5 Recent Disney Attractions Cynics Got Wrong

5 Recent Disney Attractions Cynics Got Wrong

Part of what makes Disney posts and podcasts so much fun is that we get to play armchair quarterback. In that role, we all have our opinions strong and otherwise about movies, shows, characters and attractions found throughout Disney. But sometimes it’s more than differing preferences. Sometimes it’s an ongoing pessimistic rant of what is wrong with Disney. In that role they can sound not too unlike those critics who found Walt Disney himself to be crazy and foolish about ideas he tried to launch. The term for that has been Disney’s Folly. And like the judges of old, we find those who really do the same thing. We’ll look at five recent Disney attractions bloggers and podcasters have ranted and criticized at one time or another. And since this is a Disney at Work podcast/post, we’ll talk about what that looks like when others fail to believe in what you are trying to achieve.

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To start off with, let’s talk about the role of a critic. My experience working with a U.S. intelligence customers for several years is that it is one thing to apply critical thinking. You need critical thinking as a U.S. intelligence agency. But it is another to simply be critical. We can all be guilty of it, but we have to make sure we don’t “become it”. That’s at the heart of what we’re talking about today.

1. Pandora: World of Avatar

Recently I’ve revisited this attraction in a more in-depth way as I’ve prepared a new interactive experience for Patreon fans. I’m continually blown away by the levels of detail found in every corner of the world of Avatar. This is an attraction that has truly stuck the landing. And it’s embraced by millions of people every year.

Admittedly, when I heard the news, I didn’t get it either. I hadn’t even seen the film. And once I saw the film, I still couldn’t quite envision it. I saw the model at D23, and it still wasn’t entirely connecting. What would I do? What would I experience? And would I really care?

I wasn’t alone. In fact, while I was simply uncertain, others were really dismissive. A James Cameron film didn’t belong at Disney in the minds of some. Why spend so much money on a non-Disney intellectual property? No one can even name one of the characters, so why even care? Many felt Disney was only doing this because it wanted to align at the time with something that had set so many box office records.

Yet today millions have visited the attraction at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and wait for hours in line to experience Avatar Flight of Passage. Satuli Canteen is one of the most popular counter service experiences on the entire property. More films are ahead, and in my opinion, more lands like this in other parks world-wide. People love Pandora: World of Avatar.

Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

There is an expression, “if you can dream it, you can do it”. To that effect, may I also say, “if others can’t dream it, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it.” Just because they don’t envision it, doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Few could envision Disneyland in the early 1950’s. There wasn’t a template to go off of. Others had done pieces, but no one had ever done what we see today. Now we accept it. But very smart people once thought that it was Disney’s folly.

2. Happily Ever After

This instance, it isn’t so much about doubting something as it is about hanging on to something you love. It was hard to do a follow-up to Wishes. That show was simply loved by so many. It too was difficult to imagine that anything could take its place.

And yes…there were critics about what would come in its place. Most thought that they would use castle projections as an excuse for cutting the budget on Fireworks.

Some still miss that show, but most miss Happily Ever After in the wake of COVID-19. They can’t wait for that show to come back. The scene with the Hunchback singing, or Hercules singing. Or simply the moment when Tinkerbell finally flies at the end. I get goosebumps just thinking about this.

I mention this because Disney not only needed time to transition from one major show at Epcot to another, but it needed its audience to transition from one show to another. Illuminations: Reflections of Earth is a magnificent show. It had a great showing for some 20 years. But could there be something better? Imagineers think they have it in HarmoniUS. But they needed a transition piece to get audiences to let go of the past and prepare for the future. That came in the form of Epcot Forever: A Tribute.

Most thought the show was quaint but no one thought it better than Illuminations. They were right about that. But are they still ready for HarmoniUS? That show, which should have premiered and been highly accepted by now has been delayed because of COVID-19. Now it’s underway, and the first barge appeared in World Showcase Lagoon. Immediately the size drew criticism. Do people not remember how disappointingly small the fountains and globe were? I am thrilled these barges are huge, and grateful that there will be daytime fountains as I find an empty World Showcase lagoon to be boring.

3. Skyliner

Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Many people dismissed this long before it was open. The biggest concern was the potential temperature inside the cabins during the summer months.

I myself was probably questioning how this was going to work as well. That is until I was in Singapore two summers ago and saw that same make and model working there in conditions that were far more hot and humid. I took the courage to try it out (the heights are really high on this), and I’ve been a believer ever since.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs had run out of funding and needed Bank of America to infuse some cash to get them to the finish line. Walt had a banker come in over the weekend to watch what he could scrap together. The rest is history. Sometimes you have to give people a little more vision of what is possible to get them to the finish line.

Now the Skyliner is the darling the resort circuit. Interest in staying at the hotels served by the Skyliner have risen simply because people want to take advantage of this service. While it has had its breakdown moments, it has largely been faithful in its service, and very efficient in moving large numbers of guests.

4. Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge

There have been an awful lot of naysayers about this Star Wars endeavor. The films have endured some tough criticism, and perhaps some of that is earned. Less deserved is their effort to build two massive expansions at the same time on two coasts. During this effort they have had many critics bashing them from afar. There has been no end to the criticism.

  • Not “Star Wars” enough
  • Not enough room at the Cantina
  • Not the characters people are familiar with
  • Not enough droids roaming about
  • Not enough people coming to visit at Disneyland
  • Not much different than Star Tours when you ride Smuggler’s Run
  • Not very re-rideable as a simulator attraction
  • Not a place anybody knows about
  • Not enough shade
  • Not a menu anyone can understand
  • Not worth opening without Rise of the Resistance
  • Not worth opening Rise of the Resistance unless it works perfectly

People are still complaining today that Rise breaks down too often. They think it should close until that attraction is running perfectly, and then re-open. That is true, there are too many breakdowns of that attraction. But people forget when Pirates of the Caribbean originally opened. Or they forget how tough it was to get Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln up and running for the New York World’s Fair. The first months of Epcot were a mess with hundreds of refunds and complimentary tickets being handed out. But eventually they all performed the way they were intended to. So will Rise.

Sometimes it will never be enough to your critics. But it will be more than enough to the fans and customers that matter most. I saw that yesterday with a family of five visiting from up North. Make sure you deliver to them.

5. Re-Opening After COVID

Some have dismissed CEO Bob Chapek as simply “not getting it”. So far what I see is that Chapek is having to do some hard things that haven’t been done since Walt and Roy were in a depression. But again, rather than letting the dream die, the Disney brothers undertook even harder things and the result again was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. When things are hardest is sometimes the moment you have to believe harder.

I believe Disney is doing its best to do harder things even during a hard times. One of the reasons I decided it was time to do this post and podcast now was watching the amazing conclusion to this season’s Mandalorian. What an amazing show. What an amazing product offering they have in Disney+. And what an amazing future it has.

When you end up calling people names, what you’ve done is expose your ability to make your case on the grounds of data and reason.

On December 11th, Disney reached an all time single share high of $175.72, which came in the wake of the Investor Day Announcements. We chronicled those many announcements on our podcast and post. It was a stunning set of announcements and yet none of it had anything to do with network television, retail and especially the parks. Imagine what they could do by the time they hold the stockholder meeting on March 9th.

Meanwhile in the parks, Disney is doing all it can to reopen every park around the globe. Prior to this pandemic, they had a stunning list of projects and attractions coming to the parks. I believe they are trying to keep as many of those alive and to keep you and I coming again and again.


Like the stock market, I’m bullish for Disney. Not that I don’t have some critical concerns–many of which I’ve voiced through these podcasts. But offering critical thought and simply being a critical person I believe are two different matters. And when it comes to Disney, the latter has usually been on the wrong side of history. If what I have mentioned are Disney Follies, then bring on more of them. I’ll be first in line.

Souvenirs For Your Organization

  • Are we thinking critically or are we simply being critical?
  • Do you need to face the reality that people will complain until they experience it?
  • Is it difficult for your audience to lay aside the familiar and embrace the new?
  • When people dismiss you, stereotype you, label you, is that a sign that they don’t have a case against you?
  • How can you do harder things in harder times?

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J. Jeff Kober