In this sequel to his best-selling first volume of Disney Demystified, David Mumpower once again has Mickey by the tail and won't let him go until the mouse squeaks clean and comes up with the goods on more of the stuff that Disney classifies as secret.
Some people like a little mystery in their lives. They don't want the backstory. For them, Walt Disney World just appeared one day, and it's enough to ride the rides, see the shows, and swallow whatever the cast members spoon feed them.
But you know Mickey's holding back the good stuff. Like:
Mumpower cracks the case on these and many more mouse-steries, including a special chapter on Disney myths and legends.
If you like your Disney demystified, this is your E-ticket to enlightenment.
Chapter 1: Disney Landmarks
Chapter 2: World Showcase
Chapter 3: Disney Spies
Chapter 4: The Living Seas
Chapter 5: Hollywood Studios
Chapter 6: The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights
Chapter 7: Animal Kingdom
Chapter 8: Beastly Kingdom
Chapter 9: Pleasure Island
Chapter 10: How Frozen Took Over the World
Chapter 11: The Fifth Disney Park
Chapter 12: Disney Myths and Legends
As I discussed in detail in Disney Demystified: Volume One, Imagineers faced a seemingly impossible situation in the wake of Walt Disney’s death. The man who built the Disney dynasty had spent the last years of his life hoarding Florida swampland in anticipation of building the Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow. He imagined a utopia based on capitalism and innovation.
What Walt couldn’t have possibly anticipated when he announced the project in November of 1965 was that he would die only 13 months later. He was the man with the dream and the ambition about the Florida Project. His death left a void that was difficult to fill.
His brother, Roy O. Disney, demonstrated loyalty to his late brother by putting off retirement until the completion of what everyone now called Disney World, later expanded into Walt Disney World. This new Florida community was intended as the loving tribute to a great man and his vision of a better tomorrow.
But the development was a struggle from the beginning, and it took a toll on yet another member of the Disney family. Walt Disney World debuted to the public on October 1, 1971. Ten weeks later, Roy O. Disney died. Perhaps fittingly, the perception is that Disney’s Parks and Resorts division suffered a void for 35 years after the death of the two titans who founded the company.
What’s left in their absence is a strangely paradoxical tourist destination. Walt Disney World hosts the most popular theme park in the world, Magic Kingdom, as well as the sixth most popular, Epcot. The latter gate is the more notable in that it represents the best ideas that the Imagineers from Walt Disney’s team could construct in the absence of their leader and founder. Its history reflects the difficulties that any company would face when the architect of a blueprint dies before construction can begin.
Magic Kingdom is an unquestioned masterpiece. Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, and the shopping district now known as Disney Springs fall into a different category. They are wonderful parks full of amazing, authentic themed lands. They are also all compromised, many would say damaged, products that failed to live up to their original promise. Whereas most of the headline-grabbing struggles at Disneyland came on opening day, the Walt Disney World complex has faced a constant spate of negative press due to its track record of overpromising but under-delivering.
I view these criticisms as too harsh. The blue sky phase of development is always the time when anything is possible. The constant constraints on resources always lead to lesser implementations of sweeping ideas. Even though Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios are undeniably half-parks that desperately needed the upgrades of Pandora: The World of Avatar, Toy Story Land, and Star Wars Land, they’re still shocking feats of Imagineering.
Even Epcot, for all of its struggles in trying to live up to the dream of Walt Disney, is a triumph of innovation. Importantly, the park also offers the one thing that was most important to the company’s founder. The World Showcase has succeeded as a daily World’s Fair, just as Walt had desired in the wake of his company’s triumph at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Sometimes, people forget that the most important aspect of a development is to get the big stuff right. That’s exactly what Disney did with Walt’s new world, the place that he didn’t live long enough to see.
The following stories chronicle the many difficulties that The Walt Disney Company battled in building the most popular theme parks in the world. Each chapter demonstrates the difficult decisions that park planners faced in building thousands of acres of recreational activity. My hope is that you will read each one from the unbiased perspective of an Imagineer, weighing which path you would have taken if you’d faced the same decisions.
And remember: if constructing the Most Magical Place on Earth were easy, anyone could do it. In truth, only members of the Disney family and the loyal staff members that they trained were capable of accomplishing such a majestic feat.
David Mumpower has enjoyed his status as a premiere online content creator since 1998. He’s written and published more than 10 million words in that time. Considered one of the finest movie analysts in the world, his work has been cited in publications such as CNN Money, Slate, Salon, Hitfix, io9, and USA Today.
David is the co-founder of the popular pop culture websites BoxOfficeProphets.com and HowWellDoYouKnow.com. He is blessed to work with some of the finest minds in the world through these two sites. To an individual, they’re not just brilliant but also at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy. They are winning at life. David’s only half a human without the love and support of all these incredible individuals.
David first visited Walt Disney World back when Future World was new, and his love of the original vision for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow remains to this day. His favorite ride is Spaceship Earth, a marvelous combination of architectural triumph and a historical re-creation of the dawn of man through modern times.
Today, David uses virtually all of his vacation days in Orlando, Florida, where he winds up spending all of his disposable income buying new Stitch merchandise for his wife. When he’s in Orlando, you’ll find him meticulously checking his Fitbit to figure out how many miles he’s walked that day at the parks (14.6 is his current record). Obviously, he’s a Park Hopper…with sore feet.
David’s work is also available for consumption at DVC News and DVC Resale Market, where he enjoys strong working relationships with Tim Krasniewski and Nick Cotton. The extended Mumpower family is an ardent supporter of the Disney Vacation Club, which has allowed them to share several family vacations over the years.
F-Ticket? There ain't no F-Ticket! Well, there might have been, and the "F" would have stood for Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Communists are trying to invade every facet of American society! Even the Most Magical Place on Earth is vulnerable to commie infiltration. Won’t somebody please think of the children?
Sure, the above sounds like the less-than-subtle message from a post-World War II propaganda film. Almost unbelievably, this line of thinking has a basis in fact. Years prior to the opening of EPCOT Center in Orlando, Florida, several different American intelligence gathering organizations carefully monitored the development of the second gate at Walt Disney World.
Before scoffing in disgust, you should think about the situation from a historical perspective. In the late 1970s, the Second Red Scare was roughly two decades old, which may seem like a lot until you consider it’s basically the same timeframe from the opening of Disney’s Animal Kingdom to today. To anybody over the age of 40, the massive media coverage of Animal Kingdom’s debut doesn’t seem like forever ago, simply an earlier point in life.
The same was true in the 1970s of the Second Red Scare as well as a Cold War that continued until Charlie Wilson came up with a plan. This explains why the continued fear of communism, socialism, and all things Russian remained a pervasive part of American culture well after World War II ended.
Until the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, all good-hearted citizens cast a wary eye toward Eastern Europe. Some of the most ardent supporters of the American way of life found a way to turn their patriotism into a professional calling. These well-intended folks joined secretive institutions such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency. Their primary goal was to protect the American way of life, one they believed that communists threatened.
What follows is the shocking story of how the theme park we now know as Epcot once stood as a potential cultural turning point for the United States. It was here that people feared our country was most vulnerable. This article will describe how and why Epcot reached this point as well as how many of the fears proved to be founded in truth. We’ll evaluate the no longer redacted files that reveal how much espionage transpired just outside the Magic Kingdom as the opening of Epcot approached. And we’ll also discuss how much the politics of Walt Disney and the company that continued after his death played into the chaos of the situation.
Continued in "Disney Demystified: Volume 2"!
Okay, this time I'm serious: there really is an F-Ticket at Walt Disney World, and the "F" stands for Frozen.
The announcement that Disneyland would no longer feature its beloved Twilight Zone Tower of Terror shocked die-hard supporters. The news that Disney would replace it with a themed Marvel attraction, Guardians of the Galaxy, added intrigue. This wasn’t the first time that the company chose branding over legacy.
The turning point that led to the demise of Twilight Zone Tower of Terror didn’t happen at Disneyland. It occurred at the second gate, at Walt Disney World. It was there that Disney killed a beloved attraction that was both engaging and amiable. They did so in favor of a much more popular brand, thereby returning to their roots as an extension of Walt Disney Animation Studios. This is the story that explains why Disney permanently closed Maelstrom in favor of Frozen Ever After.
Let’s rewind to the early 1980s. In 1982, Epcot’s World Showcase debuted to glowing reviews. Critics loved this permanent World’s Fair. At the launch, nine countries participated, but park publicists promised that other pavilions would soon follow.
The first of them was Morocco, less than two years later. The second one and, in fact, the last addition to the World Showcase for reasons clear only to Disney execs, was Norway. In June of 1985, the Orlando Sentinel alerted the public to the existence of blueprints for what would become the 11th pavilion. The country of Norway believed in the project so much that they footed the bill for a key portion of construction.
Their parliament directed $10 million to the Norway Pavilion, expecting that a permanent presence at the Most Magical Place on Earth would boost American awareness of their country. They expected an influx of American tourists soon after the pavilion’s debut, and they further projected that this stream of visitors would continue throughout the lifetime of the pavilion.
Whether those expectations were too ambitious is up for debate. What’s inarguable is that Norway and Disney did everything they could to stack the deck. Norwegian businesses lined up for the opportunity to participate in this exciting venture. The Norway Pavilion opened in 1988, which also means that Disney hasn’t opened a new pavilion in nearly 30 years.
The key attraction in the Norway Pavilion, Maelstrom, wasn’t exciting, but it encapsulated several notable aspects of Norwegian culture. The most famous of them is the Viking mythos. Scandinavians celebrate the fables of Odin, Thor, and Ragnarok. The subject matter is fertile for ride development, and even though the World Showcase prioritizes accurate reflections of foreign cultures, the attractions display a bit of whimsy.
The first such attraction was El Rio del Tiempo, which laid the groundwork for the current iteration, Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros. The original Mexico Pavilion water ride was the first of its kind at the World Showcase. A few years prior to the Mexican boat trip, Disney offered different World Showcase attractions with their Circle-Vision 360° movies of Canada, France, and China. The France film still exists today, while Disney worked with Canada and China to update their versions for the 21st century. All of them share the same weakness: they’re glorified travelogues with a tourist sales pitch.
In an odd decision, the Norway Pavilion’s new attraction would combine those themes. Maelstrom would offer a journey into the supernatural figures of Norse mythology. Theme park tourists would steel themselves for a trip down the path once trekked by actual Vikings. They’d face legendary creatures such as Dökkálfar and Ljósálfar, the Dark Elf and Light Elf of lore.
After the ride was over, guests would have a chance to watch a movie about the actual history of Norway, which involved fewer trolls than the preceding boat ride. The watery splashdown that signified the ending of Maelstrom seemed incongruous with the accompanying non-imagined documentary about the customs of Norway entitled The Spirit of Norway. It was largely a celebration of Norwegian winter sports options, which couldn’t have less to do with Ragnarok unless there’s a heretofore unpublished version of the Norse Bible. World Showcase fans enjoyed the process anyway.
The problem Disney faced with Maelstrom was simple. It wasn’t the most ambitious ride when they made it in 1988. More than a quarter century later, the wear and tear on Maelstrom was unmistakable. Still, people loved it. The problem is that the sheer volume of people who loved it wasn’t remarkable from a business perspective. The passionate support some folks demonstrated toward Maelstrom didn’t translate to ride throughput.
Dropping the business jargon, Maelstrom boats were empty far too often, and few riders stuck around to watch the movie. The Norway Pavilion was no longer earning the tourist bonuses that they’d planned. Theirs was one of the only pavilions to offer a ride, but the benefit of that gradually eroded over time.
Continued in "Disney Demystified: Volume 2"!