Winds Of Change

Generally, I don’t mind change. I tend to adapt as needed, I’m often adventurous when it comes to trying new things, and overall I’m pretty good about handling changes as they happen. If I were to wake up tomorrow to find that aliens had taken over and were keeping humans as pets, I’d find a way to roll with it.

Tell me that one of my favorite attractions at Walt Disney World is closing for renovations, though, and I’ll be a basket case wondering what the end result will be. Are they going to make sweeping changes, forever altering the magic that made me so fond of the attraction in the first place? Will the experience will be improved by new ideas and new technology?

At the Disney parks, change is a constant. Old attractions are closed, new attractions take their place, renovations bring new features or remove existing ones. Sometimes it’s just a minor refurbishment, but other times a big overhaul takes place and while often it works out just fine there have been a few… mishaps.

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When they closed Haunted Mansion for a big renovation in 2007, I held my breath (not literally, since it was closed for months. Though, I could have then been ghost #1000). Haunted Mansion is my all-time favorite ride–I once rode it thirteen times in a day–and I was worried that it wouldn’t be the same after the renovation. The thought that Haunted Mansion wouldn’t be the Haunted Mansion that I knew and loved caused a fair bit of freaking out on my part.

However, I was not disappointed. The addition of the Escher-esque stair room and little touches like the glowing eyes in the hallway added to the experience. Constance Hatchaway, the bride, was seriously upgraded from the (admittedly cheesy) old version to a cool and creepy high-tech figure. In fact, the whole attic area now tells her story and it’s a big improvement. The changes, big and small (like new projections and audio) served to make the entire ride even better. I still miss some aspects that were taken out (like the paintings with the red eyes that watched you as you passed by) but overall I’m really happy with the end result.

I will also admit that the overhaul of the hitchhiking ghosts at the end of the ride (which happened in 2011) is pretty darned cool, despite my nostalgic fondness for the old ones.

As a die-hard fan, though, I was pleased with the renovations and I think the experience has benefited from the changes.

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Captain Culpepper’s crypt, part of the interactive queue added in 2011. The barnacles spit water. Fun fact: Captain Culpepper was supposed to be part of the ride’s original roster of haunts, but he was cut and didn’t reappear until this addition.

Another fave, Pirates Of The Caribbean, underwent a renovation in 2006. The plan: Jack Sparrow and other characters from the movies would be incorporated into the ride. Now, I’m a big fan of the movies (the first in particular is one of my favorite films) but the idea of shoehorning in new characters didn’t sit well with me. I was afraid that it would become less “the ride that spawned the movies” and more “a ride based on the movies” with the classic charm being overrun by the popular cinematic characters.

Again, it turned out that my fears were unwarranted. The addition of Jack Sparrow was done with a subtle grace that actually improved the attraction. There’s now more of a story in which other pirates, such as Barbossa, are trying to find Sparrow. Some of the audio was altered to reflect this–including voices by Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush, as well as slight changes to some existing pirates’ lines–but most of it stayed intact. Really, the ride is largely unchanged and Jack Sparrow in no way takes over the experience. In fact, the treasure room at the end (which previously had been a static, and fairly lackluster, scene) is greatly improved by Sparrow’s inclusion as it gives a sort of closure to the ride’s tale.

As a fan of both the attraction and the movies, the renovations really brought the two together successfully and once I rode the new version I was able to breath a sigh of relief. Though there was some panic when I somehow missed the skeletal chess players in the queue. I thought they had been removed, and I was not happy. Turns out I just didn’t see them, they’re still in their dungeon playing their game, and all is right with the world.

 

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This game has been going on for as long as I can remember, and I would be devastated if this was ever removed. Another fun fact: designer Marc Davis originally put the pieces in a stalemate, but the pieces had moved over the years due to cleaning and renovations and archive pictures had to be used to put them back into their original positions.

 

Of course, renovations don’t always work out for the better. Sometimes a fun ride is taken in a new direction and the end result is a pale shadow of the original. Case in point: Journey Into Imagination.

The original version, which opened in 1983 and was closed for its first major renovation in 1998, was a delightful romp featuring new characters Dreamfinder and Figment. This fun ride was all about what people could imagine and it included scenes depicting art, literature, theatre, science, and even a “horror” moment as Figment tries to keep monsters trapped in a giant book.

In 1999, the ride reopened as Journey Into Your Imagination. Dreamfinder was gone, Figment was barely present, and it took the whimsy of the original and turned it into more of a lab experiment about imagination. Honestly, I went on it a couple times and was just disappointed. Even Eric Idle as the new main character didn’t help.

This is a great example of why I fear renovations so much. A ride that I really enjoyed was altered to the point that the original charm was replaced with a much less fun experience.

In 2002 the ride was renovated again, this time reopening as Journey Into Imagination With Figment. It still retains the “science lab” setting for most of the ride, though Figment has a much bigger role and towards the end sort of “takes over”. Things get weird, and it almost seems a little bit like the original version. Overall it’s still not as great as the old ride, but it’s not as bad as the second version.

It does prove that change isn’t always positive, even at Walt Disney World, and that sometimes my concern over sweeping alterations is justified.

Walt Disney World Gallery Photo

Sure, from the outside it looks like it always has. On the inside, though, it’s been through some changes and I still miss Dreamfinder. Fun fact, though, just to keep my streak going: the original Figment was voiced by actor Billy Barty (Willow, UHF). The current version’s voice is provided by Dave Goelz, who is the voice of Gonzo and other muppets.

There have been others, of course. The Enchanted Tiki Room saw the questionable addition of Aladdin‘s Iago (voiced by Gilbert Gottfried) though it was eventually changed back to the original version. The Magic Of Disney Animation at Hollywood Studios was completely redone, guests can no longer watch animators at work, but a lot of my issues with that stem from the fact that I worked the old tour as a cast member–it’s a “back in my day” sort of thing.

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Is it selfish, and really just silly, to want everything at Walt Disney World to stay exactly as I want it to and never change? Absolutely.

Do I often like the new additions to the parks? Yes. Change can be good, technology improves and new people bring new ideas to the table, and I love getting to see new attractions.

Do I think it’s a little weird to get this worked up over rides in a theme park that I have no control over? Nope, not one bit.

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I’ll continue to freak out whenever a beloved attraction gets changed. I’ll hold my breath when I first ride the new version, hoping that whatever magic made me love the ride didn’t get erased in the renovation.

I love many of the new attractions, and I think a lot of changes over the years have been great. Rationally, I know that things can’t and shouldn’t necessarily stay the same. Still, there’s a special and powerful nostalgia that makes me want everything to be like it always was.

So leave a comment, readers! Is there an attraction you love that changed, and was it for the better or worse?

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2 Responses to Winds Of Change

  1. amanda1966 says:

    I feel the same way about the Haunted Mansion, Pirates and Journey into Imagination. I like the new Mexico ride better – the Gran Fiesta Tour starring the Three Caballeros. Scott liked the old one better, though, with the poeple trying to sell us stuff. I don’t like the new TTA audio. Bring back the original Mr. Morrow line!!! We also saw Country Bear Jamboree last time. That had just been refurbed. Scott admitted to liking it better this time. It was shorter than it was before but still had the same good bits. Thankfully Big Al made the cut and is still there! He’s my favorite. 🙂 Now if we can just get them to take out Mission: Space and bring back Horizons!! 🙂

    Like

  2. Doombug says:

    I agree with Scott–the old Mexico ride was better. I like the Three Caballeros, and they make the ride fun in their own way, but I feel the old one was more about Mexico and less about Donald Duck slapstick (not that there’s anything wrong with that, Donald is one of my faves). Saw Country Bears on the honeymoon last year, but honestly it had been so long since I saw it that I can’t really remember the “old” version.

    I really like Mission: Space, so they should keep that and just build a new Horizons.

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