Monday 25 February 2013

Disney Castles - The problem with Shanghai's Enchanted Storybook Castle

Today on my blog I'm going to have a rant. This is entirely my own opinion. You have been warned.

Every Disney Theme Park resort that has been or is currently being constructed contains their own Magic Kingdom style park. Each of these parks are unique, even though they have distinct similarities. At the centre of each of these parks is a castle. These castles act as the centre piece and unofficial icon of their parks.

It is very well documented that when Walt designed Disneyland he wanted a 'Weenie' at the end of Main Street to pull crowds into the park. He chose Sleeping Beauty's Castle as that centre. When designing the Magic Kingdom at WDW they decided they wanted something bigger and more extravagant, and thus Cinderella's Castle was built.

So far so good. Two parks with two unique  beautiful centerpieces.

Then came Tokyo Disney. From what I understand of the planning of Tokyo Disneyland, they were very short on time and basically cut out what they saw as the best parts of the first 2 Magic Kingdoms and stuck then in one park. So Tokyo Disneyland got an exact copy of Cinderella Castle. This in my view was the first mistake.

When it was time to build Disneyland Paris, WDI made what I think was a half good decision. They recognized that the castles they had built in the US had been European in style and they would be less unique in Paris. So they built 'Le Ch√Ęteau de la Belle au Bois Dormant'. A new bigger version of Sleeping Beauty's Castle.

Hardly revolutionary thinking. I guess there must only be 2 Disney movies that have castles in them. That makes sense, you only ever see 2 Disney princesses. Right?

So Disney again got the chance to build a Magic Kingdom park in Honk Kong. And they built... a carbon copy of Sleeping Beauty's Castle from Disneyland. The claim was that it was cheap.

For those keeping score it's 3-2 Sleeping Beauty over Cinderella.

When I heard that Shanghai Disney was really going to happen I was over the moon. My first thought was, is it finally going to be 3-3? Then came the rumor that it would be a brand new center castle. Brilliant! A new iconic movie castle. Maybe from a Disney classic? Or a modern movie. Personally I was hoping for Princess Jasmine's palace from Aladdin. Sure it's not Chinese but how popular are the European castles in the two US Parks.

Imagine my disappointment at discovering that the new castle would be an Enchanted Storybook Castle and that all the princess would live there. What a failure. Talk about design by committee. Death by a thousand cuts. I can't believe that WDI couldn't come up with something better than that. I'm sure it will look cool, but it doesn't mean anything. It doesn't make me want to visit the park. It is the kind of generic bland theming that belongs in a steel coaster amusement park.

I'm sure there will be lots of amazing aspects to this new park. It makes me sad that with such a big investment that something so simple kills my excitement for it. It's too late for Shanghai. But next Magic Kingdom wherever it is built, let's hope we get a new iconic and specific center castle.

Thursday 14 February 2013

SeaWorld Orlando to add Madagascar

The interesting theme park news from the last few days is that the company that owns SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa have purchased the rights to use DreamWorks' Madagascar in their parks in the Orlando area. This is interesting on a number of fronts.

Firstly, Universal have traditionally worked with DreamWorks in a number of parts of the world. This includes Shrek in all of the Universal parks, and even a quite popular Madagascar ride in Universal Studios Singapore. Now we have their cross town rivals buying IP rights from underneath them.

Secondly it shows that not only are DreamWorks happy to play the field to get best value for their content. Not only that, but they are not simply bundling all their IP into one basket. This is an intriguing move. This gives them immediate value for their property but it means they will only continue to get returns while each piece of IP remains current.

Interesting from an Australian perspective as we have just seen an ugly IP switch between our two major chains. The IP for Nickelodeon was not wanted by Dreamworld who held the rights to it up until 2011. They wanted to switch to DreamWorks. Rival Sea World bought out the rights to Nickelodeon, leaving Dreamworld in the lurch for a number of months. Dreamworld was forced to remove all Nickelodeon branding and retheme Nick Central to a generic "Kid's World" until the rights for their DreamWorks Experience was available. Having said that they finally opened a wonderful area dedicated to Shrek, Madagascar  and Kung Fu Panda. Without question the best themeing Dreamworld has added in many years.

Could we see this kind of situation happening in the US or Singapore? Probably not. However it does make you wonder if parks will continue to invest the same way if the next big movie might be sold to their competitors.

Friday 8 February 2013


So it is DCA's 12th birthday today. Lots of people are very excited that, as this is a park that has added a number of fans in the last few years.

An innocent comment by a DCA fan on Twitter has sparked some debate over the popularity of two of the Disney parks. The claim was that DCA is now the best 2nd gate. Being the pedant and party pooper I am, I immediately said, what about Tokyo DisneySea, Islands of Adventure and EPCOT.  Clearly DisneySea is in a different league.  IoA's ranking seems to depend on your theme park religion.

So let's simplify. What is the best US Disney 2nd gate today?

This is a very contentious issue.  My personal view is EPCOT by a nose. For me there is no doubt that 10 years ago it was EPCOT hands down. But DCA has massively improved over that time, while EPCOT has been on a noticeable slide. My view is based on which I'd rather go to, since I haven't been to either in a long time.

It is close. EPCOT is a better structured park and is more unique, but has weaker attractions. Whereas DCA doesn't have a great layout, but has a strong set of attractions.

I'd love to to know what other fans think. Which park is better DCA or EPCOT?

Wednesday 6 February 2013

Seal Harbour at Sea World

So in August last year we brought you news of a new planned Seal area at Sea World. Sea World has had an excellent show starring their Seals and Sea Lions, but there was not a permanent display for them inside the park. Initially slated to open before Christmas last year, and then reportedly to open on Boxing Day, we finally got a glimpse of this area in mid January.

Seal Harbour officially opened on January 25th. Reports that I had heard from the soft opening period were that the area was big and well designed but only held a handful of Seals. Hopefully more seals have been brought in now the area is up and running.

I look forward to seeing this area as they are beautiful animals and a fitting addition to Sea World's current lineup.

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Tony Baxter quits WDI

In the biggest news of this year, Imagineering legends Tony Baxter has resigned from WDI. He will continue on in a consultative role, but there is definitely going to be a huge hole left behind.

It was particularly interesting to read the leaked memo that was sent out to his fellow imagineers. It shows that he was deeply unhappy with some of the directions the company has taken, which really means something from a 47 year veteran.

If you want to check out some expert opinion on this huge story, I highly recommend this story from  @ProgressCityUSA.