Be yourself.

The Overbranding of the Modern Disney Era


Disneyland has just renovated its “It’s a Small World” attraction, and it’s ridiculous. As soon as we walked in, we were handed water bottles custom label. With this new renovation, Disney has added American elements to the classic ride which celebrates the international experience of childhood. When I heard that people were up in arms over this change, I didn’t understand.
I then found that the larger part of the “Small World” renovation added new dolls representing some of Disney’s most beloved film characters into their particular parts of the world. Mulan is now in China, while Alice and Peter Pan are among the children in England. When I heard this, it was the next action in a long line of disappointments that I have had towards Disney’s millennial approach.

Expedition Everest, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Space Mountain are just a few of the attractions featured at Disney parks around the world that have created their own stories. They do not rely on the face of a well known animated prince or princess to attract visitors. Rather, they bring in crowds through excellent design, the promise of a thrill, or the appeal of an old memory.

Disney seems to be losing this touch with such renovations. Captain Jack Sparrow of the successful “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy were tastefully added to the classic attraction at the Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resort. While the change is minimal, it gives the ride a very branded feel. In famous Disney style, the ride dumps you into a gift shop were you can buy all of your favorite pirate friends on a t-shirt, hat, action figure set, or decorative art piece.

With “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “The Haunted Mansion” already turned into full length feature films, attractions such as Space Mountain, the Jungle Cruise, and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror have all been in rumor loops as being the next target of Disney’s attempt to create a brand for its already successful attractions.

As someone who has grown up with the magic of Disney, it is frustrating to see the same faces of twenty years ago being forced into every product Disney can fathom. This not only reflects a decline in the quality of recent Disney film productions and character development, but destroys much of the innocence and memory of the original attractions.

Alien Encounter lost its space to the mediocre Stitch’s Great Escape. The Enchanted Tiki Room was placed “Under New Management” with Aladdin’s less than pleasurable Igo and the Lion King’s Zazu. Now “Its a Small World” needs a face as well, despite the hundreds of charming and memorable faces already present.

I would have a great disinterest in seeing the puppies from “Space Puppies” in Space Mountain, the friendly yeti from “Monsters Inc.” replace the fierce yeti from Expedition Everest, or my friends from “The Lion King” take me on Kilimanjaro Safaris.

Disney needs to return to doing business the way Walt would have done. With skyrocketing prices, and more kid focused attractions and characters, Disney parks are no longer living up to Walt’s dream of a place where parents and kids could “have fun together.”

I have hope in Disney’s upcoming return to traditional animation with “The Princess and the Frog,” scheduled for a holiday 2009 release. Hopefully this will return Disney to an older state of mind where quality of product was put before speed of market release, which will hopefully return to a more Walt friendly approach to conducting business.

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