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Paul Follows the Exodus, Old School Returns to Anaheim
Things may be changing for the parks, however. Paul Pressler, who in late 1998 had been promoted from the Disneyland Resort to oversee Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, left to be CEO at The Gap, his position-hopping finally paying off with a top spot. Of course, his departure led to the departure of many others, some of whom joined him at The Gap. Jay Rasulo, from Disneyland Paris, assumed Paul's role. Cynthia Harriss, who seemed to embrace the role of Disneyland President, left (or was removed, depending on who you believe) abruptly in October after rumors she'd be following her longtime boss, Paul, out the door that had persisted ever since he left.
Some enthusiasts and old-school insiders have been encouraged by her replacement - Matt Ouimet, and his VP, Greg Emmer. The Disneyland Resort may be entering a new era, but then again everyone ultimately still answers to Michael Eisner, who has a reputation for micromanaging and demanding significant growth. Disneyland Park is older and established, and needs renewal of an aging infrastructure.
After Paul moved from The Disney Story to Disneyland Resort, the Stores faltered, largely because of saturation, lack of distinction, merchandise selection, and online alternatives. Hopefully, things will be different for Disney parks.
Tending to Things on Flower Street
In the mid-1980s, WED Enterprises became Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI). Under Team Disney, Imagineering was able to bulk up during projects like Disneyland Park's Splash Mountain, the projects at Walt Disney World Resort, and Disneyland Paris. Planning for three projects that never happened -Westcot, Disney Seas in Long Beach, and Disney's America in Virginia- also kept WDI busy, as did assisting with Disney's cruise line start-up. When the Disney Decade plans fell apart, WDI had to slim down.
For a while, there had been an arm of the corporation called Disney Development Company (DDC). This was the part of the corporation that handled all of the development of Disney resorts outside the boundaries of the theme parks themselves. DDC and WDI were grouped under the Disney Design and Development banner for a while, and then the whole thing was renamed Walt Disney Imagineering, though it was DDC people who were placed in charge. Imagineers, used to being the elite clique of free-thinking dreamers and tinkerers working in a secluded lab, found themselves in a new culture. It didn't stop there, however.
After Paul Pressler was promoted in the waning days of 1998 from President of the Disneyland Resort to President of Walt Disney Attractions (or Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, as it became), WDI was placed under his part of the corporation.
Imagineering the New Breed of Theme Park
Considering Imagineers had traditionally been involved in research and development, developing new concepts, and infusing elaborate theme park attractions with architectural, theatrical, and cinematic components, the future did not bode well, given the kinds of theme parks the corporation was now building. EPCOT Center had been massive and, while an adaptation of a world's fair concept, it featured extensive, unique attractions. As I mentioned before, Team Disney kept Imagineering busy through the rest of the 1980s expanding Walt Disney World Resort (including making a theme park -Disney-MGM Studios- out of what could have been an EPCOT Pavilion- and the existing parks. Disneyland Paris, while the fourth Magic Kingdom park and not a unique concept, featured modernized, re-imagined versions of favorite attractions. Westcot and Disney Seas (Long Beach) were massive concepts. Disney's America was planned to start out a little smaller, but was still going to be elaborate. Finally, Disney's Animal Kingdom park didn't feature many "ride-through" attractions, but it was a zoo taken to the next level, meant to push beyond places like the San Diego Wild Animal Park the way Typhoon Lagoon had gone beyond Wet n' Wild, and it had the rest of the Walt Disney World Resort to anchor it.
Disney's California Adventure was the first of the "new park" breed. Southern California Disneyland enthusiasts had first been presented with the Westcot concept, and some didn't like the less ambitious DCA simply because it was less ambitious. It was also mere feet away from Disneyland Park. Walt Disney World Resort's second park was EPCOT Center, which would have costs billions of dollars to build in 2000. Disneyland Resorts second park was going to be DCA, a park that was going to cost less than a billion dollars. It was the first Disney park to have an entire section devoted to off-the-shelf rides with no "show", and no theming other than being themed as...boardwalk rides. One signature attraction was a rafting, of the sort that three other southern California parks already had versions of. Unlike Splash Mountain, which was a long ride with a whole show tied in with a Disney film, this raft ride was impressive, but had no show. Most of the rest of the attractions were film-based, including two that were exact copies of their Walt Disney World counterparts.
You may enjoy a park like that, but a park like that does not require as much Imagineering as a park like Disney Seas. That is one reason why it is less expensive to build.
Speaking of Disney Seas, Imagineers who were earning kudos for their great work on Oriental Land Company's second Disney park, Tokyo Disney Seas, returned to Glendale in 2001 to find that they were out of a job because "Disney doesn't build parks like that anymore", and thus had no use for them.
Disney went out to open up Disney Studios Paris, which some enthusiasts grumbled was less of a park than DCA. So far, plans for a fifth Magic Kingdom - this one in Hong Kong - don't seem to buck the trend of DCA or DSP.