Troubled Production: Theme Parks
Sometimes, creating a theme park attraction — or even a whole park — is no walk in the park!
- Captain EO, the first attraction at the Disney Theme Parks launched under the Michael Eisner/Jeffrey Katzenberg regime at the Walt Disney Company, quickly got out of hand. To summarize the articles: The company's famed Imagineers weren't happy that outside creators and companies were contributing so much to it, and it was greenlit on a premise rather than a full-fledged script. The three weeks of principal photography under Francis Ford Coppola were followed up with six months of second unit work — that both Coppola and executive producer George Lucas moved on to other projects by that time didn't help — partially to address story problems in a film that was only 17 minutes long! And the final cost was more than double the initial budget.
- Light Magic was the highly-hyped 1997 successor to Disneyland's long-running Main Street Electrical Parade — and, along with the early years of California Adventure (see below) became a symbol of everything wrong with the penny-pinching Dork Age of Paul Pressler's tenure as Disneyland president.
- The Florida counterpart Magic Kingdom had successfully updated the concept of a nighttime parade with light-up floats a few years prior with Spectromagic, which was content with updating the technology and featured characters. Light Magic tried to reinvent the wheel by comparison: Two sets of identical stages were wheeled into position and remained stationary for what was mostly a Riverdance-inspired show that climaxed with the surrounding buildings lighting up alongside the floats. Unfortunately, the new technology was extremely buggy; notoriously an effect with a wire-mounted, flying sparkler representing Tinkerbell nearly started a fire and had to be scrapped when it proved unworkable.
- Rather than delay the special, extra-admssion-required premiere performance of the show for the park's annual passholders, which predated the start of regular performances by less than two weeks, Pressler told the assembled crowd that they were really seeing a dress rehearsal of the show...and it looked it with the many mishaps that followed. Refunds ensued.
- Regular performances weren't quite so unfortunate, but the bad buzz the disastrous premiere generated only worsened. The "streetacular" concept, which left audience members only seeing one float for most of the show, was a comedown from the traditional procession of a parade. Attempts at Audience Participation with a set of unique pixie characters intended as the show's breakout stars failed when children ran away screaming from them, owing to Uncanny Valley masks that reminded some adults of burn victims. The show lasted less than four months (opening Memorial Day weekend, closing Labor Day weekend) and was pulled for a promised Retool that never materialized. In fact, Disneyland has never had a true nighttime parade since.
- The early years of Universal Studios Florida were rough sailing. The park opened in 1990 to much fanfare...but the king of the Orlando-area family attractions, the Walt Disney World Resort, was well aware of the potential competition and beat them to the punch by launching its own working studio/theme park equivalent, Disney-MGM Studios, the previous summer. Worse, Universal's most highly-hyped rides — Kongfrontation, JAWS, Earthquake, and E.T. Adventure — were all prone to frequent breakdowns and technical malfunctions, to the point that JAWS was closed just two months after the park opened and wouldn't reopen until 1993, leaving a whole chunk of the park dormant. It wouldn't be until Back to the Future: The Ride opened in 1991 that the park had something that could truly compete with Disney's nearby offerings, which had (and continue to have, most of the time) a reputation for rarely breaking down, beginning a long, slow ascent for the Universal complex to its current position as Disney's one true rival.
- The first years of Disney's California Adventure theme park were rife with troubles.
- At the time, the Disney Theme Parks (aside from those in Japan) were prone to penny-pinching by higher-ups. Upon its opening in early 2001, this sister park to Disneyland primarily consisted of "off-the-shelf" rides (roller coasters, a Ferris wheel, etc.) with little of Disney's legendary theming, a few imports from the Florida parks, and corporate-sponsored exhibits and walkthroughs on winemaking, construction machinery, etc. Worse, many of the off-the-shelf rides had height restrictions, giving little kids virtually nothing to enjoy. Longtime Disney park fans, well-aware of much more elaborate concepts for a second park (such as a West Coast version of Walt Disney World's famed Epcot) that were scrapped in favor of this project, were key to the bad online buzz California Adventure received in advance of its opening.
- Disney went into damage control mode upon poor public response — which only got worse after the 9/11 attacks crippled tourism — with a series of quick "fixes". Attempts at a summer concert series and a Christmas-season fireworks show (LuminAria) on Paradise Bay were crippled by a lack of infrastructure. An additional pavillion themed to A Bug's Life went up but featured nothing but more off-the-shelf rides — albeit ones that little kids could ride. Controversially, Disneyland's much-loved Main Street Electrical Parade was revived here, to the disgust of fans who'd patronized it in its much-merchandised "final year" next door (which, remember, was succeeded by the aforementioned Light Magic debacle). Even the addition of the popular Florida ride The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was greeted with yawns. (It's telling that, to date, only one of the charter California Adventure attractions — Soarin' Over California — has been exported to other Disney resorts; elements of the Disney Animation exhibit were also duplicated in Florida.)
- In the meantime, highly-hyped adult-oriented restaurants ABC Soap Opera Bistro and celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck's Avalon Cove were closed, owing to a lack of visitors in the park by dinnertime. Even the musical revue Steps in Time and the dark ride Superstar Limo didn't last the first full year of operation, cutting into the park's already weak attraction lineup.
- Eventually changes in management at Disney's theme park division paved the way for a massive, five-year overhaul of the park that brought it up to the standards expected of the world's most famous theme park operator, with attractions like World of Color and Cars Land providing fun-for-the-whole-family appeal.