First Comes Change from Imagineers, Then Comes a Small World War from Park Goers

I came across an article this morning from the Orange County Register, and it struck a nerve with. It also triggered a thought I had during the final episode of Disney+’s hit series- The Imagineering Story. While watching the episode, I was happy that finally Disney Imagineering was addressing why they change an attraction, and how tons of Disney obsessed fans reach out to them. Not necessarily with positive feedback either.

I like change, change is good. Since all the announcements were made at D23 regarding the transformation of Epcot, I cheered while most questioned Disney Imagineers. I believe Disney Imagineers are re-imagining the park, while staying within the vision Walt initially had for his it.

That being said, I’ve done my fair share of complaining over the years. Case in point- February 2002. My family was on our yearly vacation at Walt Disney World, my siblings and I eagerly hopped into our vehicle at Journey Into Imagination, ready to indulge in the nostalgia of our childhood with our dear friends- Figment and the Dream Finder. Within seconds, we realized everything had changed. Not to be dramatic, but we wanted to press an emergency stop button, hop off, and find out which Imagineer ordered these changes (where of course, we would demand answers). Obviously, we didn’t do that. Rather, we rode the entire ride, complained about it and quickly drowned our sorrows in Mickey pretzels and cheese dip. But it’s amazing how a change like that can really get to us true Disney lovers.

I’ve been on Figment with my kids, and every time we get off the ride, I feel the need to tell them; “When mommy was little, the ride was a lot different.” What’s worse is that my kids can take or leave that ride. But to my siblings and I, that ride was everything- it was our childhood. My kids will never know the magic and whimsy of a Rainbow Corridor, can you imagine that?

Below is the full article from the Orange Country Register. I hope that when reading it, you’ll see Imagineering’s side of the story and how they try to explain to all of us why they do these things. What do you think? How do you feel when changes are made to some of the classic attractions?

Disney+ Recalls the “Small World War” and the challenges of changing classic Disneyland rides. 

December 19, 2019: Walt Disney Imagineering faces an never-ending challenge: Should Disney’s creative team change a classic Disneyland ride or preserve the beloved attraction for nostalgia’s sake?

The fifth episode of “The Imagineering Story” on the new Disney+ streaming service delves into the dilemma of updating cherished Disneyland attractions and the inevitable uproar from diehard fans that accompanies any change to Walt Disney’s original theme park in Anaheim.

“Guests want everything to stay the same, just as they remember the first time they ever came, but that’s really not a good idea because things become stale. Walt wanted all of these attractions to be updated. He kept saying you’ve got to keep this thing alive, fresh and new.” -Kim Irvine, Art Director at Disney Imagineering

A number of classic Disneyland rides have undergone major renovations in recent years, including King Arthur Carousel (2003), Mad Tea Party (2004), Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage (2007), Alice in Wonderland dark ride (2014) and Peter Pan’s Flight (2015). Snow White’s Scary Adventures, Haunted Mansion and Indiana Jones Adventure will go under the knife in early 2020 at Disneyland.

“Disney faces a continuing struggle with trying to keep the parks dynamic, current and fresh while maintaining the essential essence of the place” – Bob Weis, President of Disney Imagineering

Weis also followed up his statement during the panel discussion by saying- “We are the stewards of the parks, we don’t own the parks. The audience owns them.”

Imagineering has always followed 1 simple rule when making changes to Disneyland: Any update needs to improve the classic attraction.

Photo: Disneyland

Adding “The Nightmare Before Christmas” theme to Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion seemed like a crazy idea in 2001. Fans blew up the internet at the time accusing Disney of “attacking our sacred ride.”

“We were very cautious in everything that we did,” Disney’s vice president of parades and spectaculars Steve Davison said in the docuseries.

Photo: Disneyland

Imagineering updated Pirates of the Caribbean several times — causing an uproar with each change to the classic attraction. Through the years, Disney removed a bride auction scene and added a trio of Captain Jack Sparrow audio-animatronics to the revered boat ride. Some fans felt the changes took the marketing of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie franchise too far.

“Our fans are a blessing and sometimes not so much,” Irvine said in the documentary. “I love their feedback. I love to hear what they think about things. But it’s also very difficult to please them and to convince them that they need to trust us. That we love this park as much as they do and we try very hard to do the right thing.”

The announcement that Disneyland planned to add 29 new dolls to It’s a Small World based on Disney and Pixar animated characters caused a “Small World War” among fanatics. Alice in Wonderland would be added to the England scene, Cinderella would join the France scene and Woody and Jessie from “Toy Story” would be featured in a new American West scene.

“While this was happening I was afraid to go out on the street at night,” Irvine said in the docuseries. “It was really serious and people were very upset about it.”

“Disgusted” fans raged online about Disneyland’s “idiotic plan” that would cause “pointless destruction” and “gross desecration” of Imagineer Mary Blair’s designs for It’s a Small World. The Small World outcry prompted Disney Legend Marty Sklar to pen an open letter in 2008 to aggrieved fans.

“We all agree that It’s a Small World is a Disney classic,” Sklar wrote in the letter. “But the greatest ‘change agent’ who ever walked down Main Street at Disneyland was Walt himself. In fact, the park had not been open 24 hours when Walt began to ‘plus’ Disneyland and he never stopped.”

Sklar addressed the rumors head on that Imagineering was ruining Walt Disney’s creation.

Photo: Disney Archives

“I’ve heard that we are planning to remove the rain forest, add Mickey and Minnie, create an ‘Up with America’ tribute, to effectively ‘marginalize’ the Mary Blair style and Walt’s classic. In fact, just the opposite is true. We want the message of brotherhood and goodwill among all children around the world to resonate with more people than ever before, especially today’s young people.”

Striking a delicate balance between tradition and innovation will always remain an eternal internal struggle for Imagineering.

Weis recounted a story about receiving a letter from an impassioned fan who was upset Disneyland had moved a park bench where the fan’s grandparents had gotten engaged. The letter-writer had a simple but stern message: Put it back!

“The audience really has a sense of ownership,” Weis said during the panel discussion. “You have to have quite a bit of awareness and interest in that.”

How do you feel about any update that takes place at Disneyland or Walt Disney World? Comment below and let us know!

Source: OC Register, article written by Brady Macdonald on Dec. 19, 2019

Kristi is the Media and PR Director for The Kingdom Insider. She's a lifelong Disney fan and grew up spending her family vacations at the Happiest Place on Earth. She resides in Florida with her husband and two boys, ages 4 and 6.