The views and opinions expressed in this editorial are mine alone, and are in no way representative of those of Theme Park Tourist or its entire staff. As a frequent contributor here, I hope you've taken a look at the Legend Library I'm contributing to. In each entry, we look back at the in-depth stories behind famous (and infamous) attractions. We dissect them to discover what makes an attraction a classic, what role Imagineers play in shaping the parks, and what tough decisions go into keeping a ride relevant. I hope you've come to respect my stories, efforts, and opinions through those features, and I hope today we can use the expertise we've gained together. Do me a favor: give me the benefit now of listening to what I have to say.
I think I'm done with Disneyland.
Before you go telling me “Good! Shorter lines for me!,” give me a chance to explain.
And before you begin thinking this is a gut reaction – shocked by the announcement Disney just made – that I’ll regret, let me be clear: I’m not acting emotionally.
I'm not blindsided. I don’t feel irrational. I’m not in grief. I’m not just reeling from yet another blow. I'm not directed by the preception that those damnedable executives have yet again chosen the 'wrong' path in my enthusiast-centric mind.
Every time Disney closes a ride, makes a seemingly out-of-touch decision, ruins a classic, or raises prices, fans leap to their feet with vitriol and rage, followed closely by fuming promises that Disney will never get another penny of their money, and that they'll never visit Disney Parks again! I've criticized my peers for blind, angry, passionate assertions like that – righteous (but weightless) anger that quickly cools. So this isn't that.
While all of the above emotions would be justified, they’re not the case. I’m not angry. I’m just… deflated.
Let me be clear: it has always occurred to me that the Disneyland I love – the park I grew up with and celebrated and adored – is detested by some. As hard as it has been for me to imagine, I realize that this version of Disneyland – my Disneyland – is an affront to those who grew up there in the 1970s. Many of them were shocked and dismayed at the inclusion of Star Wars or Indiana Jones, and they no doubt weep for the lost classics of that era – rides that I never knew (Adventure Thru Inner Space, Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland, and more) and thus never missed. I know that for some of those fans, the changes simply overtook the Disneyland they knew – their Disneyland.
But what those 1970s fans didn't realize is that an entire generation of Disney Parks fans had already moved on. There were no doubt those who cherished Disneyland in its earliest days – the '50s and '60s – and politely moved on when the elements of the early years (the things that made their Disneyland different) gave way to the Big Thunder Mountains and Space Mountains of the '70s.
Put simply: everyone adores the Disneyland they grew up with – their Disneyland – draped and drenched in nostalgia and viewed through the rose-colored, idealized lens of childhood wonder heaped on top of the romance that's already baked-in. Each generation cements their Disneyland carefully, detail-by-detail, ride-by-ride, in their minds. It’s natural. They imagine that the way they experienced things is the right way to experience them.
But Disneyland doesn’t stay the same, and as the Disney Parks Blog frequently and frustratingly remind us in their most apologetic announcements, it was never supposed to! It changes, and at each and every stage of Disneyland’s growth, fans have dropped away; personally hurt by the way the park has progressed. Any two snapshots a decade apart will show that Disneyland changes drastically, and as quickly as people grow, so does the park. Before long, Disneyland isn’t their park anymore.
And in my back of my mind remained the creeping thought: someday, the things I love and cherish in Disneyland will be gone, too. I’ll have to watch as my favorite attractions age and fall to the whims of time and progress and finances and synergy and leadership changes and tastes and technologies. I consciously and regrettably realized that eventually and unavoidably, there would come a day that Disneyland wouldn’t look the way I knew and loved it… a day when Disneyland wouldn’t be my park anymore.
Today, the essence of that becomes real to me.
And yes, the permanent closure of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney California Adventure is the reason. But don't roll your eyes quite yet.
It didn’t start today. I mean, I grew up in the 1990s, so the Disneyland I see today isn’t too far off from what I grew up with (with respect to those who cherished the park in earlier eras, for whom it must look absolutely unrecognizable today). While my time with Disneyland is short, I’ve seen some of the creeping, crawling changes here and there. I saw the Country Bears evicted for Pooh and the Submarine Voyage drained for Nemo. I watched as New Tomorrowland swept in, decimating Walt’s Tomorrowland and the beloved Peoplemover. I saw the devastating opening of the creatively starved Disney’s California Adventure and the does-it-matter-or-doesn’t-it out-of-touch changes to New Orleans Square that lit fans ablaze.
Just this January, I was forced to reschedule a trip from across the country when it was announced that this would be my last chance to see the Rivers of America, the Disneyland Railroad, Tom Sawyer Island, Fantasmic!, and more before a sweeping 14-acre expansion created a Star Wars land, inexplicably set against the otherwise literary themed lands of Walt Disney’s park. And I admit that a Star Wars land inside Disneyland Park rubs me the wrong way despite my logical understanding that most guests simply don't mind. But c'mon. Save it for a third park, right?
But see, that's not all!
The same trip would also have to serve as a final farewell to the beloved fan-favorite Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular, closing a decade-long run at Disney California Adventure for (you guessed it) Frozen, despite tremendous outcry. It didn’t matter. It didn’t make a difference that overwhelmingly, the Disney Parks Blog was overrun with comments repulsed at the change and that fans reared back in disgust. What would Walt do? What would Walt do? No matter. Business is business. And one thing I’ve never ever faulted the Walt Disney Company for is being a business. I haven’t let my personal appreciation for the founder or the company's would-be image of a mom-and-pop-shop enterprise mislead me. I get it.
Sometimes when you care deeply about something, impersonal things can hit personally. But this is the last straw... Read on...