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.