Kenversations™ - Nov 13, 2003

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by Ken Pellman (archives)
November 13, 2003
Ken reflects on the Disney Decade and remembers that sometimes, things change.

Kenversations™ - Plans Change! Case Study: The (Disneyland) Disney Decade

Plans change.

How many times have you heard about an upcoming attraction for a Disney park, and it never came to be? Or, if it was built, it happened years after it was supposed to, or wasn’t quite like you heard it was going to be?

Plans change. And since there is so much planning involved in new attractions for Disney parks, there’s a lot that can change and a lot of time for changes to be made.

Official announcements change, so you can imagine that even rumors based on reality can turn out "wrong". This is why anything you hear about future projects for Disney parks shouldn't be taken too seriously. Some people like to say "I’ll believe it the day after I see it." As I once said to a certain author/columnist, who was chagrined by listing future Disneyland projects in the back of one of his books: "Nothing is concrete at Disneyland, except for Splash Mountain."

Officially announced plans change for any number of reasons. Something else comes up that is much more popular and timely, and needs to be done first. Sometimes, funds that would have gone to the attraction are used elsewhere due to unforeseen circumstances. Changing executives and corporate politics may bring about changes, too. There have been cases where the technology wanted for the attraction just wasn't yet ready for prime-time. Finally, sometimes plans may be announced for strategic purposes involving competition.

Sometimes, fans hear about projects that have been proposed, being studied, or are under consideration, but haven't been given the green light. Places like Walt Disney Imagineering are full of people who are always creating, always coming up with something. However, not every concept can make it to reality. So, proposed attractions are even more subject to "change, delay, or cancellation" than announced projects.

Let's look at one of the clearest examples, the fabled Disney Decade.

Upward on Onward!
As 1989 gave way to 1990, Michael Eisner and Frank Wells were riding high after over five years at the top of the Disney organization. Michael's man Jeffrey Katzenberg was taking care of the studio, company cofounder Roy O. Disney's son Roy E. Disney was also there as the animation magic was returning with "The Little Mermaid". Marty Sklar, an old-schooler from the Walt days was leading Walt Disney Imagineering, and Disneyland Park was being run by other old-schoolers. After costly delays, Splash Mountain had opened and was a hit, as Star Tours had been at the dawn of 1987, with Captain Eo lighting up the scene just a few months before that. Disney finally had The Disneyland Hotel (and more importantly, regained the rights to open "Disney" hotels in the area), which brought along the Queen Mary/Spruce Goose operation in nearby Long Beach. Walt Disney World Resort had undergone a massive expansion with a third major theme park, a major new water park, Pleasure Island, and more hotels. "Euro Disneyland", as it was called back then, would be opening in a couple of years.

Disney had acquired Jim Henson Productions, with the services talented creative force who gave the company its name, and a whole new family of characters to add to its stable. Team Disney was counting on "Dick Tracy" to generate the same kind of money and momentum as "Batman" had done for Warner. Disney had even gotten into television ownership by transforming the independent KHJ-TV in Los Angeles into KCAL.

So, as 1990 rolled around and Disneyland Park kicked off a massive celebration for its 35th Anniversary, complete with the biggest parade it had ever staged, a stage show called "One Man's Dream" to celebrate the company, and a semi-rigged gift-giving massive slot machine in the middle of the park, it seemed only fitting that Michael Eisner pledged to reinvent Disney over the next ten years with the "Disney Decade", a grand plan to build on the existing momentum.

What did that plan include for Disneyland? Well, for legal and marketing purposes, one of things was to call it Disneyland Park. Disneyland was to be used as a descriptive term instead of a possessive term; hence Disneyland cast members, NOT Disneyland's cast members. The plan was to make it part of the Disneyland Resort by the end of the decade. Anyway, there were specific additions announced.

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