On Tony Baxter and His Window Dedication Ceremony

Time to Be Movin’ Along

Unfortunately, as he gained by the corporate fortunes he also lost by them. After completing the Indiana Jones Adventure, there would not be another project of that scope, innovation, impact, and success that he had such a strong hand in creating. The WestCOT project had been scrapped and others would oversee the opening of the replacement concept, California Adventure. With Disney parks taking a different direction, with so many of the people Tony worked well with having retired, moved on to other ventures, or passed way, with full years of service behind him and retirement age meeting him, he officially retired in early 2013.

Looking back over his run as a WDI employee, there were large projects and small. Here’s a good, but incomplete list of his involvements:

Opening Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom – Fantasyland dark rides, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Discovery Bay concepts*
Big Thunder Mountain (original at Disneyland)
The Living Seas concepts
The Land concepts
Journey Into Imagination
Disneyland New Fantasyland 1983-1984
Star Tours
The Disney Gallery
Splash Mountain/Critter Country (original at Disneyland)
WestCOT concepts and development
Port Disney/Disney Seas concepts and development
Tomorrowland 2055 and subsequent Tomorrowland renovation concepts
Disneyland Paris theme park
Little Mermaid Area concepts (for Disneyland, where Mickey’s Toontown ended up being built)
Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye/Disneyland Adventureland renovation
Disneyland Tomorrowland 1998
Tarzan’s Treehouse
Disneyland Autopia 2000
Soarin’ Over California (concept)
Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage
California Adventure overhaul concepts
Third Anaheim Gate concepts
Disneyland Sleeping Beauty Castle 2008 re-opening with new show
The Disneyland Story presenting Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln
Captain Eo Tribute 2010
Star Tours 2.0
Disneyland Fantasy Faire

That’s just theme park attraction stuff and doesn’t include any of the special events, books, artwork, or other collectibles and media he helped bring to the public.

(*I include some concepts – there are many more not listed  –  in the list because things have a way of eventually being developed, if in another form. For example, although Disney didn’t build the project in Long Beach, California, eventually a “Sea”-themed park was built as the second theme park for the Oriental Land Company’s Tokyo Disney Resort.)

With that body of work, it is not surprising that Tony Baxter is a Themed Entertainment Association Lifetime Achievement Award honoree. It is fitting that he was named a Disney Legend this year at the D23 convention, where it was announced he’d also be getting a window on Main Street. Both honors came at with what is, as far as I know, unprecedented immediacy.

You Can’t Run Away From Trouble – There’s Ain’t No Place That Far.

Window dedications, and Disney Legend induction ceremonies, like many other events honoring someone for a body of work, are blackslapping lovefests, with accolades aplenty, and Tony has many admirers and fans. However, like all groups of people, especially involving big business and creativity, The Walt Disney Company’s Park & Resorts division has always had personality and ego clashes, squabbles and skirmishes, not-so-friendly rivalries, and politics. Could anyone have a career with the longevity or list of completed projects like Tony’s without stepping on some toes, rubbing a few people the wrong way, or having some clashes? Having been with the same organization for so long, and having been involved in so much, there are inevitably some misses along the way (Walt himself had some), things with which some people legitimately find fault. Perhaps the biggest target is the 1998 overhaul of the Disneyland Tomorrowland.

The subject of the 1998 overhaul of Tomorrowland could probably fill a book. Plans for a thorough, exciting, comprehensive 1992 re-do (which would have been just five years after the original Star Tours opened) were delayed and then modified and cancelled. I could see trouble ahead back then, and in retrospect I was right (I still have, in good condition, a Tomorrowland 2055 jacket). Then came the mid-90s problems with Resort and corporate management, and many other factors that, like I said, could fill a book, and we ended up with what we got in 1998. Much of the 1998 version of Tomorrowland has since been altered or replaced piecemeal.

While there were some misses in what was built, many of the projects Tony worked on that were not constructed could very well have left Disney (and Anaheim, and Long Beach) better off. WestCOT, for example, was dumped and the less ambitious California Adventure was built, which later required a coordinated semi-closure for a ten-figure overhaul and expansion, with questionable connection to the park’s theme, to “fix” it.

It might not bother some of his strongest critics to know that, as much appreciation as he’s been shown, Tony has experienced his share of professional frustration, rejection, and slights, as just about anyone has.

That didn’t stop him from being one of, if not the, most successful and influential theme park designers ever. Without a doubt, Disneyland would not be anything like it is today if it hadn’t been for Tony and his teams, and many of the other Disney parks would be different, too.

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