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Oct. 2, 2022

BONUS: Disney Parks Announcements from D23

BONUS: Disney Parks Announcements from D23

We recap the Disney Parks announcements from D23, including Pacific Wharf in Disney California Adventure Park to Be Reimagined into San Fransokyo from “Big Hero 6;” Disney100 Celebration at Disneyland Resort Kicks Off in Late January 2023, and EPCOT's...


We recap the Disney Parks announcements from D23, including Pacific Wharf in Disney California Adventure Park to Be Reimagined into San Fransokyo from “Big Hero 6;” Disney100 Celebration at Disneyland Resort Kicks Off in Late January 2023, and EPCOT's Harmonious to be replaced with new nighttime spectacular in 2023.

Transcript

Philip Hernandez: From our studios in Los Angeles and Tampa, this is Green Tagged Theme Park in 30. I'm Philip, I'm joined by my co-host Scott Swenson of Scott Swenson Creative Development. We're recording this a tiny bit early because we both have stuff happening on the weekend. So, if there is a big piece of news that comes out over the weekend, just know that we're not ignoring it, we just haven't heard it yet, so it's like time travel. 

Anyway, I thought this would be a good opportunity to talk about D23 because it happened this last weekend. D23, for those who don't know, it's a big Disney fan convention. Disney, a while back decided that they should just do their own convention where they just bring all their guests and all their announcements to, so kind of like a giant fan celebration that also acts as a press event. They would charge people to go to it, and it would be long lines. Apparently, the logistics have gotten better, so that's good, but there's always a Panel on the Parks and that's what we wanted to focus on because I think that's the biggest overlap for our listeners, the park announcements. 

As usual, we don't want to spend too much time really, like we're not going to report every single thing that Josh talked about in the Parks Panel, or Bob talked about, we want to hit the highlights that we think are important and there are a few highlights. We'll go through them, kind of take one at a time. But first I wanted to kind of get Scott's take on, I guess, the reactions, because one of the big takeaways from the panel is that Bob, of course, was booed multiple times, and he would say something, and people would shout out not nice things when he was talking. So, that must have been awkward, you know, for him and I'm just not sure. I just wanted to talk a little bit about how we feel about that as a discourse at an event like this. I mean, like... I don't know.

Scott Swenson: It's the world we live in. I mean, it's to the point now where anybody who feels like they disagree feels like they can shout out, be rude, be discourteous, and that all of a sudden somehow makes them right, or at least gives them their 15 seconds of fame. The idea here, and I am of two minds on this, first of all again, I will play the age card yet again, the sense of decorum in this country and in this world is just going down the tubes. I've never been one that really sits on, "oh we must be prim and proper. We must always be put together at all times." At the same time, being rude in a public setting, to me, just shows how stupid the loudmouth is. So, it shows nothing about power or strength, it shows nothing about their real opinion, in fact, I think it undermines their opinion because it shows that they are not smart enough to actually formulate it into a way they can actually do something. 

But again, being old the flip side of that is, because we live in this world, because I can't continue to live in a world that no longer exists, because we live in this world I think that it's quite possible that, and we'll get into this in a bit more detail throughout the course of this show, but I think D23 has also become a way to test the market without going through a huge test market process.

Philip Hernandez: I agree.

Scott Swenson: There are, in the little bits and pieces that I read, a bunch of things where they said, "this isn't really even concept art. This is just we're saying something could possibly, maybe be under consideration to possibly be developed," and they're just kind of seeing what people say about it. The biggest one is, is there going to be a whole new Magic Kingdom Land devoted to Disney villains, or isn't there? The truth of the matter is, who knows, but by planting that seed they have saved a ton of money in R&D. Basically, what they've done is they've gotten people to pay to come and listen to this stuff, and by hearing their feedback... Now, I'm not sure that they really wanted the feedback in the form of being booed, or in the form of yelling out, but they're certainly getting it. 

I may be wrong, that may be exactly what they want, they want to hear that visceral. They want to hear those that standing ovation when anytime they say Moana and everybody is up on their feet, or they want to hear the people shouting and yelling and booing so that they know what the temperature is of their rabid fans. Let's face it, Disney fans are crazy. I mean they are so dedicated to the brand that, slightly off topic, the whole controversy, and I think it's not a controversy, the whole ridiculousness about the new live-action Ariel, Little Mermaid, it just shows you how people are just incensed because someone is messing up their childhood. Well, OK, no. Disney does not own your world. They do not control your world. However, from the theme park standpoint, it's good that they do because that's how they continue to make their money. 

So, again, I'm frustrated by the fact that this is the way it's happening, but I totally accept and understand that this is the way things are happening everywhere. This is the world that we live in. So, I guess my question back is, is Disney using this forum to take that kind of audience temperature, to see what does spark an extremely positive or an extremely negative response? Because let's face it, we never hear about the "meh" responses, we only hear about the super cheers and the super jeers. I don't know. Is that part of what they're doing?

Philip Hernandez: I don't know. That's an excellent thought to go, because I think initially, I am kind of on the side of, that's not appropriate behavior, you shouldn't do that, that's rude. But on the flip side of it, it's like, what is the best way for fans to give their feedback on the parks? I mean, there's the guest surveys that they send you once you go through. Their social media, I think now probably it's old hat, but that has been previously the way people would go and just kind of vent on there. But I guess, you know, if you are going to make your own event specifically for talking about stuff and making announcements, you're kind of inviting it in that way. Like you're putting everybody into a room and are like, "here, let's talk about this stuff." 

Obviously, the people that are going to pay to go are going to be the ones that are kind of prone to that very emotional reaction, because they're literally paying to sit and watch a press release that they could have watched... As you said previously, previously you would have to pay focus groups to sit and watch this stuff, and now they're paying to do it. So, I think it may be because you know they're not shareholders, or shareholders can voice their ideas, but like nobody listens, I mean you're only listening to the ones that have the most stock. 

So, I don't know, it's interesting for sure, but I think I just want to bring it up as a, you know, a reminder of that kind of thing. We see Knotts, we see Universal, we see a few other parks trying that model of trying to bring fans in and have that experience where they're talking about it or whatnot in different capacities. I think Knotts has a document you have to sign, they have like a whole application thing to make sure you're not going to say anything bad, almost like an anti-defamation thing. Which is interesting because, in this case, Disney doesn't do that. I mean, again, it's supposed to be a convention. I mean in that regard, people can just say whatever they want, they're not there under any media or any sort of anti-defamatory condition, they can just say what they want, and clearly, they were, you know, not happy with some of these things.

Scott Swenson: Well, and it's also because Disney is a very rare company in the fact that they actually have multi-generational milestones. There are people around the world who set moments in their lives and their children's lives and their grandchildren's lives, and now perhaps their great-grandchildren's lives of the first time they went to Disneyland, the first time they saw Pinocchio, the fact that Pinocchio and the Disney Classics come back. They go into the vaults, and they go away, so they can be "reintroduced to a whole new audience." I mean there are very, very few companies in the world right now who have that sort of multigenerational, and not just, I won't even say appeal because it's more than appeal. They are actually using Disney-branded products as ways to mark milestones in their family history. I think that's why they get so viscerally emotionally involved. 

Philip Hernandez: I agree with you. The other thing, just to finish off that discussion, Scott brought it up, but the other big part, about 2/3 of the way through the Parks Panel, they just started like just talking about ideas, like literally like, "oh we had these ideas, it's about the blah whatever." Of course, the biggest one that we heard of was the villain's land area. Again, we don't really want to talk about that because it's not officially announced.

Scott Swenson: It's not news. It's staged hearsay, which I think is really interesting. It goes to the point of, "well, we could do this." It was that kind of conversation that made me actually kind of go down the rabbit hole a little bit and think about, "is this what they're doing?" At the same time, there's a wonderful psychological thing here, that if for some reason the thing that the people shouted out that they didn't like goes away or gets altered because of what they say, then they all of a sudden have a sense of ownership. They are like, "I had a hand in the development of that."

Philip Hernandez: I always say with Disney, if it works, it's brilliant, right? Like it's one of those things where like, "oh, if it works, where we can turn all of product R&D on its head, where people pay us to R&D product that then they pay for, and it will make them more invested in it so they'll spend even more. Oh, man!" It's like, yeah, that would be ridiculous if you could do it. So, I think for our listeners that kind of more is a takeaway of these two pieces of the being booed and also the speculation, this is all ways of engaging super fans, of experimenting with ways to engage your fans, even at not Disney, but there's a bunch of ways to do this type of concept.

Scott Swenson: Well, the easiest way and most cost-effective way is, to hang out in your attractions as guests are leaving. What they're talking about positively they liked, what they talked about negatively they hated, and if you want to drill it down, hang out at the exit of each of your attractions, each of your shows, each of your haunted attractions, or each of your Christmas events. Listen to the guests. You don't have to set up a D23 Expo for them to pay money to come to your park. Because let's face it, none of us could do it, Disney is the only one. I know other places have tried but right now Disney is the only one. So, just listen, have discussions with your guests. It's not quite as buttoned up as some "research ", but Philip and I had a very long discussion before we started recording about how powerful is data and how flawed is data and data collection. So, sometimes just sitting there and listening to your guests, and paying attention to what they like and what they don't like, sometimes that will help guide you as much as any sort of quantitative data.

Philip Hernandez: I have a point on that and that is, there's a whole field, this is a career, of how to ask good questions on your survey data. Obviously, it's a career. There's a great book called Ask out there about it. I think you could just skip a lot of that learning and just get the book and there's a template in there. It's really good. The quick tip is that, really, people are terrible at predicting the future. So, you want to ask them what they didn't like, what they remember, and you want to ask them if they didn't come last year, why not? Like, "Oh, have you come here every year? Oh no, you skipped last year? Why didn't you come last year?" That's what you want to ask them.

Also, another shout-out, I went to the opening night of Fear Factory, and they have a dedicated survey shift that stands at the exit and surveys all the groups that come out and has little, really simple data collection in like little check boxes. So, simple and effective, and they actually use that when they are giving out their nightly awards as to the zone that was kind of like most mentioned. They do nightly awards where they give candy bars and whatnot. I was like, "this. This! Anybody can do it, it's easy, it's data." Scott and I talked about this too, there's always that fine line between data that's too complicated to be useful and useful data. They're using it actively, they're using it every night, it's worked into their incentive program. I was like, "Oh my God, Spencer, I am geeking out over this." I actually spent like half an hour just standing there watching this thing, I was like, "I love this."

Scott Swenson: I took the exit survey 15 times, it was amazing. I'm kidding.

Philip Hernandez: It was great. So anyway, yeah, if this is Disney's version of that effectively, but on like a grander scale, then great.

So moving on to the actual news that was kind of announced first is that Pacific Wharf in Disney California Adventure Park is going to be reimagined into San Fransokyo from Big Hero 6. 

QUOTE:

Pacific Wharf in Disney California Adventure park, which evokes San Francisco’s waterfront, will be reimagined into San Fransokyo from “Big Hero 6,” where East meets West, and technology meets tradition. Imagineers are in the early phases of this work, but you can see glimpses of what’s to come for children of all ages – the young and young at heart. There will be a place to meet Baymax, plus new spots to eat and shop! "

Philip Hernandez: I mean, for me personally, I love Big Hero 6, and I loved it, so I'm excited. But the larger trend takeaway from me here is just what we've talked about previously, which is they're taking older areas and they're realigning them with IP that they're trying to push, or that is popular, period. That's what this is. 

Scott Swenson: Yeah, it's a move away from an older Disney mentality, and that was, "we want to create senses of the moments of reality that aren't necessarily targeted to IP," and they've kind of thrown that concept out the window and we're seeing it over and over again in a lot of these announcements

For example, Epcot is no longer what Epcot was set out to be. It has changed. It has aligned with IP and has gone back to, really, the original Fantasyland model at Disneyland, as a giant walk-through commercial for the movies. I'm not trying to say that it's a bad thing. What I'm saying is it is another way to experience the intellectual properties that they already own so that they can reinforce the power and the strength of them, whether it is on streaming, on merchandise, or in gaming. It's just another way to do multi-layers and get the most communication points out of an intellectual property.

Philip Hernandez: Yeah, exactly. Again, it's not a negative point. I mean, if anything, I think it aligns a lot with what Scott and I talk about, which is that you want to lean into your assets, and you want to extend the characters, and that's it. Again, it's just an adjustment of the model. It's going to take a while. Speaking of also, one of the other things that was mentioned, it's actually unclear as to whether it is speculation or not because it was right at like the edge, is the Dinoland over in Animal Kingdom, potentially becoming Zootopia, which is just, again, another extension of like this concept of they're just moving everything over into being IP. Which makes sense, because clearly, they've done the research, they talked to the fans, and clearly what people want is to walk into their favorite moments from the IPs. There's nothing wrong with that because that's actually what they do best, so they're leaning into their assets, and it just reinforces the whole cycle.

OK, so the next big thing is there are details announced for the Disney 100 Celebration at Disneyland Resort. It's going to kick off in late January 2023. There's, let's see, new platinum-infused decor. So, I guess the declarer theme is going to be platinum with sparkling stuff for Mickey and Minnie. Of course, special food and beverage, blah blah blah. They announced that there were going to be 3 big show components, or they announced 3 show components so far, there may be additional ones, but the ones they announced so far were their two nighttime shows and then their parade. 

So, they're doing a Special World of Color, and then they're also doing Wondrous Journeys at Disneyland Park, and Wondrous Journeys is going to be, I'll just read here

QUOTE:

And at Disneyland park, Walt’s original magic kingdom will become a magnificent canvas with “Wondrous Journeys,” a new nighttime spectacular that will ignite the wonder in all of us. It will feature nods to every Walt Disney Animation Studios film to date, taking us on a journey filled with artistry, music, storytelling and heart. It will continue to build upon the park’s state-of-the-art projection effects, turning Main Street, U.S.A., Sleeping Beauty Castle, the façade of “it’s a small world” and the Rivers of America into an artist’s canvas that brings characters to life all around you."

Philip Hernandez:

They'll have a new song for that, and then they announce that the Magic Happens Parade will debut at Disneyland Park as well as part of that. Again, kind of my thoughts on that part, is it does feel like they are learning. Because if we remember just a few weeks ago we talked about how they were like, for their Magic Kingdom celebration, which is this year, they are like retconning in Walt Disney, and putting that in, like they're, "oh, we know it's halfway through our celebration, but we're changing the fireworks a little bit, you know?" I think this is perfect because, Disneyland is a center, obviously the fans are crazy, we just talked about that. So, the concept of having a narrative for the firework show that also plays out in projection that takes you through a chronicle, I think that that's a good move, and clearly, they have learned from the recent kind of thing, a little mismatch there, where if it's a birthday, or it's a big birthday, you want to celebrate the thing itself. In this case, you want to have the wider narrative instead of just making it all about an IP.

Scott Swenson: And I'm going to take another half step back, a little further step back, and that, is one of the things That Disney has always been Great, and whether they have succeeded every Single time in the content or not, Is identifying, "here are the elements that we are going to plug in," and then they will change the content. I used to say Disney will find a reason to celebrate every single year that the parks are open. I used to make a running joke, it's like, "and next year, Donald Duck gets pants." You know, they can find something, they can invent something, they can create something in their rich history, or discover something in their rich history that is worthy of "celebration." 

What they're doing here is, I'm going to be a little bit cynical, but I think it's a smart business move, is they're doing a projection and firework show, they're doing a parade, and they're doing a Special World of Color. So, they're taking advantage of all of the hard assets that they already have, that they've already used for many, many years, and changing out the content. Now, we all know that changing content on projection mapping is cheap thing to do.

Philip Hernandez: Yeah, it's not free.

Scott Swenson: But it is something that they have had success with, it's something they know works, and it's something they know how to do. So, what they're doing is, and this is really, I think, the takeaway for our listeners, build your infrastructure, figure out where you're going to do your festivals, and what you want to include in your festivals, and then instead of trying to reinvent the wheel every quarter, I mean, Disney does it every five years or two years or whatever. But instead of trying to reinvent the wheel every quarter, utilize those same assets in a new and different way with different content and different packaging because like I said, Disney is a master of it, they've done it for many, many years. I was looking at my bookshelf, and I found my Magic Kingdom, my 25th Magic Kingdom Castle Maquette when they made it like a birthday cake. They sprayed it pink, everybody got really angry with it and absolutely hated it, and you couldn't find representations of it anywhere in the park because they were all sold out. So, I just found that. 

Once they discovered, "oh, we can do cool stuff with the castle." Then shortly after that, a couple years after that, they started to do projection mapping on the castle, and once they discovered that they thought, "Oh, well, OK, we've got all this technology, we know how to use it, let's change the content, and it makes it a whole "new" show." So, learn from that because it's really beneficial.

Philip Hernandez: I love that point, especially to highlight that I think Disneyland is one of the most extreme examples out there. It started off as just the classic firework show, right? And now, look, it's so much different because it's not just the castle as it is in some of the other places, but now it's like The Small World and it's also Rivers of America. I mean they're adding stuff all around the park to synchronize to that. Again, that's that is smart, it's using the assets. So, it's not just thinking about what is your iconic thing, it's also thinking about where are other projection surfaces that could work, that could be tied together.

Scott Swenson: Yeah, if you think about it, when the time comes to celebrate, It's a Small World again, you've already got the infrastructure there, you've already got it plugged in. So, Tada! That becomes the focus.

Philip Hernandez: Yeah, yeah. Well, let's switch gears a little bit. Another announcement that came out was that Harmonious in Epcot is going away. It's going to be replaced with a new nighttime spectacular in 2023. Which is a little bit unusual, because let's just say with Disney World, when they usually put one of those shows, an anchor show in place, it usually stays there for like a decade. I mean it is like usually a long thing, but again, I think this is the feedback on it was very negative, just like the birthday cake thing, it was pretty negative, so it seems like they're retooling that. 

Again, it's going to be the same thing. I mean, we don't have the details yet, but we're assuming, we're making an educated guess, that they are going to use the same assets again that they have and they're just going to redo the show. Which is not going to be cheap, I mean, they're going to have to pay one of the firms that we know that's going to charge a lot of money to make a whole new show, because it's not cheap. So, it's definitely not cheap, but it's not like they're ripping out infrastructure and replacing it, they're reskinning, and there's no reason there are no other details because they didn't give a reason. We're just making the assumption that it's because the show has been received so poorly.

Scott Swenson: I think you're right. I think they are paying attention to being received so poorly. However, I think there's another litmus test that they're probably doing, and that is going back to some really basic data. How late are guests staying in the park? Because longer guest stays in park, the more likely they are to generate revenue, whether that is through culinary or through merchandise. So, going back to the pink castle example, they didn't change it, even though guests absolutely were up in arms about it, because they were selling it. People were actually coming to the park just to see the hideous pink castle. So, my guess is that this was something that did not get the best reviews, and then they decided, "wait a minute, it's eating into our pocket." Because if it was not getting the best reviews, but people were still coming to see it, that's one thing. But when it starts eating into the profit margin and the length of stay, that's when you have to start going, "OK, we're losing X amount on length of stay. In three months, we're going to lose the amount it's going to cost us to redo the show. So, let's redo the show."  

Philip Hernandez: Yeah, as in like the guest is not wanting to stay to watch it, so it's not extending that window like it's supposed to.

Scott Swenson: Exactly, because that's the whole purpose of the end-of-night show anyway.

Philip Hernandez: To just extend stay, but then also transportation as well to kind of spread out the exiting process. While we're on that, just another point too, we talked about it briefly, but Universal Orlando, again, same concept. They just installed their big new lagoon area, and now we hear that all the time, right? New lagoon show XYZ, the Halloween one this year, was designed by Thinkwell, and I was surprised also by that. I was surprised that they would even make a new Halloween show for the lagoon, because normally it's like, "oh, let's dust off..." I mean, look at the "Boo To You" Parade, how long has that been going on? I was surprised at that same concept there.

Well, that about wraps up our D23 takeaways. Again, that was not an exhaustive list, that was really just what we thought was important about the parks section of that as overlapping. There's one bit of old news we can touch on here at the end, which we didn't get to cover when it came out. 

Scott Swenson: For the five weeks?

Philip Hernandez: I don't know, it's been a while. So, this is a little bit old. Basically, Universal filed a patent for an interactive Pepper's Ghost technology. It's always interesting when they file these patents because you don't exactly know where it's going to go. What I thought was most interesting about this is actually the quote from the patent as to why they thought it was important. I think that is huge, so I'll read from the patent here.

QUOTE:

“While well-established effects, such as a traditional Pepper’s Ghost effect, are effective illusions, it is now recognized that these traditional effects lack meaningful audience interaction,” 

For example, the audience “generally have no control over various aspects of a show built around such effects” ... and... “in such traditional systems [they are] passive”.

“In today’s environment, in which guests are accustomed to more interaction such passive interaction can cause a loss of interest,” 

Philip Hernandez: I was like, man, if you needed a clear explanation of entertainment and parks and all, I mean, that is like, I was like, this is A plus. Whoever wrote this, I'm going to grade this paper with an A plus.

Scott Swenson: Well, what I think is interesting is they're taking technology that is very old, very tried and true, it's the grand stage magicians’ pre-vaudeville who we're utilizing Pepper's Ghosts to create translucent and transparent illusions onstage for years. I mean this is nice because this one of the things it's even over and I am, so that's cool. But the fact that they're talking about how to make it engaging and interactive, I think that's something that, again, can be applied to so many existing technologies. You know, sometimes it requires a great deal of thought and sometimes it's there's it can be really simplistic, so it doesn't have to be necessarily high-tech. Engaging and interactive does not mean high-tech. Sometimes it means low tech, it means let's take some of this technology away because guests don't recognize how hard it is to make this happen from a technological standpoint when in reality you could do it much simpler with a much simpler form of technology or no technology at all.

It's interesting that they're taking, again, a classic, a classic illusion. For those of you who aren't familiar with what a Peppers Ghost illusion is, it's basically a light refraction reflection illusion that creates a moving ghostly apparition that can appear and disappear in a controlled environment. Does that sound fair? Without going into a whole lot of details.

Philip Hernandez: Yeah, yeah, yeah, that's basically it. It's not complicated.

Scott Swenson: Right. So, to make that interactive I think is going to be really cool. It's been used over and over again in a lot of different ways. It keeps getting brought back. For years, at Paramount Parks, there was a Star Trek exhibit that used it. There are a lot of ways it's been incorporated, but who knows? Universal got something new up their sleeve, and let's see what that is. We'll find out shortly enough, I hope.

Well guys, I hope you've enjoyed this episode. Again, we spent a lot of time talking about D23, and a little bit of time talking about Universal. So, again, I hope you enjoyed the show, please tell your friends, please come back and listen to us next week. Until next week, on behalf of Philip and myself, Scott Swenson, this is Green Tagged Theme Park in 30 and we'll see in seven.

 

 

Scott Swenson Profile Photo

Scott Swenson

Owner/Creative Director

For over 30 years, Scott Swenson has been a storyteller, bringing stories to life as a writer, director, producer and performer. His work in theme park, consumer events, live theatre and television has given him a broad spectrum of experiences. In 2014, after 21 years with SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, Scott formed Scott Swenson Creative Development LLC. Since then he has been providing impactful experiences for clients around the world. Whether he is installing shows on cruise ships or creating seasonal festivals for theme parks, writing educational presentations for zoos and museums or directing successful fund raisers, Scott is always finding new ways to tell stories that engage and entertain.