The death of the theme park

As I'm sure you are aware if you are reading this blog as a Disney Parks fan, this weekend was Disney's D23 Expo.  A celebration of all things Disney, including their entertainment empire and their parks.  Even for me, someone who's falling farther and farther out of the pulse of Disney Parks rumors, it is something that makes one sit up and pay attention.  D23 Expos of the past have produced tons of concrete news for different Disney Parks projects.  This year was no exception.  

A quick rundown of the announcements that I am sure I'll end up forgetting something from:

  • A new theater in Magic Kingdom
  • The Tron Lightcycle Coaster in Tomorrowland
  • A Disney Uber-like service
  • California Adventure's Paradise Pier is getting rethemed to Pixar Pier.
  • A new Vacation Club resort, Disney Rivera that overlooks Epcot and Hollywood Studios and includes
  • The Disney Gondola transportation system
  • The Great Movie Ride closing to be replaced with a Mickey Mouse themed attraction
  • New movies for the China Pavilion and Mission Space
  • A Space-themed restaurant for Future World, and
  • The long awaited Guardians of the Galaxy attraction replacing the Universe of Energy

Now, I've made my thoughts on the Guardians of the Galaxy ride known, many times, really.  This isn't a rehash of that.
This also isn't about how it's telling that Epcot has quite enough restaurants thank you very much.
Wait, this is a side street I need to travel for one more moment.  Going to Disney's own Disney Parks website and looking at what they have listed for both "Attractions" and "Dining", it's startling.  In a couple ways.  

Magic Kingdom - 42 attractions/41 dining locations 

DHS - 12 attractions/24 dining locations

DAK - 41 attractions/31 dining locations 

Epcot - 37 attractions/71 dining locations 

Firstly, did you know that Hollywood Studios only has 12 listed attractions right now, including separate listings for "Star Wars Launch Bay", "Star Wars Launch Bay Theater", and "Star Wars at Walt Disney World Resort"?  How is that even legal to charge full day tickets for? 

Secondly, taking DHS aside because of the major construction, Epcot has twice as many restaurants as attractions, and this is with everything included like museum/gallery space and Food and Wine Seminars.  Because of those, both Attractions and Dining space numbers are inflated a little, but still, 37 Attractions and 71 Dining locations?  Tell me again that Epcot isn't a highly themed food court these days?  And why do we need to add another new restaurant to the mix with the Space restaurant?  

Epcot_Attractions.JPG
EpcotDining.JPG

Also, anyone notice on the new concept art that Innoventions/Communicore is gone?  On the plus side, it's much more green, which I've talked about (though not in the way I described).

Updated Epcot - where you at Innoventions?!?

Updated Epcot - where you at Innoventions?!?

 

Ok, I could spend an entire post on that, but that isn't what got me to pick up the keyboard today.
No, it's a different though all together.  I posit that with the changes either already taken place, or the ones announced this past weekend, Disney has basically killed the theme park.

And I don't mean that exactly like the term has been used.  Sure, Magic Kingdom is still going to be what it is.  A Magical Kingdom made up of differently themed lands.  That stays the same.
No, what I mean is the Theme Park in the sense that the entire park adheres to a single, overarching theme.  It's something that, aside from the Magic Kingdom parks, Disney has done almost solely ever since they started expanding their theme park empire.
Starting with Epcot, which I've discussed the mission, the overarching theme, the World Fair  All of it I've basically spent this entire blog talking about.
Then came MGM Studios (Hollywood Studios), which was a theme park united around a single theme, of "Hollywood that never was - and always will be".
Animal Kingdom, it's theme quite apparent, at the outset, doesn't need to be explained at its creation.
Expand the normally Florida-centric view of this blog to Disneyland Resort and you come with Disney's California Adventure, a park at its outset around the wonders big and small in the state of California.   

All of these parks were designed around a central theme, and every attraction within tied, either visually or thematically (most of the time both) with the theme of the park.
Now, with California Adventure, the result was not as big of a success as envisioned.  Was this because of a poor overall theme (no), or a lackluster series of attractions (yes).  Either way, when Disney wanted to inject new life into DCA, it did so at the expense of the theme of the park, not supporting it.  To great (and deserved) acclaim, Carsland opened up and pumped new life into the park.  Forget the fact that according to the book The Art of Cars: "Radiator Springs is located in between Gallup, New Mexico, and Kingman, Arizona".  Decidedly not California.  That was the first crack in that park's armor.  Then, when Disney decided they needed to update Soarin' over California, they did so not just at the Epcot location (which makes some sort of sense), but at DCA as well.  DCA was where 'over California' made sense!  But the theme of that park could not be maintained when there was a shiny new film to showcase!

not California

not California

Let's look at the upcoming changes at some of the other parks.  
Hollywood Studios (of ye of 12 attractions) theme of Hollywood... you know... Studios, will be completely killed off once The Great Movie Ride is gone.  It's tenuous ties with Toy Story Land and Star Wars (hey, they are about movies!) will be shattered when the central attraction, both physically and thematically, will be removed to give way to an attraction based on a recent series of Mickey Mouse shorts.  Rumor is that Hollywood Studios is losing its name as well, to match up with its new non-theme.
While the tie between Pandora and Animal Kingdom was tenuous at best, I always gave them the benefit of the doubt, with the theme of the Avatar film being about a species who lived at one with nature.  It's easy to wave your hand and say that makes it match up thematically with Animal Kingdom, and believe me, I did my share of hand waving in the past few years.  Taken though in a larger context with the changes coming to DHS, those made with DCA (and continuing to lose more theme with the Pixar Pier change), it's less easy to make that connection.  

Now, let's talk a little about Epcot.  Guardians of the Galaxy, no matter what hackneyed story one might attempt to tell to justify it, has absolutely ZERO tie in with Future World.  None.  The MCU Marvel films, including Guardians, is set in the present day.  TODAY.  It is not futuristic.  Just like Star Wars is not futuristic (A long time ago in a galaxy yada yada yada).  Disney made half-hearted attempts to tie in their last updates at Epcot to the original mission of Epcot (they failed, but they tried), but this Guardians thing?  None.  It is just being put there.  No thought as to what that does to the theme of the park at all.  Future World is done.  Dead.  It's not pining, it's passed on.  It has ceased to be.  

So, taken in general, what Disney has been doing the past decade or more has been slowly killing off the idea of a theme park, one that is united in theme across the entire park.  In its place will be a series of lands or attractions sitting next to each other.  Star Wars land will be amazing, it will be an amazingly themed land.  It also will have nothing to do with anything else in the park other than the fact that it was based on a movie that Disney owns.  Same with Toy Story.  Same (now) in hindsight with Avatar.  The new modus operandi at Disney is to place as much intellectual property into each individual park as possible, theme be damned.  Something major, a differentiating factor between Disney and the competition, has been lost, and it is evident that it is not a part of Disney's (current) plans for the future.  Universal Studios was a mishmosh of different properties and that was ok.  Disney was something different.  Was.

From now on, Disney can just rename Epcot to something that doesn't roll off the tongue as easily: 

JADP - Just another Disney Park