Category Archives: The Walt Disney Company

Regarding Disney’s $4 Billon Purchase of Lucasfilm

This is what happened the last time George Lucas and Marvel shared a common roof.

Avatar and Disney: Regarding Pandorlando

Avatar

Okay, just this once. On the occasion of the WalDisCo and James Cameron going abed, we'll allow Disney's theme parks division to be nakedly reactive. This isn't the first time Disney has parried a perceived threat to its theme parks (see every other article Jim Hill has written from 1998 onward), but it's got to be the first time that they've telegraphed a counterstrike. (Okay, okay: The first time since Eisner.) It must have taken real restraint for Disney's social media wonks not to send a message like this one to the bloggers:

Yes, the Avatar attractions we're now planning for Disney Animal Kingdom are a response to the runaway success of Universal Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Also: As you've long suspected, we profit from our theme parks; they're not a public trust.

No, we couldn't come up with our own franchise to compete with Potter. Pirates of the Caribbean and Star Wars already have a presence in the parks, and we can't build around them without screwing up already-themed areas at great risk; we don't dare rip up that much Walt. Also, Tron has too narrow an appeal, Prince of Persia was a stupid idea from the word go, and you know what we're doing with Cars.

Yes, you're absolutely right, o savvy observer of our business: The reason we didn't announce this at the D23 convention was because contracts weren't yet in place. You're so smart! And you use such big words.

No, we could care less that James Cameron is kind of an asshole. He's an asshole who gets your money, again and again, despite his flat storytelling and crotch-grabbing acceptance speeches.

No, we can't put it in Disney Hollywood Studios. That's not the park that so desperately needs paid admissions. And Avatar kinda fits into Animal Kingdom better, anyway, because it has trees and animals and stuff.

Yes, it would be nice to have those KUKA Robocoaster usage rights about now.

Yes, we expect Geoff Carter will show up, despite the fact that he's never seen Avatar and he never, ever wants to see Avatar.

EDIT, SEPTEMBER 21, 9:30 A.M. PACIFIC TIME: Less than a day after I posted this entry, Disney released a statement that more or less approximates it. You're welcome, Mr. Staggs! I'll invoice you shortly.

All Work and Cosplay

My Special Ladyfriend

Oh, I just don’t know. I get what Annie Leibovitz and Disney are trying to do with this campaign; it’s a shrewd effort to gain the consumer confidence of the Vanity Fair set, those holdouts who think that Disney entertainment is below them but the cult of celebrity isn’t. Well, if Academy Award-winners Jeff Bridges and Penelope Cruz think this Disney stuff is all right, then I guess I can pop a few antidepressants and take the kids.

Meanwhile, you should know that your children are looking at this stuff and they’re thinking, “Dude, you’re out of your element.”

It’s not that I don’t understand why celebrities would want to play dress-up for Disney and Leibovitz; it’s not like I wouldn’t slap on the phallus and clogs if Disney called and said “We need a Pinocchio for our national print and web campaign … and you’ll be working with the photog that ruined Miley Cyrus for us.” The part that I don’t understand is why Disney is going to this million-dollar effort while their own underpaid staff photographers have captured lots and lots of photos of celebrities goofing off in the Parks for free.

Colbert DCA

Hey there, it’s Stephen Colbert! And he’s in Disney’s California Adventure of his own free will.

hugh-jackman-disneyland-03

Huge Ackman! (The photo is from Just Jared and is used without permission, but I’m pretty sure one of Disney’s press wonks took it.)

Laura Dern

Laura Dern, who continues to make me hotter than Georgia asphalt, at the opening of Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage.

Nicolas Cage Disneyland

Aaaand just like that I’ve reunited the cast of “Wild at Heart.” (On an unrelated note: At least Nic wore a nice jacket, right? Who cares if he combed his hair with his thumbs?) I don’t have to look for a photo of Willem Dafoe riding Dumbo to know that it’s out there.

Mariska Hargitay

Look, it’s Maryk … I mean, it’s Marik-er … It’s that pretty lady from “Law & Order SVU!”

Johnny Depp

Look, it’s that pretty lady from “The Astronaut’s Wife!”

Granted, these are off-the-cuff candids and quickly-posed shots, not the elaborate (I’d say too elaborate) productions that Disbovitz seems to think they need. But these candids have something the Disney Dream portraits do not: a pulse. They’re fun, like the kind of fun one might expect to have in a Disney theme park. They don’t just sit there and congratulate themselves for being something that, despite its elaborate making, has almost no life to it. The Leibovitz photos are so thoroughly refined and processed that no one really needs to be there for it — not the celebrities, whose heads appear to be superimposed even though I know otherwise, and not Leibovitz, who could have easily farmed this entire job out to Disney’s art direction staffers.

So, do they work? Do these photographs make people want to visit Disneyland or Walt Disney World? Do people even realize that they’re supposed to want to do that? Or do they look at these shots and think “Wow, it’s like the orgy scene from ‘Eyes Wide Shut?'” Whatever the case, I’d expect Disney’s marketing army — the people who managed to sell us not one but two god-damned films starring chihuahuas — to come up with something a little less contrived. I don’t have the math on this, but I’d be willing to bet that more people Google the other Disney/Leibovitz collaboration — the one starring Miley Cyrus.

CORRECTIONS SINCE FIRST PUBLICATION: I corrected “Leibowitz” to “Leibovitz” throughout the piece; thanks to constant reader Ginny Morey for the catch. And I accidentally called the photographer “Fran Leibowitz,” which I’ll attribute to “writer’s blockade.”

The magic of Disney: Now search-engine optimized!

Mike is Concerned

There are things I could do to make Your Souvenir Guide more popular. No, no, you don't need to spare my feelings; I know that precisely five people read this thing. Even the sub-culture of Disney theme park geeks (er, "enthusiasts") at which this editorial is squarely aimed rarely interacts with Your Souvenir Guide, even when I say something inflammatory. (I DON’T GIVE A CRAP ABOUT THE DISNEY CRUISE LINE OMG WTF.) There are myriad ways to promote a blog, and I should be doing them. I should create a YSG page on Facebook. I should post more often than bi-annually. And I should optimize this content for maximum exposure in search engine results.

This latter process is called "search-engine optimization" — SEO for short — and it's killing English as you've known it. I don't fully understand SEO, but I do know that it requires the writer to use keywords in places that keywords wouldn't usually go. If you want people to find your unofficial Disneyland theme park blog, you need to use that phrase as often as possible. Under the terms of SEO, the new headline for this entry would be:

Unofficial Disneyland theme park blog: Disney applies SEO practices to its theme parks

And I'd need to put "unofficial Disneyland theme park blog" in the first sentence of the piece, as well. SEO isn't an art, it's a science, and not even a noble science, like distilling gin or playing "Angry Birds." SEO is rude, crude and in yo' face. And it surprises me to see Disney using it to name its newest attractions.

Consider. Until recently, Disney could name its attractions however it wanted, without regard for the thematic source; a dark ride based on "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" could be called "Roger Rabbit's Toon Car Spin," and a dark ride based on a "Toy Story" character could be called "Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters." It was enough to use the name of the character in the attraction name; the kids could figure out the rest.

Recently, however, Disney has been leaving nothing to chance. They've begun to stick the name of the source material right at the front of the attraction name. If they feel there's more to be said — if "Monsters Inc." doesn't fully describe the experience of an attraction — they add a clumsy subtitle.

Toy Story Midway Mania

Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor

The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure

Monsters Inc. Ride and Go Seek

Cars Race Rally

Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage

Monsters Inc. Mike and Sully to the Rescue!

Now, I'm just a freelance journalist untrained in the Imagineering arts, but it seems to me that with but a couple of exceptions, very few of those names make sense if you haven't seen the movies they're based on. (Believe it or not, there are still people on this planet who have never seen a Pixar film. Yeah. I know, right?) I could get worked up about this, or I could offer my help — and that's what I intend to do, right now. I won't tell Disney how to fix these attraction names to make them more attractive to the ear, but I will optimize every other attraction in the Parks so these new attractions don't stand out as much. Here's are a few examples of the SEO modifications I've conceived thus far:

Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs Scary Adventures

Finding Nemo: Themed Science Exhibit with Aquarium

Star Wars The Clone Wars Episode 3.5: Star Tours 2

Song of the South Splash Mountain (please visit NAACP.com)

Pirates of the Caribbean: Captain Jack Sparrow Shows Up Three Times

Ratatouille France

Toy Story: Toy Story Midway Mania!

Next week, I'll explain how every bathroom at Disney's theme parks could be improved with the addition of character photo locations. I swear, this stuff comes to me in dreams.

Shake it off, little fella

Splat! by Jason Freeny

Heh, heh. This is “Splat!”, by Jason Freeny. I’d wear this on a t-shirt to the Parks and by God I would have your scorn, because in my mind Mickey ceased to be interesting soon after Walt Disney stopped voicing him. Cute? Sure. Friendly? You bet. Human? No. I regard the Mouse as I regard a Coke bottle — as a masterwork of American design whose contents are too saccharine for my tastes.

It’s time for Mickey Mouse to go fishing or something (seems I once saw a cartoon in which he did just that), and allow Wall-E or Ariel or even that heart-faced nonstarter Duffy to be the face of the company for a while. I know Disney’s trying to make the Mouse more contemporary by stamping him into Kid Robot-like collectibles* and mussing up his hair in video games, but they’re only strengthing the character as a commodity; they’re not making him any more human. When a Jason Freeny slams Mickey into a wall and rorschachs him, at least we’re made to recognize that the Mouse isn’t invincible — and we wonder how he’s going to get out of that nasty fix, just as audiences did when Walt was still speaking for him.

Modern-day Mickey Mouse shouldn’t be trapped in his own mythology, fighting the same, safe malevolence he’s been vanquishing these past fifty years or so; he should be fighting to keep Peg Leg Pete from foreclosing on his home, sluicing buckets of water out of his waterfront shack, pounding the pavement looking for work. That’s the kind of scrapper we need right now — a Mouse with real problems and the wit and savvy to beat them back.

I like to think that Disney will eventually get it. “Epic Mickey” underperformed badly not because the game was poorly-conceived (and I know that Broke Hoedown disagrees with me in this), but because we weren’t ready to take Mickey back as a living thing. Removed from the context of the original shorts — which Mickey has been for years — we don’t know who he is or what he wants. We know only that he’s good-looking and that he seems a nice enough guy, like Keanu Reeves. We’re going to need more than that if we’re going to accept him as an everyman. He has to face discrimination, stare down bullies, and have his 80-year childless courtship of Minnie Mouse savagely questioned by the punditocracy. He needs to overcome. I like to think that John Lasseter and Bob Iger know this, and are trying to think of the best way to pull it off.

If you ask me, the best way to get Mickey Mouse out of his lethargy is to smack him into a wall. Do horrible things to him, and let him figure out how to fix them. That’s Storytelling 101, right there … and it’s where the Mouse came from, so he’ll know his way around. Remember that Mickey Mouse’s first seafaring job wasn’t captaining a floating theme park; it was piloting a broken-down steamship, and only for a hot second before being sent to the galley to peel potatoes.

We’re only captains for moments in time, Mickey. Mostly we’re peeling ourselves off of brick walls, saying okay, so that happened. Now what?

*I own twenty Vinylmation figures. That’s less due to my affection for Mickey Mouse — which does still exist, believe it or not — and more to my appreciation of these street art-like subversions of a popular form. I might have been tempted by miniature Coke bottles, similarly painted.