Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Regional Squabbling!

Just a short little thought, but one that includes a question I'd like to pose.

Mr. Lincoln has returned to Disneyland, and the show is very nice, if a tad too quickly paced for my taste. The return of the Paul Frees narration, gorgeous Buddy Baker music, and Battle Hymn of the Republic finale nicely fills a few gaps where I wished the new Hall of Presidents show here in Florida stuck closer to tradition, making the Floridian re-do much more acceptable overall for me. But I digress. This has gotten the wheel in my head turning about Mr. Lincoln, The Hall of Presidents, and demographics. Here I may be of more help to the discussion than most in that I actually worked at the Hall of Presidents for a bit.

Why is Mr. Lincoln doomed to a passive, spotty audience at Disneyland? The show certainly doesn't suffer for lack of a good location - indeed it's probably the most conveniently located show in the park, located right where you must enter and exit - and neither does it suffer for an audience hungry for history and tradition, as that's what Disneylandites do best. One can't do something at Disneyland like install automatic doors at Pinocchio Village Haus without resulting online discussion and photos, but this same history-conscious audience continues to traipse right past Mr. Lincoln twice a visit with nary a second thought.

Yet day in and out the fairly similar in appeal Hall of Presidents, a show nearly 25% longer and placed in a similarly large pedestrian space, attracts huge audiences at peak hours, sometimes filling a nearly 700 seat theater several times a year. Some of it has something to do with the immortal allure of air conditioning in Florida, some of it has something to do with the mostly older and more conservative demographic of the southeast, but I'm starting to wonder if some of it hasn't got to do with being on the East Coast.

I'm actually thinking of the hundreds of times I was asked if the show was Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, by full name, or if "Mr. Lincoln" would appear. I'm thinking of the dozens of people who told me about seeing Mr. Lincoln in New York in 1964, of how memorable it was. I'm thinking of the fact that the show in fact is native not to the West Coast, but the East Coast. Perhaps one of the numerous cultural differences we must take into account when discussing reception in one place or another is that the concept of a Mr. Lincoln show in relation to a Disney brand has rooted deeply in the East Coast, in the regional mythology, probably as strongly as a Matterhorn rollercoaster at Disneyland has rooted itself in the West Coast.

We also should take into account that most East Coast people have access to and may have visited the actual seat of our government, Washington D.C., and have access to the actual places where the events dramatized in the attraction have taken place. It's far more interesting when you've stood at Gettysburg, seen the real White House, looked at the balcony draped in black at Ford's Theater. The early history of the United States lives still on the East Coast, whereas California has always been founded by and for business. This may be another key to understanding why Californians aren't interested in sitting for Mr. Lincoln whereas East Coasters will sit to hear Mr. Lincoln's speech.

It may be turned around a bit to explain why these same Californians will fervidly defend their Enchanted Tiki Room, a show with a much more prominent placement and exterior in Florida which is mostly walked right past. The Tiki Room not only opened first in California, but Tiki culture itself is a very southern Californian thing, a kitsch culture which is proudly defended. Tiki began in Los Angeles in the 1940's and spread elsewhere before contracting back to Southern California, where backyard jungles and bamboo and Mai Tais still hold their appeal. Reversing the question yet again, this may be why the Country Bears still play to appreciate audiences in the South but were sent packing eight years ago in California, despite being steps away from the entrances to two of the most popular attractions in Disneyland.

So obviously regional culture and regional tastes enter into it quite a lot - quite a lot more, perhaps, than Disney fans seem to be ready to acknowledge. Too often online discussion of the domestic theme parks hinge on how to make the Magic Kingdom more identical to Disneyland, ignoring the fact that these parks are literally a continent apart, keep different hours, have different resources, are designed to be different, have different regional weather (the somewhat beat-up appearance of the Magic Kingdom is sometimes a result of Florida's punishing environment, which makes mince of WDI's careful work twice as quickly), and even are seen under different types of sunlight which dictates different colors and even different paint. And most importantly, they have different audiences which have different schedules and different needs.

Californians sit for the Enchanted Tiki Room because it is native Californian, distinctly so, just as Floridians find more to identify with and enjoy in Country Bear Jamboree than Californians. Some of these differences have been exploited by WED or WDI over the years - Liberty Square for Florida, New Orleans Square for California is an obvious one - but there are others we'll probably never guess at without direct access to Disney's information files. But it raises intriguing questions.

Would Superstar Limo have gone over well in Florida? How about California Adventure itself?

Would EPCOT Center have been more warmly received by Californians? Would Kitchen Kabaret still be playing today on the other side of the country?

Why doesn't anything in DCA drive attendance? Was it born with the Disney themed design equivalent of an original sin which will forever relegate it to third-rate status by Californians regardless of what it does offer? And why is Muppet-Vision 3D in line to be removed in California, but is a staple in Florida? Do East Coasters relate to Muppets better than West Coasters? Why has the Aladdin musical show proven to be far better received?

In a way this may prove to be the most fully convincing argument against cloning, Disney's current method for greenlighting attractions with a minimized financial risk. Who is Toy Story Midway Mania actually for - Right or Left Coasties? Will it be a walk on in DCA in five years but still run high capacity in Florida?