The Imagineering Story Miniseries: Ep 5 - A Carousel Of Progress
It was important for Disney to reflect on what went wrong and what was successful. They needed to make sure that they don't repeat the same mistakes. The parks were in desperate need of an upgrade, returning the special touch that the company was known for. The parks are described as an ever changing movie that can grow and change and keep getting better. Once a movie is produced, it can’t be changed, that’s how it will be forever. However, a park can always be altered to reflect the change in technology, audience, or expectations for the park. When you go into a Disney theme park, you know what to expect. There is a quality to the work that you don’t get anywhere else.
I really enjoyed this episode because it demonstrates a period of growth and turn around in the company. In 2005, Bob Iger took over as CEO. Under his new leadership, the imagineering team was reborn. Iger believes in quality content and the strength in creativity. He recognized what needed to be fixed in the parks and within the company. He understood what was popular and what people wanted. He set Disney back on the right track and redeemed the company’s reputation in the theme park business. He knew that if the imagineers weren’t completely motivated and invested in the projects that it wasn’t worth doing. What sets Iger apart from Michael Eisner is his understanding that you can not compromise on the quality of the work. Eisner typically cut corners and didn’t put the money into imagineering that was needed to create these extravagant parks.
Bob Iger believed in three main principles; international expansion, the use of technology, and new creative content. One of the first things Iger noticed was the popularity of Pixar characters and how the deal between Disney and Pixar was coming to an end. Therefore, came the decision to buy Pixar for 7.4 billion dollars. In order for them to continue on they needed to fix the mistakes of the past. Thus, practically reinventing Disney’s California Adventure Park. They were committed to fixing it and doing it the right way, no matter the cost. The Pixar deal ended up being really helpful in this project because they were able to utilize all this new content throughout the park.
A couple examples of the use of Pixar movies include the ride ‘Midway Mania’ and the park ‘Cars Land’. The ‘Midway Mania’ attraction was an instant success where technology was at the center of it all. Even featuring a mr.potato head animatronic at the entrance that could pull out its own ear and interact with guests. They still wanted to bring back the classic Disney characters to the park which were originally left out. This included replacing the sun on the Ferris wheel with Mickey’s face and a new Goofy ride. Then to bring some night life to the park, the "World of Colour" light show was added that showcases 800 programmed fountains.
Then came one of my personal favourite parks, Cars Land. It was originally going to be just a car themed park until a particular Lightning McQueen centered Pixar movie was announced. John Lasseter, the director of Cars, worked very closely with the project to make sure it was right. They wanted to utilize the unique mountains to block out the outside world. When I was there I stayed at a hotel directly behind Cars Land and you would never know it was right there, it feels like the mountains go on forever.
When it came to building the ride system for ‘Radiator Springs Racers’ they recognized early on that cars don’t feel like roller coasters. Cars don’t run on tracks and don’t function the way a roller coaster does. They found that the perfect ride system already existed in Epcot. They took the same ‘Test Track’ ride vehicle designs and made them look like the cars from the movie. This gave them character and personality. The team also utilized VR technology and small scale models to help design the ride. The ride was heavily focused on story, and imagineers looked at successful animatronic led rides like Pirates of the Caribbean.
The new and improved Disney’s California Adventure Park was a huge success. People loved what they did with the park and the whole atmosphere of the park was changed.
Disney then bought Marvel Entertainment, the theme park rights for Avatar, and Lucasfilm LTD. Some of the most popular entertainment companies and movies of all time. Showing once again that Iger understands what people want to see.
At this point they wanted to expand Hong Kong Disneyland by 25% and showcase attractions exclusive to this particular park. This included a new version of the Haunted mansion, different from the two in Florida and California. In Hong Kong they have a different view of the afterlife than in North America. Therefore, they wanted to create a completely different and fresh concept. They used a new ride system similar to 'Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance’. In order to avoid the language barrier, the ride relied on the use of music instead of dialogue, which Danny Elfman composed.
DisneyLand Paris’ second park ‘Walt Disney Studios Park’ was in dire need of an upgrade. Thus, came the idea for a Ratatouille themed ride. It had to give the illusion of the rider being an 8 inch tall rat. They used screens, giant props, heat, water and scent to create this illusion. This became an exclusive and beloved attraction in Disneyland Paris, and is currently being built in Epcot at Disney World.
The episode ended with the announcement of Shanghai Disneyland. Pushing once again for international expansion and bringing the Disney parks to more places across the globe. I think this episode is all about rebuilding the brand. Before the change of leadership the company just kept making mistake after mistake. They were losing sight of the quality of work they are known for. I think that California Adventure Park was the last straw when they decided that Disney can't continue to operate like this. It is because of this re-imagining of the park that proved Disney is back and here to stay.