People are screaming for a return of Horizons. Why won’t they rebuild it? (read part 3)
Iger, the man who took over following the ouster of former CEO Michael Eisner, has been on a mission to ‘plus’ the theme parks with as much technology as possible, mainly through the implementation of interactive queues. He has taken a look at the cultural landscape, seen that kids have more powerful computer systems at home than those that run most of the Walt Disney World attractions and decided that technological innovation is one of Disney’s top priorities.
The Horizons pavilion, an interesting bit of engineering in its own right, was in bad shape. To gain the desired vanishing horizon/landing spaceship effect, they had to give up alot of stability and that, combined with the discovery of a sinkhole beneath the building, meant the structure was falling in on itself. It was too expensive to fix and simply had to come down, whether on its own or with help. If you have to take the building down, you have to take the attraction down, and if you have to take the attraction down, you might as well put a better one up in its place. Or so the thinking went.
Eisner was a builder, so he built. A lead-footed storyteller, Eisner went full speed ahead, putting up hotel space, restaurants, shopping areas and the odd ride or two, including Horizon’s replacement, Mission: Space. Bob Iger is a plusser, so he is plussing. He has seen what he has on hand and, rather than build anew, has decided to make it better using cutting edge technology. Iger has sought to push his company past all other imitators in a field that has been at best a necessary evil—queues. The number one complaint at a Disney theme parks has always been the long lines, so rather than shrug his shoulders, seeing this ‘problem’ as simply a reflection of better numbers at the gate, he has decided to confront the issue head on with the addition of interactive games, shows and special effects that will help to ease the long wait times.
Many worry about all these interactive additions to queues, perhaps rightly, seeing a queue as a ‘pre-show’ whose purpose is to get you in the proper frame of mind for the attraction you are about to experience, and that shoehorning in technology haphazardly (debatable) diminishes from the aesthetic and overall story, but the long-term implications remain to be seen. Bob Iger tells his stories through technology, and to do any different would be betraying himself.
What does this have to do with Horizons? There are two problems with investing so heavily in technology—it is expensive and it is always racing forward.
The expense issue is simple. Spend all your money on queues and you don’t have anything left for rides. Now, this is a gross oversimplification as clearly Disney will continue to make new additions to the parks, but it is worth consideration. When you spend lots of money in areas that traditionally occupy less of the budget you have to be even more selective about the new attractions that get the green light. With this new restriction, likely any addition to the park will be something new (like Mission: Space) rather than a revitalization of something old (like Horizons).
The second issue is a little more tricky. Technology charges ahead and any company that has newest, latest and greatest as one of its stated goals had better be ready. Companies that do stay ahead of the technological curve are small and nimble, if not in size then in product offering, and can change quickly. Disney is large and lumbering, and cutting edge technology quickly goes out of date, potentially making attractions feel old before the paint is dry. Disney has learned hard lessons in the past about dating itself (see the evolution of Tomorrowland as an example), and likely will work hard to avoid making the same mistake.
Some see gloom and doom for today with either the alteration of old favorites or their loss altogether, but we should try to think forward to what the future may hold. The massive financial and ideological investment in technology today may very well be the groundwork for something very exciting just over the horizon. The tools are there, just waiting for someone who knows how to use them.
Horizons was a storytelling experience, not a technological one. The Disney company began with the great dreamer and doer Walt Disney, withered beneath the Disney-in-law Ron Miller, ballooned through the builder Michael Eisner, and now is gaining the technological infrastructure for the future through the plusser Bob Iger. Perhaps next Disney will tap a great storyteller—someone who knows how to pull all the pieces of the past together, not for their own sake but for the sake of story, and who lives, breathes and innately feels the full implications of the long lost phrase: If we can dream it, we can do it.