|This site tries to reflect ambivalence (real or imaginary) about what Walt Disney World is today, how much of its past is worth remembering and whether anything I write serves a useful purpose in describing an increasingly small percentage of the resort’s lost or altered features. There’s no unified theory, and it makes nearly no difference to anyone either way, but most of what you see here is a product of these conclusions:
WYW will only ever appeal to a relatively narrow spectrum of Disney fans
That might include people who grew up with or worked at WDW during its first 15 years, people who didn’t get to do that but appreciate the subject and/or people who like dubious forums for topics that others treat more preciously.
I’m happy to learn of instances where people outside the above categories find the site to be worth their time, and certainly love the fan base that has been so loyal to WYW over the years, but none of this was done with a broad audience in mind.
I’m no historian
More irritating than a historian, yes, but a real historian’s WDW site would eventually have a Golf Resort page. This site won’t because the Golf Resort was an effort on Disney’s part to make something that particularly didn’t feel like it was made by Disney or sitting on Disney property. Something for people who’d rather golf than ride The Jungle Cruise, possessing all the intrigue of a cedar-shingled garden shed, without so much as a single Mary Blair mosaic of Scottish children losing a golf ball to deer. A missed opportunity like that finds no nostalgic refuge on this site. But seriously, WYW was never going to be comprehensive or balanced. Thankfully there are multiple online pioneers doing a great job of covering parts of WDW that WYW does not. – a better job than WYW could, for that matter.
The WDW of my youth (and probably yours) is gone forever
Even if the company rebuilt Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride inch for inch, it wouldn’t sit opposite 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea or down the path from Snow White’s Scary Adventures. It was the combination of all those things that made early WDW so amazing to me as a child, not a few magnificent pieces. The increasingly scarce original features that remain are valuable (to the extent which latter-day project teams can resist the apparently tremendous impulse to mess with them) and sit on kind-of-sacred ground, but WDW is run by an organization that seems perpetually torn between maintaining its vastness to discernible quality standards, growing its profit margins, valuing its dynamic past and creating new experiences that are often strikingly dissimilar in tone from those that once defined the place.
The WDW of today is a ponderous combination of the old, the new, the good, the bad and the incomprehensible
While some decent things have been added since the 1980s, that was the starting point for the routine disappearance of cool older features, the “fixing” of things that weren’t broken and renovations that discounted aesthetic foundations laid by WDW’s original designers. By the turn of the last century, the challenges WDW faced in maintaining itself were daunting. Pearly white shorelines became weed gardens, animated figures were removed or left inoperable and disinterested cast members became less an exception if not quite a rule. As if all that wasn’t enough, the average guest also got way nastier over time*. This puts the modern-day WDW at odds with its majestically clean and thematically integrated former self of 1971-1986.
Some who are conflicted about WDW (skeptical and hopeful) may see in it continuity between 1971 and today. Some of us don’t see continuity but look for it. Some of us are just confused and looking for photos of Merlin’s Magic Shop.
There’s no right or wrong reason to like, or dislike, today’s WDW
My daughter has always been partial to the Tower of Terror and my son thinks Test Track is one of the best things on Disney property. I’ll never know what impact World of Motion might have had on them since, like many other things, it was gone before they came along. I just imagine they’d like many of WDW’s ex-attractions because they seem to appreciate a lot of other stuff their parents liked 30 years earlier. It should be perfectly annoying for younger WDW fans to hear people like me suggest that the resort’s best years are behind it, and if you’re a huge Beauty and the Beast fan then you’d probably choose WDW 2013 over WDW 1979, but we’re just talking about opinions (opinions about theme parks no less!). WDW means different things to different people, and the difficult heart on my sleeve didn’t come with a crown making me King of Everybody. If it had, everybody would be too busy making onion rings and Pamela Tiffin clones to compare notes on talking candlesticks. But since one of WYW’s goals was to explain how cool the old WDW was to me as a kid (and in what ways, specifically, before it changed), I sometimes use comparisons to help with that. So WYW is not only long-winded, it might also be dismissive toward something like the 2002 addition of an Aladdin carpet ride to Adventureland’s main courtyard, not because I have anything against Aladdin (I liked the movie), but just because that was a stupid place to put an Aladdin carpet ride. Assuming, of course, that the goal was not to block the once-impressive view of the Sunshine Pavilion from the east or reduce the size of its wonderful terraced ponds.
Pointing out Walt Disney Imagineering’s missteps isn’t the same as chaining its designers to pillories and braining them with rotten fruit
First of all, it’s hard to get them to a pillory because they wriggle. Furthermore, even if
someone said Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management was the worst attraction ever or that it would have made Walt Disney cry like the Indian in the Keep America Beautiful commercial, it wouldn’t equate with hating the show’s writers. They may be nice people who meant well. But the same could perhaps be said of whoever made a movie called Legal Eagles. And no one ever should have made a movie called that.
Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management was the worst attraction ever
It would have made Walt Disney cry like the Indian in the Keep America Beautiful commercial.
Of course no one really knows what Walt Disney would have done with the Tiki Room had he lived to see its 35th anniversary, so anyone could invoke his name as a proponent of change to suggest that maybe, you know, Walt himself might have thought that the update was kind of cute or fun. My guess is Walt Disney wouldn’t have thought that, but hey – care to guess how much time I spent with Walt Disney back in the day?
Hypothetical Walt-projecting stuff like this has existed since he died in 1966. Hearing first-generation WED alumni castigate their brethren for engaging in it is more interesting than a lot of what resulted from it. Sometimes trying to imagine what Walt would have done led to changed directions on projects and sometimes one imagines that it didn’t figure into the equation much at all. How could key Walt Disney Productions figures who once worked with Walt (for example Card Walker or John Hench) assert in a 1975 press conference that the company’s ultimate direction on EPCOT Center was “exactly” what Walt was talking about ten years earlier, when it was so documentably far off that course**? Only by having worked so exhaustively to concoct a new use for the EPCOT acronym that they firmly believed they could deliver the promise of a model city without actually building one -and- by not having to worry about their former boss walking into the room and raising his famous left eyebrow.
You can’t know for sure what Walt Disney would have done in every possible instance or run a company in a state of paralysis based on those assumptions, but you can hone close to the spirit of what he embraced during his lifetime. And that’s where the 1998 Tropical Serenade reworking messed up. It wasn’t because it updated a Walt-authored classic, it was because it upended the aesthetic sensibilities of a Walt-authored classic (whereas the 1971 Tropical Serenade overlay at WDW was an aeshetic upgrade to Disneyland’s original Tiki Room). Every new UNM element broke from the vocabulary of the first version***; the new birds looked more like plush toys than Fritz or Pierre, the music was post-modern to the point of schizephrenia and the script was equally chaotic. After 40 years of crafting theme park rides and shows, that was how WDI updated a pillar of the form? The pre-show toucans cracking wise about the Mighty Ducks? Tikis singing doo-wop? A Polynesian goddess named Uh-oah? It was the worst example of culture clash between WED’s “old guard” approach to entertainment and the Michael Eisner-era “Superstar Limo” approach to entertainment. There are many ways to make an attraction, but trying to do it every way you can all at the same time on top of something that your creative superiors left to you a generation earlier is, at best, inadvisable.
Then came the rationale that since modest attendance at Tropical Serenade in the early 1990s was a concern for WDW management, the 1998 update probably helped prevent the Tiki Room’s outright closure. That kind of thinking might have kept The Walt Disney Story playing on Main Street past its 1992 closure. Only instead of Buddy Baker’s haunting score and Walt’s own voice, guests would have heard Kriss Kross beats and Robin Williams making asides about the flatulence of Doc Sherwood’s horse. No thanks.
Some attractions are better off dead than “jazzed up.” For me, Tropical Serenade was one of them. Of course, that UNM version of the show is now itself gone and it left behind a Sunshine Pavilion where the birds and tikis sing without extraneous garbage, but also without their original centerpiece fountain (thanks for nothing, Uh-oah). Did the 2011 return of the original show in an abridged format make UNM seem more innocuous in hindsight? Not to me, but I don’t wash my hands to make the time they spent covered in pizza grease seem better than having stuck them in a lion’s mouth, I do it because I don’t want pizza grease on my PS3 controller or in my ears. The designers who used the January 2011 fire in UNM as their starting point for cleaning up the Tiki Room may have acted first and foremost out of pragmatism, but they should still get credit for not screwing up the third Florida version of the show with unnecessary bells and whistles. They used all of those in the Haunted Mansion’s extended queue.
WDI is still capable of producing good work, and has continued to do so sporadically since the days when people like Mary Blair, Harriet Burns, Claude Coats, Rolly Crump, Marc Davis and Sam McKim made amazing things happen with Walt Disney as the guiding force
Disney possesses the requisite skills to deliver high-quality experiences and in all likelihood will do so in the future. The question for me isn’t whether they can do things well, it’s more one of why they didn’t do so more often … especially in Florida … back when more attention to the big picture might have spared the loss of some fantastic things that guests would still love today. WDW’s development between 1986 and 2006 was a series of random projects authorized largely by people with no grasp of what was special about WDW before they got their hands on it, and therefore no inherent sense of what not to monkey with. While things appeared to be on an overall upswing by 2012, today’s design teams often deal with “damaged goods” that 21st-century budgets can’t comprehensively resolve. They could still do great things, I think, because Universal does great things regularly and that’s just the result of talented people coming up with impressive ideas and bringing them to life, right? Surely the fact that a local rival took the lead in producing cool, detail-rich experiences doesn’t mean WDW should throw in the towel? Maybe they should just bring back Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (seriously, WDW, you can’t correct that mistake?), leave what’s left of the original Haunted Mansion alone and let the people on their payroll who know the most about the parks’ history helm the ship further away from muddy shoals. And maybe WYW’s ambivalence is mostly imaginary.
* A likely result of A) people seeing less difference now between a trip to WDW and a trip to Walmart, B) the average guest feeling more entitled to act however they want because what they paid to get into the parks and/or hotels was astounding and often meant saving up for years and C) Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management.
** I really loved the original EPCOT Center (1982-1992), but it was so thinly related to Walt Disney’s EPCOT (the city) plan that earnest comparisons back in the day were just tap-dancing exhibitions. And if you don’t think the company had a chip on its shoulder about this, don’t forget that WDW employees were reminded frequently in the early 1980s that inadvertent references to the new theme park as just plain “EPCOT” could be grounds for discipline.
*** WDI did bring in some of the original Tiki Room voice artists like Thurl Ravenscroft to record new lines. That’s like asking your grandparents to countersign on a car loan, then driving the car through their living room and giving one of them a heart attack because it seemed like a funny idea. On paper. At the time.