Disney's Four Pillars For Deciding Theme Park Attractions

Disney's Four Pillars For Deciding Theme Park Attractions

Podcast #42

This week we offer two podcasts. The first podcast is a focus on the huge number of attractions and offerings being built at Walt Disney World. The number, which is over 70, is staggering. Our notes page for that podcast is here.

Our second podcast looks at four criteria that have guided the decision to build these attractions. The podcasts which can be can be found here on Podbean and here at iTunes.

Since Bob Chapek, Chairman of Parks, Experiences & Products has taken over the role of Disney parks and resorts, he has especially emphasized that the parks–especially Epcot–be…

  • More Disney
  • More Family
  • More Relevant
  • More Timeless

Let’s dig into this further, and see its application as a set of four standards by which potential projects are assessed.

1. More Disney

An attraction that relates to an intellectual property (IP) of Disney’s ranks above a thematic property that anyone can build. The question Chapek essentially brings to the table is this: “If our competitors could own this IP, would they be building an attraction around it. So why not us?”

This is a very different take than the late 70s, early 80s when people were looking for something more “sophisticated” than what was at Magic Kingdom.

2. More Family

A dark ride that takes people of all ages should be more important than a children’s ride that caters largely to small children. A roller coaster that is family friendly is better than some teeth rattler that appeals to a narrow band of thrill seekers. Better yet, build a total experience where there is simply something for every one and plenty for all.

As more competition introduces itself in the area, from big-time thrilling roller coasters to child-centered activities like Lego Land and Crayola, Disney has sought to stay in the middle with a more “something for all” family approach.

3. More Relevant

Being relevant is an interesting term. It is uncertain what this actually means, which could include examples like:

  • Is Coco ought to be more relevant to this generation than the Three Caballeros? 
  • An intellectual property like Pandora or Marvel that made over a billion dollars should be more relevant than one that made only half a billion in the box office?
  • Could being relevant suggest something that is more interesting or worth your time and interest?

4. More Timeless

Being timeless should mean that you don’t create an attraction where you have to update the experience every decade or so, or it looks out-of-date. Tomorrowland falls in this category. Future World falls in this category. But so can a film that is based on Canada or China. Timeless suggests that Peter Pan’s Flight will live on forever, but The Many Adventures of Mr. Toad may not.


Below are some examples that allow us to consider and weigh the importance of each of these four pillars:

1. Frozen Ever After

Frozen Ever After
Anna and Elsa once again as you depart Frozen Ever After. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
  • Maelstrom was losing popularity and falling out of being relevant
  • The film was dated and was no longer timeless
  • Frozen was a big hit and brought a Disney touch to the Epcot pavilion
  • Is a film about a story from Sweden relevant to a pavilion about Norway?
  • Still, the new attraction remains more timeless and relevant moving forward

2. Mary Poppins Attraction in Epcot

  • The movie adds a Disney touch to the UK Pavilion
  • Mary Poppins is a Disney classic that has proven over 55 years to be timeless
  • A newer version of the movie makes Mary Poppins more relevant to today’s generation
  • Making an attraction for this experience allows the pavilion to be more family in nature. 

3. Removal of Great Movie Ride

  • Disney doesn’t have to pay licenses for non-Disney films
  • Older films were no longer relevant 
  • Some sections were too intense for small children
  • Mickey is timeless, Disney

4. Addition of Mickey & Minnie Runaway Railway

  • Mickey is the central icon to Disney–needs to remain relevant
  • The attraction is relevant to an up and coming generation viewing new Mickey shorts
  • The attraction’s film like experience could be updated
  • The attraction is for the entire family

5. Hollywood Boulevard Music

  • Old music was cinematic scores–most not Disney
  • Old music was not relevant to the theme of 1930s Hollywood Boulevard
  • New music mixes in new Disney music classics, but in a 1930s style to keep them relevant.

6. Beauty and the Beast Bar and Lounge

  • Mizner is a distinguished architect, but few people know who he is or how he ties to the hotel
  • Mizner’s architecture was a Mediterranean Revival style that is not relevant to the Victorian style of Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
  • Beauty and the Beast is pure Disney, though not tied to Grand Floridian style
  • Making a bar styled after Beauty and the Beast does not make it family, though with four salons, one could dedicate a section that is more family friendly.

7. Coronado Springs Destino Tower

  • Previously Coronado was highly themed, but with little Disney influence
  • The pueblo/casita/ranchos style is not up and keeping with modern convention styles
  • The Destino Tower builds on a story involving Walt Disney and Salvador Dali.
  • The Tower brings a more relevant and modern look and feel playing off of Antoni Gaudi’s work found in Barcelona, Spain

8. Pandora: The World of Avatar

The floating islands of Pandora. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
  • The film Avataris relevant as it has been the #1 box office hit globally up until Avengers Endgame
  • Early on the biggest complaint was that the film wasn’t from Disney. But now it falls under the Fox acquisition
  • The attractions built fit squarely into being solid family experiences
  • It should remain even more timeless because of upcoming films. 

9. Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge

  • Star Wars is more Disney than ever before
  • Having a land that isn’t equated with the location in a given film helps keep it timeless
  • It is largely for all families attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean or Haunted Mansion
  • The Trials of the Temple is a testament that this property is more relevant with each and every young generation

10. Skyliner, Minnie Van & Tram

  • The Skyliner brings in the Disney look with its cabins showcasing Disney characters
  • The Minnie Van obviously plays on Minnie Mouse
  • Even the new parking lot trams bring back the traditional and familiar Walt Disney World Logo

Souvenirs for Your Organization

  • What can you develop that your competitors wish they could build if they had ownership of?
  • How can you make your products and services relevant in the marketplace?
  • How can you attract as many audiences as possible with the products and services you offer?
  • How can you stay relevant in the marketplace?
  • What standards or guidelines or pillars do you have in place to create clarity around how you build products or services?

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J. Jeff Kober

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