Crimes Against the Internets: The Re-Imagineering Blog

Mickey's not going down with the shipThe internet is full-to-bursting with self-important nerds who are simultaneously obsessed beyond reason with the minutiae of their chosen hobby and convinced that they could do a better job than the people currently in charge of that hobby.

This isn’t breaking news. It happens with movies, comic books, television series (somehow, Joss Whedon remains exempt), and I imagine it happens with stuff I’m not a nerdy fan of myself. I’ll bet that the world of Civil War re-enactments has its own little dramas playing out, with people resentful at the ego-maniac glory hound who insists on playing Grant with copper buttons on his uniform although any real devotee of history knows that Grant insisted on bronze buttons because of an incident in a copper mine when he was three.

So if this behavior is all just part of the natural gestalt of the internets, why does reading The Re-Imagineering Blog make me want to hit the writers of that site repeatedly over the head with a manure-filled sock?

Because, as we’ve learned from Robert Louis Stevenson and countless Lifetime TV movies, we fear the darkness that lives within us all. And I hate the Walt Disney World version of the Enchanted Tiki Room, and I think that the WDW version of The Tower of Terror is infinitely better than Disneyland’s.

I just don’t think you’ve got to be such a damn douche about it.

These guys call their blog “Re-Imagineering,” but they don’t do much other than bitch and moan, and parrot back public-relations quotes from Walt Disney about magic and imagination as if they’d just won some kind of argument. You could make a pretty convincing argument that the greatest talent of Disney (the man) was in selling himself and his ideas. As much as we like to believe otherwise, the real world doesn’t reward you with such a long-lasting legacy and reputation based on talent alone — you can be the greatest visionary the world’s ever seen, but it’s not worth anything if no one listens to you.

So all the Disney quotes and truisms that get passed around do have some genuine value. It’s just not so much value for making a theme park, but selling it. Of course, that’s not all that Disney did — he had great ideas and very importantly, knew how to find the guys who knew how to make those ideas work, and get them on his side. Any idiot can just say, “Disney theme parks should be magical.”

And they do, repeatedly, all over the internets. There’s all kinds of moaning and hand-wringing and people saying, completely without irony, “What would Walt think?!?” But if the guys on this blog are putting themselves forward as “Pixar and Disney professionals,” it’s not enough to just complain about how things just ain’t like they used to be. They need to put up or shut up.

And, incidentally, stop being so long-winded, pompous, and sanctimonious. Everything I read from the writers of that site reminds me of the Achewood strip where they prank call Garfield.

Plus, sometimes they’re just plain wrong. The World of Motion at Epcot was a great attraction, one of my all-time favorites. Still, its replacement TestTrack is better. It satisfies the Epcot requirements — educational, entertaining, funny, not too topical, and it supports the sponsor without beating you over the head with it — and has been an undeniable improvement to a park that really needed a thrill ride more than just another dark ride. Again, the dark ride was a great one, but it was pretty much indistinguishable from Spaceship Earth, the Universe of Energy, and all the other dark rides and Epcot.

The Universe of Energy pavilion at Epcot got turned into “Ellen’s Energy Adventure” a while back, and the blog complains that they shat on a timeless attraction for the quick win of something topical. Ignoring the facts that: the new version is much better in that it’s actually entertaining instead of the dry-as-a-bone original, it’s more scientifically accurate (“So all the oil we have is made from dinosaurs?” “No, but dinosaurs are really cool!”), and it’s a hell of a lot more popular with guests (even those who call it “Ellen’s Gay Adventure”).

In their typical overblown style, the blog writer says, “In chasing the hip and trendy they degrade the Disney Brand, cheapen the guest experience and lose out on the far more satisfying reward of creating something truly original, truly profound, truly timeless.” Anybody who’s been to Epcot in the last five years has seen what happens to “timeless.” When you have a Future World that evokes the mid-80’s and “Knight Rider,” you need an update.

And as for their objection to using DeGeneres, Bill Nye, Jamie Lee Curtis, and “Jeopardy!”: all of those (except maybe for Bill Nye) have done a pretty good job of showing staying power, and comparing them to the Superstar Limo ride is just dumb. It’s not as if they revamped the entire ride around “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” and some Disney Channel or ABC star-of-the-moment. “Jeopardy” has been around for decades, and so has DeGeneres. And with stuff like Finding Nemo, her career is just getting bigger.

And speaking of the star-of-the-moment phenomenon, that’s definitely nothing new — unless we’re supposed to believe that Annette Funicello and Kurt Russell were already mega-stars before they consented to appear in Disney productions. Besides, who complains about all the topical references in the Enchanted Tiki Room? Do most of the audience even get the impersonations of Maurice Chevalier, Louis Armstrong, and Bing Crosby? Even if they don’t, is the show still entertaining? Sure, and so is “Ellen’s Energy Adventure.”

Maybe most offensive of all to me is that the site purports itself to be made by “professionals” who really understand what the Disney company needs, while they show such a trite, simplistic, and predictable lack of understanding for how an entertainment company works. It’s not as if ideas come out fully-formed and just built; there are hundreds of considerations that have to go into it. If your idea can’t survive everything necessary to last in a theme park (or movie, or videogame, or whatever — this isn’t just limited to Disney), then it’s a weak idea.

Blaming the financial guys for being short-sighted cheapskates is a cop-out. Blaming marketing for selling out for the easy money is a cop-out. Blaming the ADA or OSHA for being over-protective is a cop-out. Of course, sometimes ideas get hobbled by accountants who want to cut costs, or executives who can’t see “The Big Picture,” or operations people who are more concerned with throughput than guest experience, or just by people who want to do things the easy way because it’s what they’re used to.

But in my admittedly limited experience, these people are just giving the push-back necessary for an idea to work, and a strong enough idea will survive that. For every exec who says he just doesn’t “get it” or that it’s a dumb idea, there will be at least 100 people in the audience thinking the same thing. A truly good idea can survive those kinds of cuts, work within those kinds of constraints, and sometimes come out even better. It doesn’t always work, and it’s inevitable to have “it would’ve been so much better if only…” moments. But the ideas that survive the process come out even stronger, and anyone who gets so embittered by his first encounter with reality that he spends the rest of his time bitching about how common people just can’t understand his genius is going to be a pretty unpleasant person to be around.

So it’s all trivial stuff of no real consequence, but it’s still important to me. Because when Disney does something that works, it’s astounding, and it’s unlike anything else. “We spent years building this just so that you could have fun.” I just think it’s possible to be obsessed with a trivial hobby and still be realistic about it, and stop being so damn self-important.

0 thoughts on “Crimes Against the Internets: The Re-Imagineering Blog”

  1. Well, it’ll come as no surprise to you that I disagree. I love the Re-imagineering blog, and when it comes to their criticisms of the changes that have occured at Disneyland, I almost always agree. The majority of the recent changes have been pretty bad. And I think a lot of their posts DO have some good ideas about how to make things better (moving Fantasmic to DCA, and prettifying the island and the fort comes to mind.)

    I don’t know what kinds of jobs they have with the companies, but maybe they aren’t in positions where they really CAN make a change–which I imagine is doubly frustrating: You hate some of what the company you work for is doing, and yet you have no real power to do anything about it…

    As for Annette and Kurt, I don’t see them as animatronic people in any of the rides. But I’m sure Johnny Depp will charm audiences for generations to come.

  2. Disneyland has had some rough years, and it got gutted in a lot of places. A lot of that is because of boneheaded management decisions, some of it (like Tomorrowland) were good intentions hobbled by not enough budget.

    But the example you mention just proves how the blog is full of it. “Make Tom Sawyer Island and the Rivers of America as nice as they used to be.” Anybody could say that. What are these guys’ practicable ideas for making it better? “Time to repair and reopen the fort with perhaps some new and exciting show elements.” Sounds good — where’s the budget coming from? From any of the 100 other areas of the park that are more popular and need more attention? Why not divert all the Finding Nemo ride funds into a part of the park that’s already perfectly functional, how’s that sound?

    Moving Fantasmic to DCA is just plain stupid, and anybody who’d take a second to think about it instead of just writing a flowery blog post about it would realize that. DCA’s water area is a lagoon. Guest areas surround it. Where does the cast get ready for the show? How do they get on stage? Do we move the Mark Twain and Columbia by giant crane from Disneyland into the DCA lagoon? What do the boats do for the rest of the day? How do you turn a show which has a central stage area into a “theater in the round” type deal?

    Now if they want to put a Fantasmic-like show in the DCA lagoon, bring it. Good idea. It’d be nice if they had any clue at all what were the problems with DCA’s original water show, but I doubt they do. I don’t, and in fact don’t know if it were removed for financial reasons or what.

    “I have no power to do anything about it” is the biggest cop-out ever. If these guys have valuable criticism on how to improve the parks, instead of just meaningless background noise, then they should make the effort to get these opinions heard. And if they get rejected, then find out why they’re rejected, instead of just instantly going to the internet and whining about it.

    If they’re so powerless, then they’ve got no business putting themselves forward as professionals and insiders. It’s that simple. They can’t have it both ways, saying “they’re ruining the parks and we have no power to change it” and simultaneously saying that their opinions are somehow more valid than just some yabbo who’s not a “Disney and Pixar professional.” If they know the way things should go, they should send a damn e-mail to Marty Sklar and see what is the response, not skulk around anonymously on the internets.

    I’m not sure what point you were trying to make about the Ellen DeGeneres animatronic; it’s something that sounds like a weird idea but actually works when you’ve seen it. She’s not playing a character; she’s playing herself, which is pretty much her schtick. And it’d probably be a good idea to wait and see if there actually is a Captain Jack Sparrow animatronic before you make fun of it. For all I know, they might have one planned and they might not. I’d rather see how it’s used and whether it works before I go throwing up my hands and wailing that they’re cheapening the Disneyland Museum.

  3. Whoa, man. Easy there.

    I wasn’t really talking about Ellen. I can’t comment on anything at Disney World; I’ve never been. I was just trying to point out that at least they never made an animatronic Kurt Russell and shoved him into a ride that had been pretty damn popular as it was for decades. But yes, perhaps there isn’t going to be an animatronic Johnny Depp. Or even if there is, perhaps it’ll be fantastic. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think the whole thing is a lousy idea.

    And who’s to say these guys haven’t done exactly what you say they should be doing? Do you know they haven’t? And I happen to think that voicing opinions on a blog, and getting comments of agreement from fans of the park, is probably even more effective than sending an email to Marty Sklar (whoever that is, name dropper).

    I still think moving Fantasmic is a good idea. I don’t care if it’s a lot of money, or complicated, the bottom line is it’s not impossible. And besides, should cost and convenince really be an impediment to improving both parks? It doesn’t seem to be an impediment to them when it comes to making the parks worse.

  4. You mean like a ride that’s been so popular for decades that they made a movie based on it? It’s not like they’re putting any old random thing into it. And the “Johnny Depp animatronic” would most likely be an animatronic of the character he played in that movie; it was a pirate of some sort if I remember correctly. Like those Dave Foley and Kevin Spacey animatronics totally ruined the Bug’s Life movie. And Eric Idle and Rick Moranis ruined the Honey I Shrunk the Kids movie. And Patrick Warburton ruins the Soarin’ Over California show. And that Harrison Ford animatronic ruined the Indiana Jones ride. And Michael Jackson ruined the… okay, that’s a bad example.

    I’ve already said that sometimes they update a ride and it fails miserably — the Tiki Room at WDW and the Journey Into Imagination ride at Epcot are the worst. And celebrities for their own sake don’t work, either — Superstar Limo proves that. But updating a ride, even a classic one, isn’t inherently a bad thing. And neither is doing so to tie in with a movie release — it’s called Sleeping Beauty castle for a reason, after all. Especially when the movie has already proven it’s good and has staying potential. It’s not like they’re adding Eddie Murphy to the Haunted Mansion.

    On their blog, they respond to somebody who quite reasonably points out the problems with their suggestion by saying: “Walt fired people when they said, ‘too hard’.” Which is such a load of self-important BS. They’re the ones saying “too hard,” because they’re just coming up with impracticable ideas and not doing the hard part — saying how to make those ideas actually work. Imagineering isn’t just about blue sky ideas and bitching. And it’s definitely not about keeping things just the exact same way they have been for decades because there’s no way to improve on them and changing them would be wrong. In fact, that’s kind of the opposite of what Imagineers are supposed to be doing.

    I know they haven’t done exactly what I think they should be doing because the site still exists. And there’s no mention that each of them dunked his own head into a toilet and repeatedly pressed the flush handle. They need to do one of two things: 1) stop just bitching about what’s wrong and suggest real ways to make it right, or in other words, actually do what Imagineers do; or 2) remove the part in the header that suggests that they’re professionals and insiders and their opinions have any more weight to them than your garden variety internet Disney obsessive. And join the ranks of all the other “let’s bitch about the Disney execs” sites that do nothing except contribute to the background noise of the internet.

    No, putting Fantasmic into the DCA lagoon isn’t impossible. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. With enough money and effort, they might could figure out a way to do it — and for what? That money and effort would be better spent putting a new show there, one that’s designed to work there and isn’t just a rehash.

  5. I don’t think their opinions have any more “weight” than mine or any othe Disneyland fan, but I do think because they work for the company, they might be able to provide insight I don’t have.

    Adding characters to rides that have been turned into movies might seem like a fine idea if you think turnng rides into movies is a good idea in the first place, and I don’t. I think it’s lazy and reeks of the bottom dollar. And before you start screaming about how companies exist to make money and yadda yadda, I’ll just say that I don’t have a problem with them creating rides BASED ON MOVIES (that’s where the Depp, “Bugs Life” comparison fails). I just hate the crapping the new onto the classic.

    And you know these guys aren’t doing what you think they should be doing because the site still exists….so, they can’t do both?

    And yes, perhaps the Pirates movies will have as much staying power as the stories of Snow White, or Sleeping Beauty, or Peter Pan, or Alice in Wonderland….

  6. Whoa there, when did I ever say anything like “companies exist to make money?” That’s the cop-out for people who are so inflexible in their thinking that they assume you either agree with their opinions 100%, or else you’re nothing more than a greedy corporate capitalist only concerned with the bottom dollar. It’s the “simplistic lack of understanding of how a company works” that I was talking about.

    Even for a company as big and profit-driven as Disney, anybody who puts profit forward as his main motivation is going to get booted out pretty quickly. Unless, of course, he knows how to spin THE HELL out of it. What really happens (and this isn’t insider information any more than what I’ve seen at low-level meetings at EA, Lucas, and very very low-level meetings at Disney) is that everybody starts with the idea of guest experience.

    And THEN financial and other concerns push back on that and you start having to go from blue sky to reality. If you’re really good at understanding and presenting your idea, and you know why it’s cool and how to modify it without ruining it, then it can survive the process intact. Sometimes it comes out better. If you’re an inflexible ego-maniac, then all you end up with compromises, which you can then blame on other people for compromising your grand vision.

    And that arrogance is what bugs me about the site. If they just want to be Disneyland “fans” and complain about what’s wrong, then that’s fine. I think true fans would give constructive criticism instead of just whining, but hey, whatever floats their boat. But they’re pretending to have more insight than the “common” fan, which is a lie. There’s nothing on that site that suggests they have more insight than any annual passholder with out-of-control nostalgia and a copy of a Disney biography from which to draw quotes.

    And no, they can’t do both. I don’t know how to say it without repeating myself — if they’re going to bitch, they need to lose the pompous tone and the implication that they’re somehow “connected.” If they’re going to provide constructive criticism, then they need to put some effort into it instead of just wearing the Ghost of Walt on their shoulders and pointing to him whenever anybody points out a flaw in their idea.

    It might be interesting if they allowed some dissension on their site, too. From what I’ve seen, anybody who disagrees with them either has their comment “moderated” away, or get responses like “Walt fired people who thought like that” or “That’s not our job, that’s what Imagineering does.”

    As for “crapping the new onto the classic,” well everything “classic” was new at one point. The Nightmare Before Christmas overlay of the Haunted Mansion has been a huge success — definitely financially, but I’d say artistically as well. And once again, the Pirates of the Caribbean movie is based on the ride, using characters that appear in the ride and its queue.

    No, of course the changes don’t always work. Sometimes they do, and I think any real Disney fan who’s more interested in what makes the parks cool instead of just massaging his own ego, would acknowledge not only where they fail but where they succeed, as an example of what to keep doing. And any Imagineer who isn’t always looking for ways to re-invigorate the park and bring new experiences for the guests just isn’t doing his job.

  7. I think one of the reasons the Haunted Mansion Holiday is successful is because it isn’t permanent. I love it. But I wouldn’t love it very much if it was there all year long. I just hope that when it comes to pirates, they’ll be flexible enough to remove Johnny if the next two films turn out to be flops.

    And I really don’t get their site as arrogant. Long-winded, yes, but—ahem–yeah. So, if you work for Disney in some capacity, but not as an Imagineer, you can’t bitch and moan about the parks? I don’t have a problem with saying “That’s not our job, that’s Imagineering’s” if that’s the truth.I don’t think that’s a cop out. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to complain that something sucks and not have a step-by-step plan to make it better, if it’s not my job to make it better. I’m paying to enjoy something, and if what I am enjoying is getting–in my opinion–worse and worse–then I have a right to complain about it.

    I can’t speak about what these guys do. I have no idea (except for the one who says he’s a story editor for Pixar in his profile). If they were all in the heart of Imagineering, complaining about the parks anonymously, but then just doing what they were told at their day jobs, I’d be annoyed. But I don’t know if that’s the case. I do know I like the fact that they aren’t complete yes-men for their company, and I will continue to read their opninion with much interest.

    We’ve always known that we disagree about Disneyland and its changes. I can’t change your mind about that. But I do find it endlessly ironic that this whole thing is essentially complaining about a bunch of complainers. Have you sent them any email, or left any comments on their site, voicing your opinion? You make a strong argument that would be a good addition to their site. (They don’t delete all dissenting comments–there are dissenting opinions in the Tiki Room thread.)

  8. Please, I said like five times I’ve got no problem with people bitching and moaning about the parks. That makes you an internet fan, in which case whether you’re a “Disney and Pixar professional” is irrelevant. If you’re churro vendor #825, your opinion about the state of Disneyland is no more or less valid than any random schmo who’s been going to the parks for years. And it’s disingenuous for them to imply otherwise. At best it’s nostalgic fan-wanking, at worst they’re mis-representing themselves. And getting people to cheer them on for not being “complete yes-men” or for having “insight that [other fans] don’t have.”

    As to Disneyland and its changes, the noly thing I have a fundamental disagreement with is the idea that NOTHING done in the past 20 years is as good as the original, that the place is a museum where NOTHING should be changed, ever, and that it’s ALWAYS the greedy corporate execs who are the bad guys, crushing the dreams of children. Some of the best stuff they’ve ever done has been in the past ten years (like the 50th fireworks show and the new Space Mountain), and some of the worst has been in the past 10 years (like Superstar Limo).

    As for sending them a comment, I did, and wish I hadn’t. Partly because I got the expected “what Walt REALLY meant, that you don’t understand” response, and partly because of the whole “who represents Disney?” question. I don’t represent the company in any shape or form, and I don’t make any claim other than that I’m a fan of the parks who happens to be working for them at the moment.

    But this site, because it’s so long-winded and boring, only gets read by my friends and people on misguided web searches. Their blog gets read by a lot more people, in fact anybody with an axe to grind against the theme parks. And I’d like to avoid a) giving anybody the idea that I speak for Disney, and 2) getting fired.

    By the way, I’m not copping to name-dropping, either. For one because Marty Sklar was such a big name in Imagineering for so long that his name-recognition is right up there just below the Disneys and Michael Eisner. And two because he’s not really in charge of Imagineering anymore, so writing him and e-mail would be pretty fruitless.

  9. PS to Rain, about the “endless irony” of complaining about complainers, and why I should just leave a comment on their site:

    From the esteemed Mr. Banks of said Re-Imagineering blog, in response to me:
    “Now, Chuck, get back to that spreadsheet you were working on. I think it’s due by the end of the day.”

    And I was being polite in my comments. Guess that’s where constructive criticism gets you. You’re welcome to continue reading them with great interest and appreciating their valuable insight; I’m going back to my wanting to beat them over the head with socks of manure approach.

  10. Well, I’m glad you brought your opinion to their blog, because it’s a lot better reasoned than the majority of the others who disagree on there. I wish you’d continue because I think it’s good for them to be challenged. But I understand not wanting to continue any discource with someone who can’t even come up with a good zinger.

    “Spreadsheet”? OH SNAP! No you di’int!

  11. Yeah, according to the site, I di’int. Since the whole conversation got “moderated” out of the comments.

    I guess y’all will just have to take my word for it that I was polite as possible while still being critical of their site.

  12. I don’t understand how/why they did that…on blogger when a comment is removed, it leaves behind a message saying a comment has been removed, but that hasn’t happened.

    That’s very lame of them.

  13. Wow, Chuck! You really don’t like Re-imagineering, do you? I mean, wow! That’s a lot of hatred.

    I won’t belabor the point. The writers are indeed Pixar and Disney professionals past and present who are passionate about the parks. The genesis for the site came about since it was announced that John Lasseter, also someone wildly passionate about the parks, would soon have some managerial control over at WDI. A handful of Pixar employees, some of them with very close ties to imagineering, started mulling through the idea of creating a wish-list of sorts to slide under a door here or there at the studio. I decided to just gather up some cohorts and put our (publishable) thoughts online.

    Although we are Pixar and Disney people we cannot tout the site as official company sponsored for obvious reasons. Neither can we actually discuss our own ideas for future attractions from a legal standpoint. What we can do is, beat by beat, catalog, argue and mull through the slow degradation of the parks over the years, a degradation tied closely with the Eisner era of penny pinching and empowering management teams with no creative training. Perhaps some of the entries come off a little snide here and there but that’s probably because we’re pretty upset. All of us have had to police a little of our knee jerk impulse to bitch and try to keep the entries professional and well written. But doggone it we don’t love the parks and hate what’s been happening to them over the past few years. And as people trained and seeped in the creative arts, film, writing, designing AND as people who have had an intimate relationship with the parks since, well, the early 60’s, we tend to think we have something to share.

    Needless to say, I’ve been delighted to engage with Disney park fans and my coworkers am even more delighted to find that incoming management show all signs of getting it too. That’s so encouraging.

    Anyway, I’m certainly not going to get you to love this site. Go ahead and keep hating it. But thanks for reading! I appreciate that.

  14. Wow, Mr Banks! You really don’t like the Disney parks, do you? I mean, wow! That’s a lot of hatred.

    But no, wait, you say — it’s all out of love for the parks, and disappointment at their degradation. And anyone who actually reads your site in detail would actually see that instead of dismissing it as just whingeing. Sure, it may come off as a little snide here and there, but that’s probably because you’re pretty upset. Well, that’s what happens when you get internet nerds who like to hear themselves type in front of a computer — they (and in case it’s not obvious by now: by “they” I mean “we”) tend to go on.

    I happen to like the idea of the potential of a site like “Re-Imagineering” — a site that’s not just obsessive annual passholders poring over the parks with digital cameras looking for flaking paint, like the old Mouse Planet and Mice Age. And that’s not filled with midi files and pictures of the characters and “magic” and “imagination” but not really saying anything. Instead, one for adults who like the parks and aren’t afraid of looking “uncool” (because not much is less cool than being a Disney fan) and can write about them objectively in complete sentences with proper grammar.

    What I do hate is the execution and tone, and I’ve written volumes about that already. If you see my posts as nothing more than hatred and typical middle-management exec mentality that’s Ruining Walt’s Dream, then you’re as guilty of not paying attention to what I’m writing as you accuse me of “simply not reading the site.”

    Still, that was the damndest computer glitch I’ve ever heard of. In the end I’m glad the comments were removed, for reasons I’ve already stated — I’ve got no business getting in an argument with another website, and I’ve got even less business giving anybody any reason to think I’m speaking for Disney. And I definitely am not going to give anybody grief for making fun of me on their website, after I made fun of them on mine.

    I’d just like to hope that you or somebody else on there would take the comments to heart, the ones about being needlessly antagonistic and simplistic between creative types and financial types (for the record, I count as creative, even though I do on occasion have to use a spreadsheet). That, plus keeping a sense of perspective about the whole thing, would make your site a lot better, IMO.

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