairy tales, fables, and legends are a big part of international culture, after all. I'm actually rooting for another refurb of the Mexico ride based on the upcoming Disney•Pixar film, Coco, because it deals directly with Mexican tradition and culture — more so than The Three Caballeros (as much as I'd hate to lose the Audio-Animatronics).

So in light of all of this speculation, will Guardians of the Galaxy or Ratatouille ruin Epcot? Not too likely. Disney and the Imagineers seem to be well aware of the delicate balance required to attract new guests without driving away too many of the old, devoted ones. But we must also be aware that we are a rare and dying breed. The EPCOT Center parents of 1982 are in their sixties and seventies now. Their kids (my generation) grew up in a completely different culture, and saw the emergence and prominence of entirely new forms of entertainment and education, as well as dozens of new theme parks and hands-on experiences. Our children have known nothing but these things. Their Epcot is today's Epcot. In a world of Wikipedia, they don't need a slow-moving non-interactive, multimedia attraction to teach them about new things.

But they might accidentally learn something from Star-Lord…

Monday, August 14, 2017

An EPCOT That Never Was
and Always Will Be — Part II:

The Future of EPCOT

PHOTO BY DisneyTouristBlog

In the first part, we took a look at the history of EPCOT, its attractions, their sponsors, and how it all affects the so-called "Spirit of EPCOT". So now we arrive at D23 2017, and the biggest announcements for Epcot's Future World have been a "blue sky" redesign of the overall layout, pathways, and the current Innoventions area; a refurbishment for the newest Future World attraction, Mission: Space; and a new Guardians of the Galaxy attraction to take the place of Ellen's Energy Adventure in the Universe of Energy pavilion.

But let's start first with the easy part: the "blue sky" proposal for a complete redesign of Future World. For those who don't know, a "blue sky" proposal is a concept of what could be possible without regards to budgetary, time, or labor restraints. It is the best of the best an Imagineer or team of Imagineers could possibly think of, but with the implication that it may be scaled back to fit more realistic parameters. Unfortunately, Disney have not released an official high resolution version of this concept art, so right now we only have a few enhanced photographs of the image projected on a screen onstage, but DisneyTouristBlog got a particularly nice shot with really good color and contrast, so we're going to use that.

The first thing I noticed was the complete absence of Innoventions Plaza. In fact, all of the buildings of Innoventions are gone, replaced by asymmetrical pathways around tree-filled patches of grass. It actually reminded me of an off-center re-creation of the old Magic Kingdom hub — which would be welcome, if you ask me. Of all the parks, Epcot has always suffered the most from having the least amount of shade from the oppressive Florida sun.

While the loss of the Innoventions buildings is a huge difference, I can't say it's a bad one. Innoventions hasn't seen major attendance since shortly after the Millennium Celebration. Much like the rest of Future World, Innoventions — and its predecessor, CommuniCore — has often had trouble maintaining sponsors and up-to-date attractions. And since the fireworks aren't viewable from the plaza, having a lot of trees around won't be a hindrance. In fact, having a more green, earthy setting will help make Epcot feel more like a city park along the lines of, say, Flushing Meadows or Walt's EPCOT.

The downside is the elimination of seemingly all of Future World's hands-on exhibits, a staple of the park since day one. It is difficult to tell what this would mean in the overall scheme of things. It is possible that Disney's plan is to keep just the ones that are relevant to pre-existing pavilions and relocating them there. Or they might do away with them altogether. Again, they never really were a huge draw. Though it would be a shame to lose them altogether. They were a feature that was unique to that park.

Also on this concept art was what appears to be several indoor and outdoor pavilions southeast of Journey into Imagination and north of World Showcase Lagoon. No details were given about these either, but it's speculated that they may be permanent locations for Epcot's growing number of annual festivals such as Food and Wine, Flower and Garden, and the new Festival of the Arts. The largest of these pavilions may also be used for premium viewing of IllumiNations.

Finally, a less discussed feature of this design is what appears to be a hedge maze between the Land and Imagination pavilions. Nothing else can be said about this except… well, look at it. There it is. It's right there. All hedgy and maze-like.

Another plan they announced was the refurbishment of Mission: Space, with new CGI for the Orange Team (spinning) version, and an all new, tamer experience for the Green Team (non-spinning) version. The Orange Team refurb is basic enough. Just improve the visuals with something that looks a little less like a GameCube game, and keep everything else the same.

The Green Team, formerly a "less-intense" version of the Orange Team experience, has been replaced by an in-orbit flight around planet Earth, a much tamer story for an already much tamer experience. Personally, I thought the original Green Team was done quite well, but hey, this gives me a reason to ride both next time.

At the same time, Disney announced a new space-themed table service restaurant for Future World. Although its exact location was not revealed, fans are already speculating the Wonders of Life pavilion as a likely candidate, with its semi-spherical domed shape being perfect for an all-enveloping projection effect, and its position right next door to Mission: Space tying the two pavilions together geographically as well as thematically.

Needless to say, the Guardians of the Galaxy attraction replacing Ellen's Energy Adventure has generated a vast majority of controversy. Having already seen pavilions like Imagination, the Seas, Norway, and arguably Transportation (Test Track 2.0 has a lot of presentational similarities with recent TRON entries) succumb to franchise-related re-themes, the idea of losing another EPCOT Center original to a decidedly non-EPCOT-compatible IP is disappointing, to say the least. Disney tried to soften the blow by revealing a (poorly) photoshopped image of a young Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord, standing in front of Spaceship Earth, claiming that he visited EPCOT Center in the '80s, before his abduction.

They continued to talk about their determination to double down on the guiding principles of EPCOT, and create new experiences that will feel at home in the park — this statement was backed up on Twitter by Guardians director, James Gunn — creating a juxtaposition of ideas. On one hand, outside IPs in general tend to feel out of place in Epcot. On the other hand, it sounds to me like reassurance that the Marvel franchise will mostly be a Trojan horse for a new edutainment experience featuring more up-to-date characters, much like Bill Nye, Ellen DeGeneres, and Alex Trebek were in the '90s. Will using fictional characters instead of real-life celebrities help make the attraction more timeless? We shall see.

As of this writing, any of these details about this ride are mere speculation outside of the realm of Imagineers. It is entirely possible the new attraction will have nothing to do with energy or education, and will just be a themed thrill ride. Is that bad? Possibly, but not necessarily. Having a Marvel IP in the park, even if its ride is not educational, would still draw guests into the park; and while they're there, they will most likely still ride Spaceship Earth, Test Track, and (for some reason) Living with the Land. But will they enjoy them, or complain that there aren't more rides like Guardians? And if they don't enjoy the more informative attractions Epcot has to offer, who's to say they wouldn't have complained either way? Unfortunately, as I've mentioned in a previous post, Epcot has always had a hard time appealing to a wide enough audience to support itself and maintain its identity.

My biggest question about this decision is, if Disney are going to re-theme a Future World pavilion with a sci-fi franchise, why Universe of Energy and not… I don't know… Mission: Space?! I suppose attendance had everything to do with this decision. I'm sure I haven't waited in line for Universe of Energy since the mid-'90s. That's usually not a good sign for any attraction.

For now, I'm remaining cautiously optimistic (as always). Most of the changes made in the past decade or so have been positive, including the ones people originally complained about. Let's not forget that the attraction Guardians is replacing was actually a more entertaining and topical version of the very dry and informative ride that opened with the park. Guardians might turn out to be a good addition. At the very least, it should be a popular one. And if it does keep with the original spirit of EPCOT Center, even better. Regardless, Future World needs something new and exciting, and a twenty-plus-year-old, slow-moving, three-quarter-hour-long ride about energy, originally sponsored by a fossil fuel company and starring has-been celebrities from the '90s, does not fit those criteria.

I guess we'll know for sure in a few years.

Next, onward to World Showcase for my third and final part!

All images of concept art provided by Disney on their official website

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

An EPCOT That Never Was
and Always Will Be — Part I:

The Spirit of EPCOT

This will be the first in a three-part blog as a response to the 2017 D23 announcements for the future of Epcot. In this entry, I will be focusing primarily on the conception, application, and "spirit" of EPCOT. Disney Park fans are particularly protective about EPCOT. It was, after all, a passion project of Walt's, and the last thing he ever worked on.

For the purpose of clarity, I use three formats for the term "EPCOT":
  • EPCOT: refers to the proposed city, or the underlying concepts of the park from conception to opening
  • EPCOT Center: refers to the park and its attractions prior to its initial renaming as Epcot '94
  • Epcot: refers to the park and its attractions since the '94-'96 reimagining
Of course, as anyone educated in Disney history knows, Walt's EPCOT was not another theme park. It was a city — an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. It was a place where people would live, work, and play; where leaders in every major and up-and-coming industry could show off their latest concepts and products. It was the basis for everything the Florida Project was going to be. I will spare you all the details, suffice to say that you can watch a high-definition restoration of Walt's original promotional film on Retro WDW's YouTube channel here.

Needless to say, this version of EPCOT never happened. Walt died mere months after publicly announcing his plans for his futuristic city. When his brother Roy took up the reins of the Disney World Project, one of his first decisions was to postpone the building of EPCOT, and all its auxiliary facilities, until after the Magic Kingdom park was built, opened, and turned a sufficient profit, estimated to be about a decade later. Shortly after Roy opened Phase One of the newly renamed Walt Disney World, he retired. Unfortunately, like his younger brother, he died a few months later.

This left the of future EPCOT in the hands of the new President and later CEO of Walt Disney Productions, E. Cardon Walker, who decided that city planning and administrating was not something the Disney Company was prepared to do; and along with Walt's son-in-law and Walker's soon-to-be successor Ron Miller, altered the concept of EPCOT from a community to a park, the first "second gate" in theme park history. What did carry over, however, was Walt's idea of EPCOT being a showcase of technology and culture. Two separate park concepts, one revolving around the evolution and applications of technology in our lives, and the other around the people, history, culture, and art of foreign nations, were eventually combined into one park, taking inspiration from the Worlds Fairs of the past century.

They decided on an old concept known colloquially as "edutainment", wherein audiences are educated through a media that would usually be considered entertaining. Public television networks of the time were producing successful programs such as Mister Wizard's World, Mister Roger's Neighborhood, and Sesame Street under this premise. More recently, ABC produced a series of animated music videos that taught science, history, grammar, and multiplication to young Saturday morning viewers with Schoolhouse Rock!. Even Walt Disney himself had several successful "edutainment" productions with his True Life Adventure series of nature films, his animated shorts promoting the U.S. space program, and Disneyland attractions such as Rocket to the Moon, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, and the "after-Disney", Monsanto-sponsored attraction, Adventures Thru Inner Space.

In fact, to get this park built and fill it with sufficient attractions, the struggling company needed financial help. Even before Inner Space, when Disney was developing some of his most famous attractions for the 1964-5 New York World's Fair, the financial assistance he received helped develop the technology that made attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, the WEDWay PeopleMover, and The Hall of Presidents possible (among countless others). For the new EPCOT park, every Future World attraction and every World Showcase pavilion was paid for, at least in part, by sponsors in its respective field or nation.

The reason sponsorship worked was a symbiotic relationship. Disney attractions are places a lot of people from all over the world want to visit. By sponsoring one (or more) of these pavilions, a company gets their name out to guests who may have otherwise been unaware of them. They also have an opportunity to show off their latest and up-and-coming products within the pavilion. In exchange, the company pays to help Disney design and build the pavilion. And since it is the sponsor's name and reputation on the attraction, and their money invested in it, they are permitted input in what the attraction is, and how the information is presented. Finally, Disney gets a pavilion at a subsidized cost to them, and they get to keep any ideas and characters and new technology that goes into it, even after sponsorship ends.

This is how the park ran for over a decade. Sponsors signed contracts promising they would pay a certain amount of money towards the production, operation, and maintenance of their pavilion for a predetermined amount of time, after which point they had the option to renew their contract if they wanted.

The first pavilion to lose its sponsor was The Land. Originally sponsored by Kraft Foods. Kraft was replaced by Nestlē the following day. Along with this change came major changes to attractions within. Kitchen Kabaret became Food Rocks, Listen to the Land became Living with the Land, and Symbiosis became Circle of Life, a similar film starring Simba, Timon, and Pumbaa from The Lion King.

The next sponsorless pavilion was the classic Omnimover attraction, Horizons. A little more than a year after General Electrics declined to renew their contract, the ride closed semi-permanently while Disney awaited a new sponsor and a new concept. (It temporarily reopened a year later as a placeholder while its neighboring pavilions were closed for lengthy refurbishments.)

Throughout the '90s, every Future World and World Showcase pavilion either changed sponsors, saw major refurbs requested by its sponsor, or lost sponsors entirely and either closed or operated out of Disney's own pocket. A decade later, the process repeated itself. Of the seven Future World pavilions from opening day, none are currently sponsored by their original company (although Test Track is sponsored by Chevrolet, a division of the transportation pavilion's original sponsor, General Motors). Most of the attractions have been completely replaced at the request of their sponsor, and three have closed completely due to lack or change of sponsor. As for World Showcase, most do not have a sponsor at all anymore.

The reason for Epcot's sponsorship woes are a culmination of cultural changes, not the least of which being the Internet. From the '60s to the '90s, Disney could use their worldwide recognition and appeal to attract sponsors looking for new and more diverse customers. When the World Wide Web opened to the public, businesses only needed a dot-com to get their message out to potential customers around the globe. Instead of spending tens of millions of dollars to scrape a little profit off of Disney's success, they can invest a fraction of that money into an Internet-based promotion that benefits them directly.

Modern-day Epcot faces another major hurdle besides sponsorship. As I previously mentioned, EPCOT Center was built on the concept of edutainment. When the park was conceptualized, the most prominent sources of education were schools, libraries, and museums. For education to be entertaining and child-friendly was still a novel concept.

Again, in the early-'80s, there was no Internet. Most households only had access to a handful of locally broadcast television channels: NBC, CBS, ABC, maybe a PBS network, and in rare cases a few public access or UHF stations. At-home options for edutainment were extremely limited. EPCOT Center was something most people had never experienced, and the tangibility of it was entirely new.

We now have literally hundreds of television channels, millions of websites, and almost every major city has a Ripley's Believe It or Not! or WonderWorks, or some other form of interactive museum. Adults seeking educational entertainment now only have to tune into The Discovery Channel, The History Channel, The Travel Channel, The Learning Channel, or any of their various spin-off networks. Sesame Street paved the way for countless children's edutainment programs, like 3-2-1 Contact, Square One TV, Beakman's World, Bill Nye: The Science Guy, Blue's Clues, Dora the Explorer, and even Disney's own Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Between PBS, Nickelodeon, Disney, and several others, there are just as many network options for children.

Edutainment is everywhere. We have EPCOT Center, in part, to thank for that. But it is the ubiquity of edutainment in the media that has been slowly driving nails into Epcot's coffin since the mid-'90s. Whereas 30 years ago, EPCOT Center was the best place to learn with your family while still having fun, nowadays there are any number of ways to have the same experience at home. EPCOT as a concept is no longer unique.

To the Imagineers' credit, they have tried, and continue to try, to innovate new ways to engage the guests while remaining informative. There have been hits (Test Track, Ellen's Energy Adventure), and misses (Food Rocks, Journey into YOUR Imagination), and a few that maybe leaned a little more heavily on the "edu-" than the "-tainment" (Spaceship Earth, Living with the Land), and vice versa (Soarin', Mission: Space). But through the many years of refurbishments and replacements, everything has always managed to feel like EPCOT, even if only in part.

So what does all of this mean for the future of Epcot? That is what we will continue looking at in part two.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Utilidork W5

The Who, Where, When, What, and Why?

An introduction to Utilidork and me

Who am I?

My name is Justin. I am a former Walt Disney World cast member, and lifelong fan of the Disney Parks beginning with my exposure to a VHS recording my family had of Disneyland's 30th Anniversary Celebration, and multiple trips to Walt Disney World in Florida.

Where and When?

Currently, I live in Upstate New York — so don't expect a lot of up-to-date firsthand experience — but I used to live in Orlando, only a mile away from Walt Disney World's Downtown Disney gate. My first job was on the College Program, working various outdoor food carts and occasional quick service locations in the Disney-MGM Studios park in the fall of 2001. Four years later, I returned for a second College Program, this time as a custodian at Disney's Animal Kingdom park, a job I held full-time until spring of 2008, when I moved back to my childhood home. I continued working seasonally for three years until I could no longer return with the frequency they required. I have taken two vacations to Disney World since then, and I'm planning another one soon with my family.

What is a Utilidork?

"Utilidork" is a word I made up to describe a cast member, former cast member, wannabe cast member, or anyone with a knowledge and passion for the ins and outs of the Disney Parks. It is a portmanteau of "Utilidors" (which itself is a portmanteau of "utility corridors"), the system of cast member tunnels under the Magic Kingdom; and "dork", a word synonymous with "geek" or "nerd", meaning a person who is knowledgeable, passionate, and maybe a wee bit obsessed regarding a certain subject.

This site is devoted to that knowledge and passion, and to those people. I will have blogs about Disney World news and history, as well as opinion pieces based on my own knowledge and passion. (I promise that will be the last time I say "knowledge and passion" — okay, that was the last time.) I will share pictures I've taken over the past 16 years of visiting (maybe more, if I can find and scan my pre-digital photographs) and working at the Walt Disney World Resort, including some in stereoscopic 3D! I will also share Disney Parks audio and video from my ever-expanding collection (giving credit to its source whenever possible). Eventually, I will also be adding podcasts and vlogs.


In 2005, I took an Introduction to Web Design class as an elective for my liberal arts degree. A few months later, I moved to Orlando and began working at Disney World again. After a year or so, I started think about all the things I could do with my newly-acquired knowledge of rudimentary HTML coding. I grabbed my iBook and started punching out the framework for The Disney Point: Your Unofficial Guide to the Magic of the Walt Disney World Resort through charts, pictures, and blogs. I bought a URL for the site and hosted it from my AOL Members page. In 2008, I canceled the credit card with which I paid for the domain name, and forgot to change the billing information. My ownership lapsed, and sometime later, someone else bought TheDisneyPoint.com and started their own blog. It's still active today.

Flash forward to a month or so ago, as I was writing my blog about Pirates of the Caribbean (originally posted on on my Disney Point blog that I still own), discussing and debating with people on Twitter, and watching Disney-related vlogs on YouTube, I was inspired to start again. After years of lamenting the loss of my platform, I finally decided to start a new one, bigger and better than ever. A night of brainstorming and a bolt of inspiration gave me Disney Utilidork: Your Unofficial Source for Walt Disney World Blogs, Vlogs, Tunes, Tweets, Pictures, and Podcasts.

I hope this will be as exciting a journey for you as it is for me.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

A New Auction Sets "Sale": Pirates Patrons Protest Propriety Proposal

On June 29th, 2017, the Walt Disney Company announced more changes to the classic attraction, Pirates of the Caribbean. Pirates in Disneyland was the last attraction in the flagship park that Walt supervised himself. He never saw the finished product. He approved the delay of the grand opening until March 1967 — three months after he died of lung cancer. A version of the ride was hastily built in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom in 1973 after guests complained that neither Pirates nor its proposed spiritual successor, the Western River Expedition, were available on opening day.

For those who need a reminder, the ride goes like this: We board a boat, then float through a series of caves and caverns featuring ghostly pirate voices and cursed skeletal remains. After passing through a pitch black cave, we drift between a pirate ship and a Spanish fort exchanging cannon fire and insults in a Caribbean village. We enter the village, first observing the pirates dunking the town's mayor into a well, torturing him for information on the hidden treasure. In the next scene, a captain acts as auctioneer, selling off the town's women as "brides" for the randy pirates across the river. After that, we see several pirates chasing women, and an out-of-shape pirate leaning on a set of stairs, a young lady's slip in his hand, his frightened would-be victim hiding in the barrel behind him. We then find that the pirates have gotten drunk, set fire to the town, and are basically having a rousing good time looting and plundering. A few of the pillaging pirates have gotten locked up by a backstabbing fellow pirate, and are desperately trying to coax the jail-keeping dog to give up the keys to their cell as it starts to crumble around them. Finally, a gang of pirates have found the armory (or the treasure room in Florida), and are haphazardly firing their guns around the room at each other and us.

This is how both versions of the attraction played out for three decades, with only minor changes to lighting, costumes, and Audio-Animatronic technology. That is, until 1997, when both attractions were refurbished, and a few changes were made to one of the scenes. You see, while the attraction depicted the kidnapping and ravaging pirates as playful scamps just looking for a little kiss on the playground, modern sensitivities shined a seedy light on the scene. These weren't innocent boys, they were pirates, and their intention was rape. The "Pooped Pirate" in this scene had particularly racy dialog, expressing his desire to "hoist me colors on the likes of that shy little wench," and being "willing to share, I be!"

Interestingly, each version got its own sanitized version of this scene. Disneyland's attraction more infamously saw the vice on display changed to gluttony, with the pirates running around stealing food from the women, and the Pooped Pirate becoming the "Stuffed Pirate", having overeaten. On the opposite coast, Florida's Magic Kingdom saw the pirates' greed. Instead of pleasurable company, the pirates were making off with a different kind of booty, stealing gold and silver and chests of valuables from the villagers, while the Pooped Pirate was simply tired from searching for a young lady with a box of jewels, still hiding in the barrel.

Following the runaway success of the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, Disney made another controversial decision. A growing number of guests to their parks were unfamiliar with the attraction's history, and were only aware of the intellectual property from The Curse of the Black Pearl and its upcoming sequels. Complaints flooded Guest Relations at both parks: "Where's Captain Jack Sparrow?" So in 2006, coinciding with the release of the second film in the franchise, Dead Man's Chest, Audio-Animatronics of Captain Jack, as well as one of his nemesis Barbossa, and an impressive spectral projection effect of the sequels' newest antagonist Davy Jones, premiered in the attractions. Disney took this opportunity to fix the discrepancy of the chase scene by having the pirates in both versions stealing shiny goods, and the girl in the barrel replaced by Sparrow, peaking over the Pooped Pirate's shoulder at a map to the treasure room.

That's more-or-less what guests have seen for the past decade, with only minor cosmetic changes. In 2011, to tie the attraction in with the fourth film, On Stranger Tides, Florida's version added Blackbeard, alternating with Davy Jones on the projection effect, and the haunted grotto scene was enhanced with a mermaid skeleton and a lone siren's voice singing My Jolly Sailor Bold.

Each change over the many years had mixed receptions, with one camp arguing that Pirates of the Caribbean was a Walt Disney original and shouldn't be tampered with, and the other camp arguing that Disney attractions need to be able to change with the times, or risk alienating guests with less awareness of their history. This is the eternal argument regarding any change at any Disney park, really. How much change is too much? How adamant should the Imagineers be about preserving what's there for historical posterity? To put it simply, what would Walt do?

So here we are, a week or so after Disney officially announced even more changes to the classic crowd favorite, and the tension is palpable. The wench auction scene, one of the most iconic and recognizable scenes in the attraction — and incidentally, the only scene Walt himself saw completed — is having the overt sexual references removed. No longer will the pirates be buying and selling women as concubines, with a rotund woman on the block, and a red-haired woman flaunting herself to prospective bidders. Now, the redhead is a pirate herself, "assisting" (at gunpoint) the villagers as they unload their belongings, and the corpulent lady is proudly displaying a flock of chickens for sale.

First of all, I'd like to correct a few misstatements I've heard about the refurbishment. I've read countless comments across social media accusing Disney of "removing" the auction scene, or making it no longer an auction. The scene will still be there, and it's still going to be an auction. The difference being that they are auctioning off things, not people. Secondly, we have no confirmation that the popular catchphrase "we wants the redhead" is going away. It's very possible that the gag will now be that the Pirates would rather bid on the woman than the objects on display. At this point, no one knows.

Now let me get this out of the way right off the bat: I am okay with these changes. I'm honestly shocked it has taken Disney this long to make them. I'm especially pleased that the Redhead will soon become a strong lady pirate, something Imagineer Marc Davis alluded to in a painting that sits in the background of Disneyland's grotto scene. Look, I get it. Changing a classic is a touchy subject. Even more so when that classic was touched by Walt's own hands. But with the current sociopolitical climate being what it is now, this was all but inevitable. Something needed to be done to address these issues, and I'd rather see the ride changed for the future than destroyed completely.

Ideally for people like us, Disney would just put an age/height restriction on it to protect the children. The Looney Tunes Golden Collection is a prime example of how a company can own their shameful past while still respecting their art. Warner Bros. released all of their old racist and sexist cartoons on DVD, but with a disclaimer (delivered by Whoopi Goldberg) explaining that they were not for children, and their depictions "were wrong then and are wrong today". Disney could put a sign at the entrance of the attraction with a warning — something like "This attraction portrays violence, drunkenness, and behavior some may find offensive or questionable. Ride at your own discretion."* — but let's face it, we've all been to the Disney Parks. We've all seen how guests are. We remember ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter. Guests will ignore the signs, ride anyway, then go complain to Guest Relations about what they saw.

Unfortunately, Pirates of the Caribbean is so well-known by so many people of all ages around the world by now, an age limit is impractical. Guests expect that anyone can ride it. Also, Pirates isn't a DVD set on a store shelf you pay $50 for and take home for your own enjoyment. It is part of a much larger, family-oriented experience called the Magic Kingdom that you share with everybody, and it is included in the park admission you've already paid for. It is also a lot harder to communicate "people sensitive about misogyny should not ride" than "keep hands and arms inside at all times". The latter is a logical given, an objective warning for everyone's safety. The former is a subjective interpretation of stimuli one has presumably not yet experienced and therefore can't judge effectively.

"So who's complaining?" the refurb's detractors ask. "I'm not offended, and I don't know anyone else who is." "Why change it if nobody's bothered by it?" These arguments assume your opinion and experience are the same as everyone else's. Let's imagine for a moment that Disney has not received any complaints, that everyone riding Pirates is in on the joke, and no one is offended. (For the record, I'm sure that is not the case in actuality.) That does not change the fact that a ride in a Disney park is making light of sensitive topics like human trafficking, misogyny, and rape. Eventually, that will come back to bite them, whether from guest complaints, or someone using the attraction as an example in an exposé. If there's one thing Disney should have learned from the tragic alligator attack in June of 2016, it's that it's often safer to be proactive; and if there is a crack in the sidewalk, even if nobody has tripped on it yet, you fix the crack. That's just the sensible thing to do.

"What about the parts of the ride where they're shooting at each other and burning the town?" is another common argument, coupled with "What about the Haunted Mansion, where we see a body hanged and others decapitated?" Admittedly, it's sometimes difficult to draw the line between depictions of physical violence and (dare I say) social injustice. Both are evil in real life. The difference is, physical violence can be cartoonified. Social injustice, not so much. It's easy to pull off a bit of comedy slapstick with a wide and diverse audience. Rape and human trafficking are harder gags to sell.

It can be done, with the right audience. Family Guy and South Park have had long, successful runs of making jokes about inappropriate subjects. But those programs are intended for mature audiences who have a sense of irony. Irony is hard to get across to everyone. It takes a special type of sense of humor and a certain level of maturity that, unfortunately, cannot be guaranteed in any given guest at a Disney park, especially young ones. It should also be noted that the victims of violence depicted in The Haunted Mansion are ghosts. They are not living people. They may have been, but aren't anymore, and they are blissfully and gleefully aware of that fact. Look at the line of women waiting to be sold at the wench auction. Do they look gleeful to you?

"But they're pirates! That's what they did!" "Disney is trying to change/erase history!" "They're trying to pretend bad things never happened!" These statements, coupled with Pirates show writer Francis Xavier "X" Atencio's infamous "Boy Scouts of the Caribbean" comment, underlie what seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of what Disneyland is. Disneyland is not a museum. Pirates of the Caribbean is not a historical document. The pirate Audio-Animatronics are not accurate depictions of real-life pirates. Clearly, some inspiration was taken from real history, but in the end, this is entertainment. It is parody. It is a comical interpretation of things pirates did for the purpose of family-friendly amusement. To wit, I don't think real pirates sang jaunty tunes in harmonic unison while they murdered and pillaged and burned down settlements. (I could be wrong.) Also, the Magic Kingdom is not a place where we should be reminding guests of the atrocities committed by mankind throughout history. They come here to escape the real world, not be taught profound life lessons about human cruelty.

To be entirely accurate, Disney are not sanitizing history with the new auction scene. The fact of the matter is, sanitizing history is exactly what they were trying to do with the original scene. What was something pirates were known to do? Rape. What did Disney decide to show instead? Pirates taking wives, playfully chasing women with kisses, and the women giggling and playing hard-to-get. The Imagineers, by their own admission, put a lot of time and effort into portraying "kidnapping and ravaging" as just a bunch of good-natured fun, when it probably would have been wiser to cut it out entirely.

But rather than trying to justify the original Imagineers' decisions, most arguments I've gotten about why Disney shouldn't change Pirates literally boil down to "This is how middle-aged white men built the ride in the '60s, and we should respect their infallible vision." Problem is, Walt wasn't infallible. He knew what he liked, but he was still a product of his time, and so was Pirates. For example, Walt made a movie about an old black slave with a lovable grin who sang songs and told cute fables to white plantation children. He gave a black crow the name Jim and a gullah accent, and depicted dark-skinned, curly-haired, large-featured centaurs as the servants of pale-skinned, straight-haired, delicate-featured centaurs. Unfortunately, Disneyland wasn't made for only us fans who have insight into Walt's time period and sense of humor. Sometimes a joke doesn't come across as funny to others, especially if they are the object of it.

Pirates of the Caribbean was made in a more innocent time, when unwanted sexual advances were considered normal — boys being boys. They were everywhere in the media. James Bond in particular was notorious for forcing himself onto women, with the women eventually giving in every time. It was a time before women's liberation, before women were allowed to hold high positions at large companies. Most of the women at the Disney Studio worked in either ink & paint or costuming & makeup. Even Mary Blair, the famous artist whose inimitable style was the inspiration for the look and feel of It's a Small World didn't actually design that attraction. The job of interpreting her work into attraction sets went to Claude Coats, while the dolls were sculpted by Blaine Gibson. (Coincidentally, or perhaps not, these same men would perform their respective tasks bringing Marc Davis' drawings to life for Pirates.) For a bunch of men to make jokes about objectifying women was nothing unsavory back then, and women were subconsciously discouraged from speaking out against them.

Speaking of objectification of women, I personally think it's more important that we focus on the body-shaming aspect of the auction scene than its "historical value". As previously mentioned, the gag reads like this: The Auctioneer is trying to sell off a cartoonishly overweight woman. The bidding pirates are not interested, shouting insults such as "Will you be selling her by the pound?" Even the Auctioneer himself has trouble not calling out her weight, referring to her as "stout-hearted and corn-fed", and ordering her to "shift her cargo". Meanwhile, the slightly-built (she is just a pole from the waist down, in fact) and busty redhead is shamelessly flaunting her sexuality for the men's attention.

Forget for a moment the satirical depiction of rape and misogyny. Forget that we have a woman at the forefront who is literally "asking for it". What message are we sending to little girls with weight or self-esteem problems? Or grown adults, even? We live in a culture where bullying and body shaming are so commonplace and often ignored that it causes eating disorders, psychological complexes, and even suicide, especially in women and girls. Average size and weight for females are notably higher than our media widely depicts, and girls are taught by the songs they hear and the shows they watch that the popular girls are the ones who "put out".

I know what some of you are saying. "You're reading too much into it. It's supposed to be a joke. You're bringing social baggage to something that's supposed to be fun." Here's the problem with that way of thinking. You don't get to decide what baggage people carry. One in five women have been sexually assaulted. 52% of women are bullied for their weight or physical appearance. 65% have an eating disorder. And these statistics only take into account the women who have admitted it. There are untold numbers of women who suffer silently. Now we have a scene on a ride in The Happiest Place on Earth that confirms everything every bully and rapist has taught them. Fat girls are undesirable. Slutty girls get the attention. Men decide their value. Suddenly that scene doesn't seem so funny. It actually seems a bit cruel.

I understand why there's such a strong resistance to accepting these facts. Nobody likes to find out that they are responsible for something bad, even indirectly. "Not all men" is such a popular excuse for inappropriate behavior that we forget that this isn't about me, or you, or our fellow Disneyphiles who've laughed at these jokes for a half a century. No, it's not all men. It's not all people. It's not us. But it's somebody. And it's somebody's daughter, or girlfriend, or wife, or mother who has carried this burden for so long that it's often hard to pinpoint when or why it hurts. I love Pirates of the Caribbean. I love that scene. I have never been uncomfortable in that scene. Until last year, when I rode on it with somebody I love who has suffered with weight problems and bullying her entire life, and has been sexually assaulted. Then I felt terrible for being a fan of something that could cause emotional pain to someone I care for.

As with anything people don't like, there is of course an online petition to stop the change, using many of the arguments I have tried to debunk above. I suspect these people don't realize that it's too late. The fact that Disney officially announced this means it's going to happen. They're not going to stop something that has most likely spent years in planning, and is probably already in the building phase, because of a few thousand signatures on a petition. The Walt Disney Company has made a progressive decision, and as Walt himself said, "Progress is impossible without change." Times change. Sensibilities change. Walt's time is not our time. We live in a time when sexual assault and discrimination are no longer swept under the rug, they are called out. They are scrutinized by the media. They're discussed and judged by people everywhere, all the time. The reasons these jokes are inappropriate are no longer secret, nor should they be ignored.

If Walt felt like his guests were uncomfortable today, he would change it too. He did change things. Frequently, in fact. That was his favorite thing about Disneyland, that it could be changed. If a ride was failing to entertain, or a gag wasn't working, or a space felt empty, or even something as simple as a flowerbed being in a convenient walking path, it could be changed. The Jungle Cruise and the Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland originally opened as straight adventures. After hearing guests describe them as "boring", he added jokes to the narrations along with Marc Davis' famous gags. Ironically, it's one of his most famous gags that, under careful scrutiny, is no longer funny, and should be changed.

So to quote a famous fictional pirate, "The only rules that really matter are these: what a man can do and what a man can't do." For instance, you can accept that the auction scene was sexist and offensive, or you can't. But Pirates is going to change, so you'll have to square with that some day.

So, can you accept a little change and hope for the best, or can you not?

*The text for this disclaimer was suggested to me by Matthew Bradley, @matt_bradz09, in a Twitter discussion.