My wife and I have been loyal Disney customers for more than a decade. We visit Disney World so often that discussing our vacation plans with family has become awkward and in fact quite sad. I have a collection of at least a dozen old free Disney vacation planning DVDs even though I no longer own a DVD player. Consequently, I have spent a really breathtaking amount of time and money in the town of Bay Lake, which any real Disney head knows is the home of The Most Magical Place On Earth.™
Unfortunately, I am strongly rethinking my commitment to Disney, and thus, this largely made-up “city” with a population of 47. The more Disney moves away from the values and vision of Walt Disney, the less Disney World means to me. Disney is forgetting that guests surviving to tell about their magical vacation is at the core of the company’s business model. When I stroll through Adventureland or stand patiently in the coward’s waiting area near the exit of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror while my wife rides it for the sixth time in two hours, I enjoy the security of knowing that at the end of the day my mauled and shuriken-riddled corpse will not be flung into the World Showcase Lagoon by an out-of-control animatronic.
That spell is broken when the immersive experience is taken too far by a pirate of the Caribbean stabbing me through the liver with a rusty cutlass. And, boy, has Disney been playing fast and loose with those murderous animatronics of late.
Recently, Disney Imagineers announced the creation of “Project Kiwi,” a free-roaming animatronic that unlike its stymied predecessors is free to pursue its lust for human blood according to its own whims. Disney did all of this in the name of making guests “believe in Groot.”
The problem is, I’m not traveling across the country and paying thousands of dollars to be ambushed on the Maharajah Jungle Trek and have my neck snapped by this robotic “Groot” monster. I am there for the bitchin’ rides and the fireworks, not the agony of screaming and begging for help while a cute little robot fella uses his eye-lasers to buzz my legs off. I am all for immersion and I like a good animatronic Abraham Lincoln as much as the next guy, but I do not wish to have robo-Abe’s chest-mounted retractable circular saw chewing through the meat of my neck while my wife looks on in frozen horror, drenched in a fountain of dark red arterial blood.
What’s next, is Disney going to allow the Jungle Cruise alligators to feast upon my flesh as I sleep in my Moana-themed hotel room? How about we at least maintain some narrative fidelity?
People who run corporations have long leaned on automation to advance their businesses. Usually this is done to drive profits, but sometimes it is done to express the values of the people in the corporation. Walt Disney used his animatronics to sear the tune to “It’s A Small World (After All)” permanently into the brains of hundreds of thousands of people per year. The difference today is the people who run Disney use animatronics to sneak up on poor unsuspecting husbands while their wives use the restroom near Spaceship Earth and cleave them in twain from bow to stern with a hydraulic-powered battle axe. If that to you is a difference of degree rather than of kind, surely it is a meaningful one!
The next time I ride Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress, I will not be thinking about the poor John character’s kitchen fuse blowing in the 1920s scene. I will be thinking about the fact that Jimmy, his animatronic son, is spider-crawling across the ceiling with a boning knife between his teeth and murder in his glowing red eyes. That’s a real mood-killer.
Disney World is going to lose us as customers if it continues down this path. I do not want to have Disney World taken away from us because the Expedition: Everest animatronic yeti—the largest animatronic ever created—has yanked me from my coaster seat and ripped my body apart in a frenzied spectacle of gore.
This should matter to the 47 people of Bay Lake, because if customers like me are harvested for meat by the cuddly animatronics of the Hundred Acre Wood, the “city” loses money. I can take my vacation dollars elsewhere—surely there are lots of towns that are the literal global hub of theme park tourism. I would rather spend them in Bay Lake, but people like me are in ever greater risk as these free-roaming animatronic kill-bots dispassionately mow us down like so much mature wheat.
Disney, please return to the values and vision of Walt. Customers retaining a majority of their blood and extremities should be at the core of your business model. My actual skull should not be sacrificed at the altar of “Project Kiwi,” the merciless God-King of animatronic kind.