The Parks They Are a-Changin’ – GGG Ponders on Disney Nostalgia & Change

Hullo again, Gentle Readers. Disney is still looming large as we slouch towards October. My mood is definitely influenced by the Mouse of late, and it’s much on my mind. Earlier this week, I sat down with my other half and some friends and watched an amazing video on YouTube – the Journey Into Imagination Ultimate Tribute. It was like having an old friend…one you thought you’d never see again…drop by your house for 40 minutes or so.

Journey Into Imagination, in case you have no idea what I’m talking about, was the original ride at EPCOT Center (back when it *was* EPCOT Center) in the Imagination Pavilion. It featured an eccentric man named Dreamfinder and a little purple dragon named Figment, and it taught you all about imagination and how you use it. The ride’s undergone two major revisions since the good old days – one which eliminated everything about the old ride and brought in Eric Idle and another which sort of splits the difference, restoring Figment and a version of the original ride’s theme song “One Little Spark” but retaining Eric Idle.

The changes to the original ride garnered Disney a lot of antipathy from fans. Many felt that it was like the soul of EPCOT was ripped right out when the Dreamfinder and Figment were eliminated, and, while the current ride – Journey Into Imagination with Figment – is better than the Eirc Idle only version, it’s a pale shadow of its original amazingness as this tribute video demonstrates.

It got me thinking about the nature of change and nostalgia, specifically as it relates to the various changes at Walt Disney World, which I will forever consider my “home park” as I went there before Disneyland. Let’s look at the tricky puzzle Disney is confronted with.

The Conundrum of Change

I don’t envy Disney the position they’re in. The constant stream of technological advances make change absolutely necessary, but they have to deal with an audience that craves the new but that’s also consumed with a desire to cling to nostalgic icons.

Walt Disney himself once said, “Disneyland is something that will never be finished. It’s something that I can keep developing. It will be a live, breathing thing that will need change. A picture is a thing once you wrap it up and turn it over to Technicolor, you’re through. Snow White is a dead issue with me. But I can change the park, because it’s alive.”

Since Walt Disney World opened 2 years after I was born, every change that’s happened there has happened during my lifetime, and many of them are pretty amazing. When I went there for the first time, at age 13, the Resort consisted of the Magic Kingdom and three hotels. Now, it includes 4 parks, 2 water parks, over a dozen hotels, and entertainment venues like Downtown Disney, DisneyQuest, the Wide World of Sports complex, and a custom-made Cirque du Soleil show. Quite an evolution.

Every change that’s made is likely to satisfy some while incensing others. While I think most would agree that more is better, I’m sure there are people out there who moan for the days when Walt Disney World meant the Magic Kingdom only “and we liked it that way!” Maybe they dislike the crowds, or the fact that prices have gone up so much since the other parks opened. But every change is likely to be something someone hates.

Changes Good, Bad, and Ugly

I’m of two minds when it comes to changes to the Parks. I feel that some changes are good, some are bad, and some are outrageously awful. I don’t cling to things; a change may make me sad, but I can accept it if I understand it. But sometimes, a change can really infuriate me, especially if it seems senseless or tacky.

There have been lots of good changes at the parks. I’m not the biggest fan of Test Track, but it replaced World of Motion, a ride that I personally felt was akin to watching paint dry. Actually, a ride where you watch paint dry might’ve been more interesting, if Disney spun it the right way.

Sometimes, a ride changes to reflect improvements in technology. When you visit the Haunted Mansion and see the Bride, who now morphs from holding a bouquet to holding an axe and says creepy things like “Til death…do us part,” and “I do…I did!” it’s hard to remember that only a few years ago, she was a kind of goofy-looking floating mannequin. Technology improved, and we moved forward, and ride is better for it.

Rides and attractions also change to reflect popular trends in Disney films. Thank goodness Disney’s Haunted Mansion bombed, or we might’ve had Jennifer Tilly and Eddie Murphy in there now. And goodness knows that the popularity of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies is why we now have Davy Jones, Barbarossa, and Jack Sparrow on the ride of the same name. I happen to be a big fan of these changes; they introduce new and improved technologies and impose a solid story on a ride that was always a little vague to me.

There have been some bad changes, too. When I say this, I mean changes that I don’t feel improve the ride in any way. I’m sure there was a reason, but it’s lost on me, or I have sufficient nostalgia to miss the original. Good examples of this are El Rio del Tiempo and The Living Seas in Epcot.

El Rio del Tiempo used to be a whacked out travelogue of Mexico with a bizarre vibe…a bit like tripping balls on peyote in Small World’s Mexico section. Singing cacti and a mariachi band of Dio de los Muertos skeletons were joined by footage of Mexican merchants screaming at you to buy things as your boats roll past. Now it’s been turned into a Donald Duck/Three Caballeros themed ride. It’s still fun, but it’s lost the madness.

The Living Seas had a wonderful 80s atmosphere to it and made you feel like you were a marine biologist entering an underwater research base. It was a bit dated, but, for me personally, re-theming it with characters from Finding Nemo is a bit lackluster. I actually love the re-theming of the interior, but the ride that leads into it is just…meh.

I’ve already mentioned one of the two most ugly changes I can recall at the parks – the Imagination situation. The other most enraging change I’ve ever seen, has, happily, been completely undone. I’m referring, of course, to The Enchanted Tiki Room.

If you’ve ever visited the original attraction at Walt Disney World (which was actually called Tropical Serenade…a little trivia there), the one in Disneyland that was never changed, or the newly restored version, then you know that this is a sweet, gentle little show which Disney created to show off the concept of animatronics back in the 60s. The birds sing the words and the flowers croon. The jokes are corny, and the music is dated, but it has an original Disney feel to it that can’t be matched. People don’t necessarily fill every show, but they go to get a little recharge after the craziness of the rest of Parks.

Well, apparently that wasn’t sufficient to the purposes of the cynical late 90s under Michael Eisner’s leadership. They introduced The Enchanted Tiki Room (Under New Management) which brought in Iago from Aladdin and Zazu from The Lion King and which made fun of how dated the original show was. It ignored the original score in favor of songs like Hot, Hot, Hot, Conga, and Get on Your Feet. It felt like Michael Eisner taking a dump on Disney, and audiences were mixed to say the least.

There was nothing mixed about my attitude towards it. I watched it once, and I would never have gone again. Luckily, there was no need. There was a fire in the theater which destroyed the Iago figure (ironic, as Iago is the one in the show who makes fun of the Tiki Birds and who enrages the fire goddess Pele.) It was decided that the show would be refurbished and returned to its roots as The Enchanted Tiki Room. It felt at the time, and still feels to me, like justice being served.

In Closing

Change happens, and people need to accept that. What they should never accept, however, is a change that’s insulting or poorly thought through. There may have been a need to change Journey Into Imagination due to technical reasons, but to completely disregard people’s love of the characters that had become EPCOT Center’s mascots and symbols was a recipe for disaster. It shows in the fact that the ride was open for only 2 years.

I know there are people still unhappy that’s there’s an animatronic Johnny Depp in their Pirates of the Caribbean ride. I’m sure there are still some who long for the days when Vic Perrin narrated Spaceship Earth, even though that ride, all about Communication, was outdated almost immediately after opening. For my part, I’ll take Dame Judi Dench and a ride that actually mentions the Internet. And I’ll enjoy my Pirates of the Caribbean just fine with Jack Sparrow.
But I’ll always hope for the return of Dreamfinder.

Your Turn

Do you have a favorite Disney ride or attraction that’s gone the way of the Dodo? Conversely, is there something at Walt Disney World that takes you back to being a kid again because it’s just the same as it ever was? Let us all know.

About GGG

Andy/GGG is a gay geek guy for sure. He's been playing D&D since he was 10, and he equates reading Tolkien with religion to some degree. He's a writer/developer for a Live Action RPG called The Isles, and he writes a comic called Circles, a gay, furry slice-of-life piece that comes out way too infrequently.

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