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Disneyland Article
Disney Recalls The Small World War And The Challenges Of Changing Classic Rides

It's A Small World
Mercury News
Brady Macdonald
December 19, 2019
December 27, 2019
Walt Disney Imagineering faces an never-ending challenge: Should Disney’s creative team change a classic Disneyland ride or preserve the beloved attraction for nostalgia’s sake?

The fifth episode of “The Imagineering Story” on the new Disney+ streaming service delves into the dilemma of updating cherished Disneyland attractions and the inevitable uproar from diehard fans that accompanies any change to Walt Disney’s original theme park in Anaheim.

“Guests want everything to stay the same, just as they remember the first time they ever came,” Imagineering art director Kim Irvine said in the Disney+ docuseries. “But that’s really not a good idea because things become stale. Walt wanted all of these attractions to be updated. He kept saying you’ve got to keep this thing alive, fresh and new.”

A number of classic Disneyland rides have undergone major renovations in recent years, including King Arthur Carousel (2003), Mad Tea Party (2004), Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage (2007), Alice in Wonderland dark ride (2014) and Peter Pan’s Flight (2015). Snow White’s Scary Adventures, Haunted Mansion and Indiana Jones Adventure will go under the knife in early 2020 at Disneyland.

Disney faces a continuing struggle with trying to keep the parks dynamic, current and fresh while maintaining the essential essence of the place, Imagineering president Bob Weis said during a panel discussion on “The Imagineering Story.”

“We are the stewards of the parks,” Weis said during the panel discussion. “We don’t own the parks. The audience owns them.”

Imagineering follows a simple rule when making changes to Disneyland: Any update needs to improve the classic attraction.

Adding “The Nightmare Before Christmas” theme to Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion seemed like a crazy idea in 2001. Fans blew up the internet at the time accusing Disney of “attacking our sacred ride.”

“We were very cautious in everything that we did,” Disney’s vice president of parades and spectaculars Steve Davison said in the docuseries.

Imagineering updated Pirates of the Caribbean several times — causing an uproar with each change to the classic attraction. Through the years, Disney removed a bride auction scene and added a trio of Captain Jack Sparrow audio-animatronics to the revered boat ride. Some fans felt the changes took the marketing of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie franchise too far.

“Our fans are a blessing and sometimes not so much,” Irvine said in the documentary. “I love their feedback. I love to hear what they think about things. But it’s also very difficult to please them and to convince them that they need to trust us. That we love this park as much as they do and we try very hard to do the right thing.”

The announcement that Disneyland planned to add 29 new dolls to It’s a Small World based on Disney and Pixar animated characters caused a “Small World War” among fanatics. Alice in Wonderland would be added to the England scene, Cinderella would join the France scene and Woody and Jessie from “Toy Story” would be featured in a new American West scene.

“While this was happening I was afraid to go out on the street at night,” Irvine said in the docuseries. “It was really serious and people were very upset about it.”

“Disgusted” fans raged online about Disneyland’s “idiotic plan” that would cause “pointless destruction” and “gross desecration” of Imagineer Mary Blair’s designs for It’s a Small World.

The Small World outcry prompted Disney Legend Marty Sklar to pen an open letter in 2008 to aggrieved fans.

“We all agree that It’s a Small World is a Disney classic,” Sklar wrote in the letter. “But the greatest ‘change agent’ who ever walked down Main Street at Disneyland was Walt himself. In fact, the park had not been open 24 hours when Walt began to ‘plus’ Disneyland and he never stopped.” Sklar addressed the rumors head on that Imagineering was ruining Walt Disney’s creation.

“I’ve heard that we are planning to remove the rain forest, add Mickey and Minnie, create an ‘Up with America’ tribute, to effectively ‘marginalize’ the Mary Blair style and Walt’s classic. In fact, just the opposite is true. We want the message of brotherhood and goodwill among all children around the world to resonate with more people than ever before, especially today’s young people.”

Striking a delicate balance between tradition and innovation will always remain an eternal internal struggle for Imagineering.

Weis recounted a story about receiving a letter from an impassioned fan who was upset Disneyland had moved a park bench where the fan’s grandparents had gotten engaged. The letter-writer had a simple but stern message: Put it back!

“The audience really has a sense of ownership,” Weis said during the panel discussion. “You have to have quite a bit of awareness and interest in that.”
Attractions Referenced

Alice In Wonderland

Finding Nemo: Submarine Voyage

Haunted Mansion

Haunted Mansion Holiday

Indiana Jones Adventure, Temple Of The Forbidden Eye

It's A Small World

King Arthur Carrousel

Mad Tea Party

Peter Pan's Flight

Pirates Of The Caribbean

Snow White's Scary Adventures

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