Disney: 2017 Year In Review

It’s been a pretty interesting year when it comes to Disney news. There were a lot of announcements, a few surprises, some big movies, and even the opening of a new land. Some of the major changes that were announced ended up happening very quickly, while others we won’t see come to fruition until next year or beyond.

As 2017 rapidly draws to a close, I’m going to go through some of the major things that happened in the Disney universe. These aren’t in any particular order, and for each one I’ll explain what the news itself was and then offer some of my personal insight into it.


Baby Animals!

The news: Over the course of this year, Disney’s Animal Kingdom park has seen several new additions. Stella, a baby elephant, was born in January. In May, two red river hogs were born, and June saw the growth of the park’s warthog family with four new additions. In August, Animal Kingdom’s first two tiger cubs were born–a male, named Jeda, and a female named Anala. In baby giraffe news, Azizi was born in September and Gemma came into the world in October.

My take: This is not only a testament to the park’s conservation efforts and animal care, but it’s just all sorts of cute. I had the chance to see Stella while on the Caring for Giants tour, and I’ll admit that I really want to get back to Animal Kingdom soon so I can see the little tiger cubs (since I don’t think they’ll be little for very long).

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If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from all my time in Blogger College, it’s to always start off a post with baby animals if possible.

A Whole New World

The news: In May, Disney opened Pandora – The World of Avatar in Animal Kingdom. Based upon the movie Avatar, it transports guests to the fictional planet of Pandora. The land features some incredible theming, from the unique plant life to the “alien” food, and includes two attractions: Na’vi River Journey and Flight of Passage. Overall the land has been very well received, with guests marveling at its beauty (particularly at night, when “bioluminescence” makes everything glow). Flight of Passage, a 3D simulation attraction, has been overwhelmingly popular, and wait times can still be a couple hours or more.

My take: I haven’t had the chance to experience Pandora – The World of Avatar myself yet. Folks say that it’s beautiful, that the theming is amazing, and that Flight of Passage is awesome. However, I think that the most mind-blowing thing about Pandora is simply that they made a land based on the movie Avatar (which, lets be honest, isn’t that good and it’s not exactly a mega-popular franchise) and really made it into something worth experiencing. Really, my biggest issue with it is just that I don’t think it has anything to do with animals or nature or the conservation of those things, so I question why it was built at Animal Kingdom in the first place (but, that being said, I still really want to go on Flight of Passage).

Lack of Energy

The news: At the D23 Expo in July, it was announced that Ellen’s Energy Adventure in EPCOT would be closing in August. Its replacement would be a new attraction based upon the Guardians of the Galaxy film franchise. Not much else was revealed about the new ride at the time (though since then we’ve learned that it’s going to be a “family friendly” roller coaster), and many fans of the EPCOT park in general and Universe of Energy in particular were very upset.

My take: I’ve written about my thoughts on the state of EPCOT (most recently here), and the closing of Universe of Energy seems to be just another nail in the coffin of what was once a unique and inspiring park. I’ll admit that I was never a huge fan of the Energy attraction itself (the dinosaurs were neat, though), but I appreciated the “edutainment” experience that it offered. Of course, while the information presented was wildly out of date, it still would have been cool to see something new in that same vein rather than some movie-based thrill ride. Something that addressed the energy issues that the real world is facing, and offering real possible solutions, instead of a talking raccoon.

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I like Guardians of the Galaxy, I just don’t think that it belongs in EPCOT. I can’t say that I’ll really miss Universe of Energy as it was, but I’ll miss the classic EPCOT Center vibe that it represented.

Computer Generated

The news: The Tron Lightcycle Power Run attraction, one of the most popular at Shanghai Disneyland, is coming to Walt Disney World in Florida. No release date has yet been given, other than before or around Magic Kingdom’s 50th anniversary in 2021, and it’s currently unclear as to whether the Florida version is going to be an exact copy of the Shanghai attraction or be modified in some way. The coaster will occupy a spot behind Space Mountain in Tomorrowland, and will not replace any existing ride.

My take: OK, I can’t accurately describe how excited I am for this. It’s mostly frantic hand motions with some weird high-pitched squealing, and it doesn’t really translate well to a written format. That being said, I am extremely excited that Walt Disney World is getting this attraction. I love Tron, and I’ve watched several different ride-through videos of this ride and I’m super eager to get the chance to experience it in person (without somehow affording a trip to Shanghai, that is).

Under the Big Top

The news: Cirque du Soleil La Nouba, which has been running at Downtown Disney/Disney Springs since 1998, will be ending on December 31, 2017. The show takes place in a theatre that was custom-built for Cirque du Soleil, and has been performed thousands of times since it started. A new Cirque show has been announced as La Nouba’s replacement, one will “pay homage to Disney’s rich history of animation” according to the Disney Parks Blog. No opening date for the new show has been revealed yet.

My take: I never had the chance to see La Nouba, so I can’t really say much about the fact that it’s leaving (other than a twinge of regret over never taking the time to check it out). I do enjoy Cirque du Soleil shows, and I love Disney animation, so I’m already very intrigued by the concept for the new show. I’ll have to be sure to actually see this one when it opens.

Fox and the Mouse

The news: Disney has purchased Fox, the entertainment company with a rich history in film and television, in a deal that’s worth about $52 billion. This gives the Walt Disney Company the rights to all of Fox’s movies, including the Alien franchise and Avatar, as well as TV shows such as The Simpsons. The deal includes an incredible number of titles, and also gives Disney a controlling stake in Hulu and European streaming service Sky. This is part of Disney’s larger plan to release their own streaming service, as it gives them not only the infrastructure to do so but an absolutely insane number of movies and shows (in addition to Disney’s own impressive library) across almost every genre. The deal did not include Fox News or their sports networks–Disney already owns ABC News and ESPN–as well as a couple other random assets. It also brings X-Men, Deadpool, and Fantastic Four back into Marvel’s control.

My take: I really don’t know how to feel about this. On the one hand, it does put Disney in a great position to rival Netflix and Amazon right out of the gate when they debut their streaming service. However, my fear is that it’s just further diluting the Disney brand name with just too many franchises. It used to be that when you heard “Disney” you thought of a certain type of entertainment and maybe particular movies, but now it could mean anything from Snow White to Die Hard. There’s also a worry that we’ll see even more popular movie properties shoved into the parks, which is already a concern. Now, I’ll admit that I don’t know a ton about business, so it’s possible that this is actually a really awesome thing that’s happening. We’ll see, I suppose. The deal did include National Geographic, which could be an interesting acquisition if they found a way to incorporate it into Animal Kingdom. Also, as a big Marvel fan, I’m interested to see if  the characters they got will be incorporated into their Cinematic Universe somehow.

Great Movie Rides Off Into the Sunset

The news: The Great Movie Ride, a day-one attraction from back when the Disney/MGM Studios park opened, has been closed down. The announcement was made during the D23 Expo in July, and in August the ride took its last trip through the movies. Its replacement is going to be Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, a ride featuring the classic Disney characters. Not much has been revealed yet, other than that the characters will be based upon their current cartoon art style and that it’s going to feature some sort of 3D technology. No release date for the new attraction has been given at this time.

My take: I loved the Great Movie Ride, and it’s been one of my must-ride attractions whenever I’ve been in the park. It’s definitely a classic, and when the closure was announced a lot of people were obviously upset. I’m actually pretty OK with it, though. Let’s be honest–the Great Movie Ride was showing its age. The last time I was there, it was balancing on that line between “charmingly vintage” and “desperately in need of a renovation”. I think creating a brand new attraction as the centerpiece to the new Studios experience is a good call, and I’m really excited to see this new Mickey Mouse ride.

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I’m sad to see the Great Movie Ride go away, and I’m sure every now and again I’ll walk by where it used to be and have a moment of emotion over it being gone, but I’m also eager to see what comes next.

Hall of Delays

The news: The Hall of Presidents closed in January, in order to add the newly inaugurated official into the mix. While this is standard whenever there’s an election, this was a bit different because of how long the attraction was shut down. Traditionally it reopens over the summer (the original date given this time was July). Then delays started, and it was pushed back to an undetermined time in the Fall and then again to Winter. Disney stated that this was due to a huge refurbishment project, with multiple areas–like the theatre’s audio systems–seeing improvements. Speculation ran rampant, with many suggesting that it was due to the wildly divisive political climate. Rumors even surfaced that the show would be shuttered permanently. Ultimately, though, it did reopen in December with all forty-five presidents in place and the current one featured with a speaking role.

My take: I personally have no interest in hearing the current president speak, and have no intention of visiting the Hall of Presidents as long as he does. I respect that the attraction is about representing American history, and that it’s about the office of the presidency regardless of politics, but there’s definitely a part of me that had hoped we’d see the attraction get closed and replaced with something new. To be fair, though, I’ve seen the show once in the last couple decades, so it’s not exactly a big fave of mine anyway.

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I had a whole bunch of great ideas on how they could replace the attraction with something new, which you can read about here.

We Wants a Strong Empowered Female Character

The news: An iconic scene in the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction is being drastically altered. The bride auction, featuring the sultry redhead, is being reimagined and the character will become a rifle-toting pirate captain herself. No longer will it be about selling women to pirates, and now the scene will have the townsfolk dropping off their riches to avoid the redhead’s wrath. While Disney didn’t give specific reasons for the change, other than “creating exciting new experiences,” many fans assumed that it was a step towards making the ride more politically correct by removing what’s basically a scene about selling women. Lots of people were upset about the alteration, and were very vocal on social media (as were defenders of the change). Disneyland Paris has already had the new scene put into place, and both of the US parks will see it happen in 2018.

My take: I’m totally OK with this change. Sure, it’s a classic scene that’s been a part of the the attraction for fifty years (and it has the well-known “we wants the redhead” line). It’s one that I–like many fans–grew up seeing and there’s a nostalgic part of me that will miss it. At the same time, there’s no denying that the scene does feature the sale of humans and is perhaps in poor taste when that’s a genuinely real problem in the world today. I wrote an entire post about this, which you can read here, so I won’t rehash all of my thoughts, but I will say that I’m pretty excited to see this new redheaded pirate.

Sealed With a Wish

The news: Wishes: A Magical Gathering of Disney Dreams, ended in May of this year. The fireworks spectacular debuted at Magic Kingdom in 2003. It was replaced by Happily Ever After, a nighttime show that utilizes cutting-edge projection technology on Cinderella Castle to tell colorful Disney stories in addition to fireworks.

My take: I’m going to genuinely miss Wishes. It was an amazing show that really had an emotional resonance with me, not just because the themes really epitomized “Disney” to me but also because it’s been special to my wife and I–we saw it on our honeymoon, and it just kind of became important to us. So we drove to Florida in May in order to see it one last time before it was gone forever. We haven’t seen Happily Ever After in person yet, though we did catch a live stream of it from the Disney Parks Blog when it debuted. It’s amazing and very cool–those projections are stunning–but I don’t know (yet) if it’ll have the same emotional connection with me that Wishes did.

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We spent the extra cash and booked the Fireworks Dessert Party with the Plaza Garden viewing, just to insure that we got a great spot to watch Wishes one last time. I’ll admit that my eyes got pretty wet during the show. Must have been dusty or something…

Pier One 

The news: Paradise Pier, at Disney California Adventure, is going to get a new look in 2018. It was announced earlier this year that the area, currently themed like an old-style boardwalk amusement park, would be reimagined as Pixar Pier. Attractions will be getting facelifts–such as the California Screamin’ roller coaster which will become the Incredicoaster–and the land will be divided into separate “neighborhoods” which represent different Pixar franchises. Toy StoryInside Out, and The Incredibles will all be featured. The fourth area, which encompasses Mickey’s Fun Wheel, will be a mix of different Pixar properties (the Fun Wheel will retain Mickey’s face on the side, but the gondola cars will be repainted with Pixar characters). The land will be unveiled during a special event called Pixar Fest, which begins in April of 2018.

My take: I’ve got to admit, I was very underwhelmed with Paradise Pier. It was pretty, sure, but it just wasn’t very entertaining to me. I’m not convinced that Pixar Pier is going to be any better, but I’ll be interested to see if they really do give the whole experience an overhaul. I’ll reserve judgement until I see what they actually do. I know that a lot of people were upset about the announcement, in part because it has nothing to do with “California” and therefore goes against the theme of the park, and because they’re sick of seeing franchises shoved into the parks in lieu of actual creativity. I agree on both counts, but given my lack of interest in the previous version of the area (other than the corn dogs, of course) I’m at least casually intrigued to see if they improve it while giving it the Pixar facelift.

DCA Paradise Pier

Will this be any different once it’s been redone, or will it be pretty much the same thing but with a Pixar makeover? I guess we’ll find out soon!

Fail to the Chief

The news: John Lasseter, chief creative officer for Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, announced that he was going to take a six-month sabbatical to address “missteps” that he had taken in his time with the company. Reports quickly came out of sexual misconduct, included unwanted advances and physical contact towards female staff members, and accounts from both male and female employees described a pattern of creepy behavior that went back decades. There’s been no further word on his status with the company at this time.

My take: Frankly, he should be asked to never return. What he did is disgusting, and a six month vacation in response to behavior that’s allegedly been going on for upwards of twenty years just doesn’t seem harsh enough. There needs to be consequences for his actions, starting with never working for Disney (or anywhere) again. Full stop.

 Les Rats!

The news: Work has begun on a Ratatouille attraction at EPCOT, located in the France pavilion of World Showcase. The dark ride is going to be similar to the one in Disneyland Paris, and will be a “4D” experience that features trackless vehicles moving through different environments where 3D scenes play out on screens. No opening date has been given yet, though the announcement did say that it would be open for Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary in 2021.

My take: I’m a bit on the fence here. I’ve heard good things about the Ratatouille ride in Paris, and the videos I’ve watched are cool, so I’m very excited to see it. More attractions, especially in World Showcase, isn’t a bad thing either as they can draw in guests who might otherwise just pass by some of the pavilions. At the same time, I’m still a bit grumpy (in an admittedly old man “back in my day” sort of way) about Frozen Ever After invading the Norway pavilion so the very idea of even more cute film-based rides in World Showcase may be coloring my view somewhat. At least Ratatouille actually takes place in France, rather than some fictional place loosely based on a real country, so there is that.

Guardians of the Tower of Terror

The news: The Tower of Terror attraction at Disney California Adventure was closed in January of 2017. In its place, Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout opened in May. Similar in structure to Tower of Terror–in that a gantry lift brings guests to different floors before dropping them in a freefall–the new ride is the first Marvel attraction to open in the US parks. Many folks on social media were quick to point out their unhappiness with the exterior look of the new attraction building, which was pretty much Tower of Terror covered in pipes, though the ride itself has been well received since it opened.

My take: I didn’t get the chance to see Tower of Terror at DCA, as the line was always too long and I’ve already seen it plenty of times at Hollywood Studios (it’s slightly different at each park). I have yet to get to see Mission: Breakout, but I like the ride style and I like Guardians of the Galaxy so I expect that I’ll enjoy it. Though I have to agree that the building itself is kind of an eyesore. I get that it’s supposed to be a building that would fit in the Guardians universe and all, but it really does just look like Tower of Terror covered in pipes.

Moving Right Along

The News: Minnie Vans, a point-to-point transportation system similar to Lyft and Uber, started at Walt Disney World this year. For a flat rate of $20 per ride, guests can call a car (which is red with white polka dots, of course) that will take them anywhere on property.

My take: It’s a neat idea, and it can be good for certain types of guests: large groups who don’t want to deal with a bus, families with kids who want to get somewhere quicker, etc. I don’t know that I’d ever need to use one (though I have used Lyft to get around between resorts) but having more options to get around Walt Disney World property is never a bad thing.

A Hotel Room Far, Far Away

The news: A new resort Star Wars resort experience is coming to Walt Disney World. The stay will immerse guests in their own Star Wars story: special rooms in a luxury “space station” with windows that look out into space, character interactions, even costumes to wear to really become a part of the adventure. Everything about the experience will be focused on making guests feel like they’re staying in the Star Wars galaxy.

My take: It’s going to be expensive, so I should start saving my money now (or even sooner) so I can do this thing. I want to do this thing.

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Are they going a little overboard with Star Wars experiences in Disney parks? Probably. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t excited to see what’s coming with Galaxy’s Edge and this new resort thing, though.

Dining in SPAAAAACE!

The news: A new restaurant is going to be opening in EPCOT that will transport guests to a dining experience far above the planet Earth. The restaurant will be themed to make guests feel like they’re eating on a space station, with views of our planet far below. Not much else has been shared yet, other than that the restaurant will be adjacent to Mission: SPACE and will be operated by Patina Restaurant Group–who also runs Morimoto Asia, Via Napoli, and other eateries on property.

My take: I’m loving these new themed dining experiences–Skipper Canteen, Be Our Guest, etc–and I’m really excited about the idea of eating at an outer space restaurant. It kind of seems like a classic EPCOT Center-style thing, too, so it’s something I’m definitely interested in checking out.

The Magic of Theatre

The news: A big new theatre is being constructed in Magic Kingdom, on Main Street USA. The building is based off of the Willis Wood Theatre in Kansas City, circa 1920. No announcement has been made yet as to what sort of show will be featured in the space.

My take: It’s cool to see a big new addition to Main Street, especially one that’s an attraction and not just a shop (or a Starbucks). Plus, as a theatre professional myself, I’m always happy to see more live theatre happening. I’m eager to see what they end up putting in the space, and personally I’d like to see some sort of classic Disney experience that features Mickey and his friends. Really, I’m just hoping that it’s not Frozen


It’s been a pretty big year for Disney announcements, and it’s likely that we’ll see even more changes coming in 2018: not only will some of the things announced already open up, but I’m sure we’ll get more information about future projects and new revelations about things to come. That’s one of the most exciting things about being a Disney parks fan–there’s always something new to look forward to!

Happy New Year!

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Hall Of Presidents: Under New Management

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The Hall of Presidents at Magic Kingdom, an opening day attraction, has been closed since January. This was to be expected, of course, as it always shuts down for a bit when a new president is inaugurated so they can incorporate a newly elected official into the show. However, this time is a little different as the reopening date has been an ongoing question: originally slated for early summer, the attraction is still shut down (as of writing this post). Various reasons have been given, including a huge upgrade to the theater’s technical systems, but there’s still no real indication as to when they’ll be unlocking the doors and letting guests back in.

While there are rumors that suggest it’ll be reopened by this Christmas, others have been indicating that the attraction may be closed permanently and something new will be taking its place. If that latter rumor turns out to have any truth to it, then there’s likely a whole team of Imagineers right now who are brainstorming about what to put into the space.

To assist these hardworking folks, I’ve gone ahead and put together a list of ten concepts here that they’re more than welcome to use. I’m helpful like that.


The Muppets Present

This concept is actually pretty straightforward, as it just takes the show that’s out in front and moves it into the theater. The clever and very entertaining “The Muppets Present Great Moments in American History” show can be seen throughout the day right outside of the Hall of Presidents. Kermit and his friends take on a couple different pivotal moments in the country’s history (with all of the gravity and seriousness you’d expect. Which is to say, very little). There are downsides, though: right now folks have to stand up to watch it, and if it’s raining people are less likely to stop at all. So why convert the theater into something tailored specifically for this show and bring it inside? It could have neat things that happen all around the audience, like MuppetVision 3D in Hollywood Studios, and it’d eliminate the risk of weather hampering the experience.

What better way to introduce folks to American history than with singing chickens and a joke-telling bear?

Great Imperial Moments

In Disneyland, the classic Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln attraction debuted in the park in 1965 (and at the 1964 World’s Fair before that). Focusing on just the one president rather than all of them, the show starts with a biographical movie and then has an animatronic version of Honest Abe talk. Why not go with that same type of attraction for a newly renovated Hall of Presidents… but with a modern twist? Since it seems like Disney’s goal is to put hot intellectual properties wherever they can in the parks, I give you: Great Moments with Emperor Palpatine!

The concept is basically the same thing as what’s in Disneyland, but with an exciting Star Wars overlay! The Emperor will talk about his rise through galactic politics, his clone army, and even give guests a cool behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the Death Star! The film will showcase his younger years, and then an animatronic Palpatine will take the stage and say something about crushing the Rebellion and the power of the Dark Side.

It’ll be a great way to keep the style of the classic attraction, but shoehorn in a popular franchise. Perfect!

Great Moments with Grover

So what if we like the Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln concept of just focusing on one president, and we appreciate the entertainment value of adding fun characters, but think that Star Wars may be a bit of a stretch for Liberty Square? This next idea addresses that very thought: Great Moments with Grover Cleveland, starring Grover!

In this fun new attraction, the cheerful blue Muppet from Sesame Street will be the emcee as he narrates a biographical look at the president’s life. He’ll be sure to include tidbits like the color of Cleveland’s shoes, whether he’s wearing a hat or not, and what his favorite number was. There’ll be plenty of serious history and hilarious slapstick as the fuzzy blue monster sings and dances his way through the president’s life. There’ll even be a high-flying segment, right over the heads of the audience, featuring Super Grover!

In the finale of the show, Grover and Grover will sing a song about the Constitution, as well as how important it is to eat all of your vegetables.

The Return of the Future

I mean, they could just build a new Horizons there. Though, to be fair, I think any available spot anywhere in Walt Disney World could potentially be a place to put a new Horizons attraction…

Other concepts in this vein include “Universe of Presidents,” a ride which features a really cool dinosaur part followed by a half hour educational film, “World of Presidents” which delves into the history of different presidential modes of transportation, and also “Journey Into Legislation” in which a whimsical new character sings about making laws

Presidential Meet and Greet

For many guests, meeting their favorite character is a pretty big part of the Disney parks experience. So, in this concept, let’s take the fun of a meet & greet and blend it with the excitement of the highest office in US politics.

That’s right, turn the space into a themed meet & greet area with Rutherford B. Hayes!

Guests can meet the nineteenth president, pose for photos, and even get his autograph! Since he’d be a “face” character, too, he can talk and tell them all about the end of the Civil War and the Great Railroad Strike. Good ol’ Rutherford will be sure to enchant folks of all ages with his witty banter full of mid-1800s colloquialisms, like “lally-cooler” and “shoddyocracy”.

Honestly, almost any president would work well in this new imagining of the attraction, and the space is large enough to even have multiple options available at one time (like in Pete’s Silly Sideshow or Princess Fairytale Hall). I just like saying “Rutherford B. Hayes”.

Cats and Dogs, Living Together

If there’s one thing that Disney–and really almost everybody–loves, it’s cute animals. With that in mind, the Hall of Presidential Pets will be all about the cats and dogs (and other critters) that have resided in the White House.

The Hall of Presidential Pets concept is actually based upon the current model, in that it features a series of figures from throughout history. However, instead of focusing on the presidents themselves, this fun new show will instead showcase their pets! Whether it’s Washington’s donkey, Rutherford B. Hayes’ English Mastiff, Lincoln’s cats, or Harrison’s opossums (seriously. They were named Mr. Reciprocity and Mr. Protection), every pet that’s ever been a part of a presidential family will be included. Even John Quincy Adams’ alligator will be there!

In this exciting show each animal will be highlighted, while a narrator talks a bit about the history of pets in the White House. However, to really give it a fun Disney feel, at the end all of the animals will sing a cheerful tune (in the vein of the Sherman brothers). Guests will laugh at the antics of these furry friends, and be humming the tune for hours afterward!

Gifts for the Patriotic

The Hall of Presidents building would be the perfect place to add in a big new shopping area, and in keeping with the Liberty Square theme all of the items the store sells could be presidential-themed!

Children will love Washington’s chattering wooden teeth and big foam Nixon fingers, and they’ll definitely want to collect the entire set of presidential Tsum Tsum. There’ll even be a special exclusive available just in this shop: Lincoln’s stovepipe hat, with Mickey Mouse ears (and attached chin beard)! There’ll also be a special Photopass spot where guests can get their pictures taken and then turned into Magic Shots featuring a random president (like Rutherford B. Hayes). Plus, for kiddies who love getting their faces painted, there will be a booth right out front that specializes in drawing different presidential facial hair–from the muttonchops of John Quincy Adams to the long beard sported by James Garfield.

Disney loves gift shops, and kids of all ages love products based on presidents, so this is sure to be a hit!

Mr. Taft’s Wild Ride

Take a much-loved (and very much missed) attraction and add some presidential flair, and you’ve got this exciting concept for a new dark ride!

Like J. Thaddeus Toad from Wind in the Willows, William Taft was apparently an automobile enthusiast, so this concept is really a no-brainer. In keeping with the style of the original ride, this new attraction has guests climbing into a car and then going on a crazy adventure. However, rather than careening through the world of Toad and his friends, Mr. Taft’s Wild Ride goes through the different judicial offices in Washington. Riders zoom through the Oval Office, up and down the halls of the Capitol Building, and between the shelves in the Library of Congress (all circa the early 1900s when Taft was president, which is also coincidentally when Wind in the Willows takes place).

Following in the footsteps of its predecessor, Mr. Taft’s Wild Ride inexplicably takes guests through an odd vision of Hell at the end.

Hall of Presidents: Under New Management

This is almost exactly like the current Hall of Presidents. The only real difference is that at some point during the show Iago from Aladdin pops in and starts being obnoxious. Not much else has been fleshed out on this concept, however it’s been suggested that more fire extinguishers than normal be put in the building.

Capitalism, the Ride

So what about going in an entirely different direction and putting in something that would really liven up Liberty Square: an exciting new thrill ride, featuring Disney characters, that also has something to do with the economy? If all of that sounds brilliant (and I think that all of my ideas do), then this last idea will be perfect. Introducing “Uncle Scrooge’s Money Bin Drop!”

In this fascinating attraction, guests board a gantry lift a la Tower of Terror. Scrooge McDuck then takes them through a journey which shows how he became the richest duck in the world. Animated sequences show him earning his very first dime, working hard, and going on to make billions.

Cameo appearances by other DuckTales characters are peppered throughout the attraction, and won’t guests be surprised to find out that the hapless Launchpad McQuack is piloting their vehicle! Which, of course, leads to the highlight of the ride as it takes a freefall drop into Scrooge’s money bin!


We may eventually see the Hall of Presidents reopen, and remain the Magic Kingdom classic that it’s been since day one. If Disney does decide to use the space to bring a new attraction to Liberty Square, though, I hope that they find these ideas useful and could see any one of them (or more than one) as a great addition to Liberty Square!

I have plenty of others to share about what to do with Tomorrowland, EPCOT, etc… so if Disney Imagineering needs any more help, I’ll be waiting here for my call!

 

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Key(blade) To The Kingdom

What if I told you that almost every Disney animated feature, and even some of the live-action films, are connected? That Donald and Goofy, along with a spiky-haired kid wielding a giant key, have met and interacted with Peter Pan, Belle, Mulan–even Tron and Captain Jack Sparrow?

It’s possible that you already know where I’m going with this, but for those who are wondering if I’ve simply lost my mind (and you wouldn’t be the first to think that)… welcome to the weird world of Kingdom Hearts.

Kingdom Hearts is a series of video games created by Square Enix (the company behind the mega-popular Final Fantasy franchise) that takes players through several different Disney worlds over the course of an epic quest. It’s an action/role-playing game: essentially you’re moving a character and battling in real time, and you’ve got experience points, spell casting, and new abilities that you acquire as you progress. As you gain new items–weapons, armor, accessories, etc–you can equip them in order to boost various stats. In most cases you can choose which world to go to when, too, so you’re not bound to a strict linear path. The action is often broken up by animated sequences that further the story.

There are many games featuring Disney characters out there, and most are aimed at a younger audience, so people unfamiliar with the franchise may assume that Kingdom Hearts is also for kids. The series, though, is really geared more for older players. While the games are fairly “family friendly” in that there’s no profanity, revealing costumes, or sexual content, the gameplay can be challenging and the story is deep and complex (and, as I’ll explain soon, gets quite convoluted). If you’re familiar with role-playing games (RPGs) in general, and Japanese role-playing games in particular, you already know that their narratives can get really confusing. Kingdom Hearts is no exception. Over the course of the several-game series things definitely get weird.

I’ll do my best, though, to offer an overview:

At the center of the Kingdom Hearts story is Sora, and he’s the character that the player most often controls throughout the series. Sora is a young boy (an original character created for the game) whose island home is destroyed by creatures known as the Heartless, beings made up of darkness who are determined to snuff out goodness and light. Sora ends up gaining the ability to wield a keyblade–a magical weapon shaped like a big key–and uses it to fight these monsters. His home is destroyed, his childhood friends Kairi and Riku are lost in the chaos, and he finds himself in a strange town where he meets and teams up with Donald Duck and Goofy. They work for Mickey Mouse–the king of Disney Castle–as his court magician and captain of the guard, and they’ve been sent out by Queen Minnie to find him after he mysteriously vanished.

They all board a spaceship, called the Gummi Ship, which allows them to fly between worlds, and over the course of their quest they interact with a bunch of different Disney (and Final Fantasy) characters. They help Aladdin in Agrabah, team up with Jack Skellington in Halloween Town, swim under the sea with Ariel, fight alongside Tron inside a computer, and many more. The Heartless have infested all of these worlds, which means a lot of combat for Sora, Donald, and Goofy in their travels. Additionally, many Disney villains are working with the Heartless under the command of Maleficent, so the heroes face off against the likes of Hades and Ursula during their adventure. There’s also Chip and Dale as mechanics who keep the ship flying, and Daisy Duck is a lady in Disney Castle. Huey, Dewey, and Louie pop up, as does Uncle Scrooge. Pluto happens by every now and again. Pete is a bad guy who teams up with Maleficent to unleash Heartless across the worlds. Sora also gains the ability to summon even more characters to help him in combat, like Stitch and Tinkerbell, making Kingdom Hearts possibly the biggest mash-up of Disney characters outside of the theme parks themselves (and the Disney Infinity video games). Even Winnie the Pooh makes an appearance.

The concept of light and darkness plays heavily into the tale, and as the series progresses we learn that there were once many keyblade wielders until a big “Keyblade War” wiped most of them out. After that there were only a select few who could wield the weapons, charged with maintaining the balance between darkness and light. There’s also a place called Kingdom Hearts in the games, which is the heart of all the worlds. It kind of looks like a big heart-shaped moon in the sky when it appears, and the villains are trying to get there because it’ll give them untold power. There’s also the Princesses of Heart (Disney princesses, plus original Kingdom Hearts character Kairi), and there’s a trio of keyblade wielders who sort of got the ball rolling when Sora was just a small child (you play as all three in Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep, which is a prequel to Sora’s adventure). Then there’s a group of powerful enemies known as Organization XIII who have their own sinister agenda. Not to mention Maleficent running around trying to gain control of Kingdom Hearts to conquer everything, Mickey occasionally showing up to kick butt with his own keyblade, and Sora’s doppleganger Roxas. That’s not even taking into account the memory-altering witch, or the evil guy who possesses someone and then proceeds to take on the name of someone else.

Like I said, things get weird.

The game is made by Square Enix, though most of the characters (aside from the Final Fantasy ones) belong to Disney. That includes any originals–like Sora, Kairi, and Riku–that are made specifically for the series. A couple of Kingdom Hearts trading pins have been made available in the parks at different times, one for a special event and one (Mickey wearing a black cloak) as a general release. At a cast member appreciation party in Walt Disney World earlier this year, Donald and Goofy appeared in their Kingdom Hearts outfits for a meet & greet. Donald, Goofy, and Sora all appeared at Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party in 2004 for the release of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. At the D23 Expo 2017, during a panel about Disney video games, a new trailer was shown for Kingdom Hearts 3. It was revealed there that a Toy Story world would be a part of the upcoming game, joining the Big Hero 6 and Tangled worlds that had already been announced.

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The games (so far) are: Union CrossBirth By SleepKingdom HeartsChain of Memories358/2 DaysKingdom Hearts 2Re: Coded, and Dream Drop Distance. Some of them have been remade and/or re-released over the years, and collection discs can be found for the Playstation 3 and Playstation 4. Not pictured here is Kingdom Hearts 2.8 for the Playstation 4, which ties together some loose ends in the story in anticipation of the upcoming Kingdom Hearts 3.

So how did this all happen? Well, there was this elevator in Tokyo…

The birth of Kingdom Hearts actually started with a conversation between a couple of producers at Square. They were talking about making a new action game, which led them to mention Nintendo’s Super Mario 64 and how popular the Mario character was worldwide. Only Disney, they felt, had properties even more well known around the globe, so they spitballed an idea for a game that included some of those characters. At the time, both Square and Disney had offices in the same Japanese office building, and when one of those producers found himself riding an elevator with a Disney executive he went ahead and pitched the concept. As the idea was further fleshed out, the original plan was for it to be aimed at children. However, Hironobu Sakaguchi–the creator of Final Fantasy–stressed that if the game were to succeed it would need a deep story. Given how crazy popular the Final Fantasy games are, the man probably knows what he’s talking about. So, the project evolved.

When work on the game got underway in early 2000, Disney offered Square unprecedented access to their franchises, and didn’t put too many restrictions on how they were incorporated into the game. The writers were sure to keep the characters true to their film representations, though, and in most cases also kept them within their own settings. So you’d never see Tron running around Pride Rock, for example. I have heard (though I can’t find the source now, so this may or may not be accurate) that one issue Disney did have was with the suggestion that Sora wield a sword. They felt that it was just too violent to have him hacking up enemies, so the designers came up with the (now quite iconic) keyblade.

Animal Kingdom had opened at Walt Disney World shortly before work on the game got underway, and the producers were inspired by that and the idea of Disney theme park “kingdoms”. Plus, there was the story’s focus on the light and darkness within peoples’ hearts. Thus, Kingdom Hearts.

One aspect in many video games, particularly role-playing games, is that the voice acting can be pretty bad (sometimes hilariously so). Kingdom Hearts has more or less bucked that trend by having consistently decent voice work, and the games have even had a fair number of big-name voice performers play characters: Mark Hamill, Christopher Lee, and Leonard Nimoy have all taken on roles in various Kingdom Hearts games. While some of the characters from Disney movies are played by sound-alike performers (with varying degrees of success), many iconic voices also reprised their roles, including Jodi Benson as Ariel, Tony Anselmo as Donald Duck, and more. This has helped bring the characters to life, and really given the games a cinematic feel.

The first game quickly became a hit when it was released in 2002, and since then Kingdom Hearts has become a phenomenon with countless fans around the globe. The series has grown to include several best-selling games across a handful of different consoles, and there’s a mobile game available on iPhone and Android smartphones. There’s also a lot of merchandise out there, including books, clothing, action figures, and even Halloween costumes.

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You can find Kingdom Hearts merchandise in a variety of places, and this year Spirit Halloween stores had their own line of cool items. I bought socks, and this hat based on a Shadow–one of the creatures you fight in the games.

I discovered the first game about a year after it launched. I didn’t really know anything about it other than that it was an action/RPG that featured Disney characters, but that was enough to pique my interest. I picked up a copy, gave it a try, and was instantly hooked. I thought the way it presented the Disney worlds was neat, and the story and the original aspects (like the keyblade) were really cool. I’ve played a lot of Disney games over the years, and many of them are fun in their own ways, but at the same time the bulk of them are designed for younger players. There are exceptions–Lion King and Aladdin for the old Sega Genesis were brutally difficult even for experienced gamers–but in general there’s a perceived “audience” for Disney and game publishers will aim their products for that demographic. One of the things that sets Kingdom Hearts apart is that it doesn’t simplify anything, and therefore appeals to older Disney fans. It takes Disney characters and puts them into an epic adventure, combining both the rich stories of Disney movies and the intense depth of role-playing video games.

I considered myself a pretty big fan, but hadn’t really thought much about the games in a while. Then, in early 2016, the mobile game Kingdom Hearts Unchained x (now Kingdom Hearts Union Cross, which I wrote a bit about here) was released in the US. I downloaded it, got addicted to it, and it brought back how much I really enjoyed the world of Kingdom Hearts. So I went online, purchased the entire series, and dove back in. As the game release order and the storyline order do not match, I played them all in the proper order of the story this time and not when each game hit shelves. I immersed myself in Kingdom Hearts, playing through each game and falling in love with the series all over again (even with Chain of Memories, which foregoes the usual gameplay for a weird card-based system). As each game can be pretty long–it’s easy to sink 40 hours or more into each one–it’s taken a considerable chunk of time.

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I adopted a stray kitten shortly after I started playing the first Kingdom Hearts, and I was so into the game at the time that I named her Kairi. I have yet to adopt a Sora or a Riku, though.

OK, so why am I writing about all of this? Well, there are a couple of reasons:

The first is, as I’ve said, I’m a huge fan of the Kingdom Hearts series. I’ve played the games, I own some merchandise, and I can name all of the members of Organization XIII. So, I wanted to share this obsession with my readers (even if it meant taking a break from playing in order to write about it).

The second reason is that sometimes it’s fun to explore beyond the theme parks and movies. You may have heard of the games but had no idea what they were, or perhaps this is the first mention of them you’ve ever come across, but Kingdom Hearts is a part of the larger Disney universe (in its way) so I wanted to introduce people to it. The series is huge, complex, and not necessarily for everyone. There’s also a bit of financial investment to buy consoles and games. So I don’t expect everyone to rush out and play it (though I think you’d dig it, and I certainly suggest checking it out if any of this piqued your interest). Either way, though, the next time you’re out and about and you see an action figure of Mickey Mouse holding a giant key or you see pics of Donald and Goofy with a spiky-haired kid, you’ll know what’s up.

Now, if you’ll excuse me–Pete teamed up with Maleficent to unleash monsters everywhere, a guy in a black cloak just tried to kidnap Belle, and I’m late for a musical rehearsal with Sebastian. Gotta go save the kingdom!

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