Monday, August 07, 2006

Everything Pixar, Cartoons Or Television?

**Travel, a busy work schedule and some personal matters have prevented me from updating this blog recently, but hopefully such a long time won't elapse until the next posting! Thanks to all who have written asking me when the next post is coming.**


You’ve heard the alternate meanings for EPCOT for years: “Every Person Comes Out Tired,” “Everyone’s Paycheck Comes On Thursday,” “Employees’ Polyester Costumes of Terror” … but here’s a new one, and it’s not all that funny.

The announcement that Kim Possible is going to be taking up residence at Epcot makes it clear that Disney’s “brand managers” are either sleeping on the job or have a very bizarre sense of what makes up an individual brand.

As more and more companies are trying hard to establish distinct brand identities for distinctly different products (think Coca-Cola and its trademark drink, its Dasani water and its Tab energy drink – each of which has a very different look, feel and consumer proposition), Disney is blending its brands more and more to the point that its “brand recipe” is becoming a tasteless, bland, overcooked stew with too many ingredients.

Epcot is a perfect example. I wouldn’t be surprised to soon see it renamed “Disney’s Epcot,” ostensibly making the concept “more” Disney but completely and permanently distancing itself from its roots. Back in the late 1990s when it lost the name “EPCOT Center” in favor of the less meaningful, more confusing, “non-acronymed” Epcot, it began losing any sense of identity. The very things that made it so unique – its lack of connection to any of the other theme parks, its focus on the real world instead of the fantastic, its efforts to blend education with entertainment – seemed to become liabilities. More than anything, the fact that it never really was hospitable to Disney characters became something that brand managers seemed to feel had to be fixed.

So, we got an influx of Mickey, Minnie and the gang and a bizarre daily character “bus ride” through World Showcase, which has morphed into the “Character Connection” in Future World. (As one reader pointed out, Disney even stoops to calling these characters “characters,” something it never would have done a few years ago when it insisted on making sure they always appeared in a story context.)

Then, we got character dining, both in Future World and World Showcase. Then, we got Nemo swimming into The Living Seas.

Now, it’s rumored, the oh-so hip and trendy Kim Possible is going to make a new home in the Imagination pavilion.

Never mind that Kim Possible has absolutely no connection whatsoever to the pavilion, or that guests (both hardcore Disney fans and those who visit only occasionally) have long complained that Imagination needs Figment and Dreamfinder – its original animated inhabitants.

What matters most to Disney is that it can cross-promote and “synergize” itself to within an inch of its life.

But, creatively, is this the best Disney can do? Just drop a character into a theme park, whether or not it belongs? Frankly, this latest announcement about Kim Possible in particular strikes me as a Six Flags-style move – you know, like when you’d see Looney Tunes cartoons in line for a roller coaster just because both happened to be owned by Time-Warner?

Not only does Kim Possible have absolutely no connection to Epcot and its themes, the character is usurping what was once one of EPCOT Center’s most celebrated areas, the ImageWorks. Rather than upgrade the area and put some genuinely new and exciting thought and imagination into it, Disney’s marketers took over and figured it would be a good place for a standard character meet-and-greet; it’s almost certain that you’ll see signs and brochures for the Disney Channel throughout the pavilion once Kim Possible arrives, bringing more crass commercialism into the parks.

On top of this creative brain fart that it’s hard to redeem or excuse in any way, Disney announced just this weekend that it’s raising prices at its Florida theme parks; it’ll now cost $67 for a one-day ticket to Epcot.

Think about that for a minute: A family of four spends a few days in Florida as mom or dad attends a convention and decides to pop over to Epcot for the afternoon. For their nearly $300 investment, they now get not the best creativity and inspiration that Disney’s Imagineers have to offer, but come ons for the Disney Channel, for the Disney Vacation Club and for Pixar movies.

Epcot – like much of Walt Disney World – is evolving into an unimaginative dumping ground for quick marketing projects for cartoon characters, Pixar movies and television shows.

What used to be a park with a bold vision of informing, exciting and educating people about the world in which they live has become another place to shill Disney entertainment. It’s like serving a TV dinner on your best china – even if it looks good, it’s still lousy to eat and a really insulting way to utilize such beautiful craftsmanship. The plate deserves better, and you deserve better.

Epcot deserves better and its guests deserve a heck of a lot more respect than this.


Anonymous said...

As a Disney fanatic I normally give the benefit of the doubt to some of these decisions, but this post is on the mark. KP was going to be cancelled after last season, before an email campaign brought it back. How major of a property is this then? Will it again be cancelled by the time they finish adding her to the pavilion?

The much more important question though is what the hell connection does this have to Epcot? If they want to open a Bueno Nacho (Kim’s buddy Ron Stoppable’s favorite restaurant) at Downtown Disney or MGM, then I’ll take my girls there. As for Epcot not every square inch of the park needs to be cross promoted.

In the end, simply adding characters does not add a ton of value to the experience. Either the Imageworks is fun or its not. It is either a reason why $67 was well spent or not. I would recommend upgrading the experience at Imageworks for everyone, instead of just for the few people who are major Kim Possible fans.

Anonymous said...

The Kim Possible thing is just a test. There's going to be a spot in the upstairs ImageWorks near the KP meet and greet for an interactive activity in World Showcase, where guests get Kimmunicators and go into France and the UK to presumably help on a mission. Why they just didn't put the station at International Gateway beats me, though they probably will do that if the testing is successful.
Besides, Kim Possible IS in production again. The fans got Disney to make more episodes, like what happened to Family Guy.

Anonymous said...

This is a terrible idea - Kim Possible? A cartoon that will be completely forgotten in 5 years... awesome job, Disney! This is what nearly $70 per daily ticket gets the public?

I've worked as a Marketing Director and Creative Director for many years in the chaotic advertising world, and I can honestly say that the creative forces that be are completely on AutoPilot for this project. Hopefully the Executive Team will realize that this isn't worth the investment.

Anonymous said...

and the sad thing of it all is....atleast we can finally go back upstairs...legally ;)

Anonymous said...

I know a lot about disney but I've never heard of this "Kim Possible" it just on the Disney Channel?

Anonymous said...

Yes, and if you are like me you have not watched the Disney Channel ever since it decided to turn its back on its longtime fans and stop airing things like Vault Disney and the classic programming and cartoons that were so fun to watch and kept the real spirit of Disney alive.

I saw Kim Possible once and thought it was pretty lame. I'm glad so many people seem to like it, but it could be at the Disney-MGM Studios or even at one of the resorts like the Contemporary or the Coronado Beach. Why do they have to ruin Epcot with kiddy junk like this? Put her at Downtown Disney or somewhere that she can easily be removed once everyone has forgotten about her, like they did DuckTails ..... heheheh.

Scott said...

"Put her at Downtown Disney or somewhere that she can easily be removed once everyone has forgotten about her, like they did DuckTails"

Man, I'd rather see DuckTales any day. I used to watch that, Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers, TailSpin, and Darkwing Duck every afternoon. And DuckTales did just come out on DVD, so maybe they'll do something special for it. (one can only hope...)

I just put this into my blog as news/rumors without much commentary other than KP doesn't fit into Imagination. This post really gives good insight to the rumors (as the KP stuff hasn't been confirmed) so I'm gonna add a link to this from my blog.

Epcot82 said...

Thanks, Silent!

At the very least, DuckTails tried to utilize and explore little-known characters (with some "cameos" in there from time to time!) and to create something new from the Disney legacy ... it never felt like a rip-off or like it was pandering; it was quite fun! Guess in those days, creativity was valued. Ah, thooooose days!

Anonymous said...

See, here's the problem. You lose right away when you post stuff like "turned it's back on longtime viewers." The reason? With its current programming line-up the Disney Channel attracts far more viewers than it ever did before. In the televison business you play to win.

If you love all that classic stuff, the good news it's all available on DVD. For what you would have paid for a few years of the Disney Channel back when it was a pay channel, you could own most of what was on Vault Disney.

Likewise, what we consider classic Epcot was bound to date quickly. The big signature animatronic stuff like Transportation saw a steady decline of ridership after the first few years. Sure they made missteps along the way, but I guarantee you when the Seas opens with Nemo, more people will enjoy that attraction than have in years. When you call something Future World and model it on a world's fair, you better keep updating it. If anything, I think you could make the case that they haven't updated enough. Yes, the new imagination still is kind of lame, but my kids love it, so we go on it.

Adults deciding that only the characters they grew up with belong in the parks are just being a bit selfish, I think. It would be crazy for Disney to not give kids the characters they live with. If you were around back in the 50's would you have complained at how crass it was to have the Mickey Mouse club circus show in Disneyland?

Epcot82 said...

You either work for Disney or you work in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles.

That's my guess, because your thinking falls into the trap of "if it's popular, it must be good."

Disney used to do what *it* thought was good, and if the public liked it, all the better. It's not just a good way to run a business (albeit a risky one), it's how Disney managed to become an unprecedented success under Walt's guidance. It's even how Michael Eisner and Frank Wells ran Disney.

Today's Disney is risk free, based on the lowest-common denominator, and run by the very thinking that you put forth.

I don't know if I would have complained how crass it was to have the Mickey Mouse Club Circus at Disneyland, but I know of one person who ultimately felt it didn't belong, that it was crossing a line and didn't fit in: a guy named Walt Disney.

Just because something is popular does NOT mean it's good. And the opposite is true, as well. The real vision and determination comes with deciding you'll stick with a certain path, a certain idea, a certain creative offering, even if the public seems not to have "latched on." It's called staying true to the vision, and it's what Disney and Epcot cannot seem to do.

Anonymous said...

I've worked at theme parks for many years, though not any Disney.

Mickey Mouse Club was pulled from Disneyland because it wasn't pulling in the crowds, not because Walt thought it was crass.

The argument isn't "if it's popular it must be good," it's "if ridership declines year after year, it's probably time for a change." Or do you think the "bathroom of tomorrow" would still be packing them in at Disneyland.

Anonymous said...

"The real vision and determination comes with deciding you'll stick with a certain path, a certain idea, a certain creative offering, even if the public seems not to have "latched on." It's called staying true to the vision."

I'm confused, if the public hasn't "latched on" who is it for? It's not like the late lamented future world attractions weren't open for years. Focus on encouraging them to do better for the future, because focusing on a past that ain't coming back (with the possible exception of Figment I'm geussing) really is not a good use of time.

vortech said...

I actually think that KP would fit in pretty well into the imagination Institute.

I think the problem is that you still think of it as journey into imagination (I do it too) were it does not fit in. But a 007 type hero who uses gadgets, and solves mysteries fits in pretty well with an institute designed to honor and foster invention and creativity.

That said, it does not need to replace the dreamworks. That's too great a space to be slap-dash retrofitted. Put KP in the 3D theater. You get rid of HISTA which was tired before the film sequel and you keep KP in the medium it is experienced in.