...just a short note on a subject that has been weighing heavily on my mind recently, which is the rumored (still rumored, but as of yet unproven) alteration of Walt Disney's original Small World to make it 'more relevant to today's youth', or, to put it another way, bring it more in line with company policy. I don't really hate the idea - honest, I don't! The Disneyland original Small World has always been something of an odd duck to me with very few of the design refinations featured at Walt Disney World under Rolly Crump. A few years ago I started to hear about these ideas of adding Disney characters to it's a small world and my general reaction was "oh, ok, they want to justify why it's in Fantsyland, right?"
Well what's being proposed now is frankly much less tasteful, which is the inclusion of an America scene and the removal of Blair's unspeakably wonderful rain forest scene, effectively removing two of the greatest masterstrokes in the attraction. Make no mistake, the fact that America is represented only by two small figures at the very end of the ride is, in my estimation, the single greatest stroke in the entire attraction: the point is that you practically forget about the country until the very end, and the effect is as subtle as it is humble. The inclusion of America in the France version of the ride is inevitable and acceptable since that version is meant for Europeans; the insertion of America to the original US version of the ride is as depressing as it is half-hearted.
But more than all this, the saddest thing about the whole affair is twofold for me. The first is that, after ten years of WDI destroying almost every ride that was special to me - Dreamflight, Mr. Toad, World of Motion, Horizons and Journey into Imagination - around 2003, the nonsense finally stopped. Suddenly the tide turned and taste or at least ambition seemed to be the operative keyword. Mickey's Philharmagic just dazzled me the first time I saw it. Stitch's Great Escape was a fascinating effort, and I rode it nearly every other week for about six months watching them tweak the show in and out of comprehension, over and over again, fighting the design of the attraction itself. Expredition Everest is at least a crowd pleaser, and I'd much sooner ride Soarin' at EPCOT than at DCA, thank you very much. Pirates of the Caribbean was a wonderful improvement on the Walt Disney World version (the changes were designed only for it in mind, can't you tell?), with the mild exception of the fact that those eight or nine WDW-exclusive animatronics at the end of the ride failed to appear elsewhere in the attraction when the dust cleared. The Haunted Mansion was a rousing success, with the exception of the against the grain new attic scene,which I have spent far too many words arguing against already.
When speaking of full scale restoration efforts we can't forget the return of the Carousel of Progress as a year round attraction, Spaceship Earth's continued lease on life, the wonderful revitalization of the Orlando Small World, and thousands of other small improvements and implementations over the years.
Even the embarrassing new Canada film and the about even transformation of the wonderfully tacky El Rio del Tiempo into the energetic Gran Fiesta Tour didn't throughly shake my confidence in Imagineering the way this new bit of news has. I'll probably never fully forgive Disney for so throughly destroying so much of what made Walt Disney World wonderful for me in the 90's, but I had, at least, started to trust their judgment. I hope to be able to again.
But even worse, the most embarrassing thing about "Blairgate", is the Company's complete refusal to engage the community on the community's own terms. The open letter sent by Marty Sklar to the community was insultingly condescending, effectively saying "Hey, stupid, we know what's best for you." There's been a lot of rumbling in Academic circles lately discussing the classification of Disney as a new 'religion', and if we can apply this metaphor to Walt Disney as a condense deity and religious text, than the Walt Disney Company has repeatedly invoked The Power of Walt in response to every challenge the community has thrown its' way. It's not working now and they have a problem.
I've long contested that the chain of communication between the company and the fan groups has been broken for a long time, which the company itself tacitly acknowledged by hiring John Lasseter as an effective representation of 'your interests' within WDI. But the lack of meaningful communication between Disney and it's fans is a through embarrassment this time around, and they've unwittingly made "Blairgate" into a bigger embarrassment than 'Toadgate" ever was, where even today Disney still trots out the company line on the death of Mr. Toad as a gag reflex in response to anything in Fantasyland. This whole mess will linger in the public's unconscious for years after, tarnishing the company's image, just as Toad has, and on a much larger scale.
What's worse is that Disney won't allow the fans inside their thought process, issue a coherent argument, or do much anything except Invoke the Power of Walt. In Marty Sklar's letter he contests that these rumors are throughly exaggerated. If this is true, this is the best possible news the protesters could possibly hear. But we've learned not to take Disney on their word any more. We need to see and hear proof positive that the Disney Company is not forthcoming with. If Sklar's statement is true, then the entire scandal will literally evaporate overnight. If it isn't, then guess what? Disney has lied to our faces and it's on the public record. Great job folks.
Honestly, it's a pretty lousy situation. Most companies would just love to have the level of faithfulness and passion that Disney enjoys from their fan base from any sector of their audience, but Disney just doesn't seem to want these people hanging around the private boy's club of executive privilege. It allows for other opinions to enter. If that's their opinion of us then within a few decades there may be no more boosters of this company left. I sure know I've almost sent back my mouse ears a few times.
OK, having said all that I feel better. Time to get back to writing next week's piece... a more positive and fun one!