Mickey Doesn’t Talk Anymore. Now What?

Back in Spring of 2015, I had one of the most emotional experiences ever in my life.

Yes, read that again.

Right before watching the Festival Of Fantasy parade, I visited Mickey Mouse. My family waited near Town Square. The wait time was 15 minutes. The only way to share my experience was my phone and my memories.

“You know Mickey, Rafael is coming all the way from Venezuela to visit!”, a Cast Member said.

“Venezuela? Great! I have a great idea. ¿Nos tomamos una foto juntos?”, Mickey said.

That moment when he talked to me and even mentioned my country, I knew that this was the next step in meet & greets. My heart started pounding, my eyes got teary, and I was just talking to the most famous mouse in the whole universe.

Disney Parks management thinks differently. Mickey has lost his voice in the past few days, as well as any hopes for expanding this great character interaction to other characters. There has been no official announcements.

Park management arguments this decision because people get confused when Mickey doesn’t talk in other Meet & Greets or even other characters. But we can look at the problem another way.

What if Disney could expand this initiative to more characters? Why should Mickey talk only in the Magic Kingdom?
This decision is, mostly, a cost cutting measure. As simple as that, without any PR pixie dust. It’s a shame to see not only Mickey go, but the possibility of expanding this technology to more interactive Meet & Greets. I imagined the possibilities to use this technology in controlled situations such as dining experiences, designated areas and even Disney hotels. If Meet & Greets have become such an important aspect of the Disney experience, why not invest fully in it?

I’m not sure if this is only a temporary decision due to the further investments for Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary, but I’m sure that the company could embrace this technology for other characters, even justify the cost by first operating them in ticketed events and later expand for the day to day guest.

Or it is just a case to make hard decisiones like getting rid of this great experience while management handles the new structure of Walt Disney Imagineering and further expansion in the parks.

Respect, Don’t Revere: The Cultural Shift Of Bob Iger

In a recent episode of The Disney Movie Review, the hosts discussed about a recent interview Bog Iger did for Bloomberg, talking about how he views the legacy of The Walt Disney Company among other topics. Bob Iger mentioned that the company should respect the legacy, but don’t revere it, acknowledging the achievements of the past without letting it define the potential future of upcoming projects. The current CEO believes in this thought as a guiding principle, even admitting that he changed staff on order to make this cultural shift within the company.

This change of course that Iger tries to achieve is a battle that dates back to the early days of Michael Eisner as a CEO, begging the creative staff to stop asking “What would Walt do?”. With a company closely connected to Walt Disney, the master producer whose input goes from animated films to urban planning, with a rich legacy of stories that are part of the global culture decades later, it is difficult to know what to do with such a historical past.

What’s sacred in The Walt Disney Company? That is the question many fans ask, especially dealing with the parks’ attractions. If “respect, don’t revere” is the guiding principle, it makes it easier to understand the decisions they’ve made for the films and the parks. This is how they justify that remakes of old classics make sense, parks should evolve no matter which attraction needs to shut down, acquisitions are good as long as they make sense for the brand and why there’s less mentions of Walt Disney as the man behind everything.

“Respect, don’t revere” takes away the idea of something sacred within the company. This allows you to give tribute to many fulfilled creations, but also change them. This guiding principle reminds me about the phrase “Parks aren’t museums, a quote Imagineers say every time fans rage about an attractions’ closure. I believe these creatives value the projects of the past. At the same time, they’ll never hesitate if they need to get rid of them in order to move ahead.

Acquisitions reflect the school of thought under Iger’s tenure. They know their studios have an indisputable track record, but other companies and studios can show Disney new ways to manage creative projects. Pixar is one of those, bringing a new animation language and storytelling beyond the three dimensional aspect, including different characters that differ from the traditional Disney animation. John Lassetter would expand these aspect as Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Marvel was a tough one to understand back then. Iron Man and Hulk were independently financed, unsure if the Marvel Cinematic Universe could move forward with lesser known character due to the restrictions they had due to licensing contracts with Sony and Fox. Kevin Feige has created what Star Wars initiated, bringing a new universe of characters and storylines that keep loyal fans and casual moviegoers expecting the next superhero movie. The difference with Marvel’s sequel based strategy is that it actually weaves situations that pass the baton to other movies and characters to be explored.

Lucasfilm, a company that has one of the most beloved movie franchises of all time, have had a close relationship with Disney in the past, starting with the link both companies have due to Pixar’s beginnings. A studio that has family oriented adventures, a vast experience with merchandising, and one of the most talented visual artists, Lucasfilm allowed to expand upon existing characters from Star Wars and Indiana Jones as well as a great asset for film production.

“Respect, don’t revere” seems to be a common theme that unifies each move that Bob Iger has done to the company. From huge acquisitions, like the Fox deal, to revitalizing projects, such as the reimagining of Disney California Adventure, and more. As long as Iger has a strategy for each acquisition, allowing for each component to have its own identity, this philosophy could keep Disney a healthy creative space that builds upon the old and the new.

Industrial Light & Magic, The Most Important Company In Hollywood

In my past visits to the cinema, I’ve been staying for a few minutes to let the credits roll. There are many interesting aspects of watching the hundreds of people that work for a big budget company. More than that, you find out that companies that you thought were competitors actually collaborate in many of these films. This is the case of Industrial Light & Magic, the subdivision of Lucasfilm that became the secret weapon for almost every single big budget film.

Yes, they do the special effects for Star Wars and Indiana Jones, but they also did the special effects for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (Universal), Black Panther (Marvel Studios), Ready Player One (Warner Bros.), A Wrinkle In Time (Disney), A Quiet Place (Paramount) and Avengers: Infinity War (Marvel Studios). This are just some of the movies they’ve worked on this year. Industrial Light and Magic has worked for all of the major studios in Hollywood.

Why do these companies go straight to ILM for their CGI and special effects needs? The answer is simple: they are the pioneers in the industry and they still are the best at getting the job done. But as movies rely more and more on special effects and CGI, the company has struggled in keeping up with the demand and delivering the stunning visuals that every movie wants.

During the release of Black Panther, EnGadget made a point in explaining why some CGI models look so bad, even though these are big budget, highly anticipated movies. This is the results of overworked artists in underpayed conditions. Many of these effects, models, and computer-made scenes require 10 hour work days (or more). As the amount of CGI models and visual effects needed for each film, artists just need to cut the corners in some places in order to deliver the results. So yes, the visuals from Planet Of The Apes look stunning, but mostly every single person mentioned a thing or two about the last fight scene between Black Panther and Killmonger (which, in my opinion, doesn’t look as terrible as EnGadget tries to point out).

For the release of “Avengers: Infinity War”, we don’t see the problems arising from Black Panther, even though some effects still look weird. There’s a balance between visuals and background imagery that blends well, while making Thanos a real villain in the movie. It shows that ILM can handle visual effects given the budget and the time to develop.

Should ILM keep focusing on other projects from other studios, or just keep their hands on productions from The Walt Disney Company? The question isn’t as easy to answer, because these employed artists are under a payroll, which means there’s inevitably some free time to spare in between each movie where they can do some client work. Unless they could use that time to dedicate even more resources to the special effects and CGI models instead of cutting corners from these big budget films. Many film critics and fans consider that no film has ever improved the CGI artistry that movies like Avatar (2009) and Life Of Pi (2012) achieved for their stories.

Everyday we want better graphics, improved visuals, and eye-popping imagery, but the reality is that these effects don’t happen by themselves; it requires an army of tech savvy artists for a simple object in the background to look great. Is it a problem of Hollywood relying too much on special effects? Most of the time. Still, it is more a problem about Hollywood not giving CGI artists the respect they deserve, taking into account how much work they have in their hands. The studios are relying on an outsider company, ILM, in order to develop most of the visual effects. If they could start developing in-house solutions, CGI artists will have more opportunities in the industry and competition will help a healthier management of visual effects.

Industrial Light & Magic will still be the most important visual effects company in the world. Studios should be aware of its importance and how it could change the landscape if they keep relying on the sole company able to handle the work.

Epcot And Its Multicultural Message In A Polarizing World

Epcot Multicultural

Epcot will be a very different park in the upcoming years, changing the layout of Future World, adding more movie-based attractions to World Showcase, possibly including more countries to represent. Bob Chapek, in the past D23 Expo, announced some of the planned project for the park, including Guardians Of The Galaxy, Ratatouille, a space-themed restaurant, hinting at more to come for the second gate of Walt Disney World. The overarching vision of the park blends the hope new technologies; the statement of all countries united, sharing their culture to others. To put it in other words: multiculturalism makes a better world. This is the one theme that keeps its validity in our current times.

Articles and stories about immigration in different countries fill the newspapers and social media timelines. Governments announce measures to deal with this issue, but, in the end, they don’t know what to do. The challenge faced by many institutions is that of inclusion. Some examples are the cases of immigrants demonized and discriminated without understanding their reasons to become part of a new culture.

The involvement of different communities in our societies should be important. Many countries have their own cultures because of the diverse groups and cultures that have migrated, hoping to have a fresh start for their families. Multiculturalism, the idea that people with different cultural backgrounds coexist in the same social space, has been a phenomenon that dates centuries, from the nomads to the conquerors of new lands, and will continue to happen. Why should we blame immigrant for an old cultural phenomenon?

Epcot exposes us to the richness of sharing different cultures; learning about the history, traditions and stories of each country. Visitors are exposed to a variety of culture in the span of a few hours. Their traditions manifest themselves in the cuisine, live shows, merchandise, and attractions that reflect a notion or idea of the country. World Showcase is multiculturalism at its best, having the ability to express different cultures without discriminating or consider a culture superior than the other. Even though Epcot is an US-based theme park, with its pavilion in the center of World Showcase with an unique show, it stills reflects and respects the ideals of each country. Shouldn’t it be that way inside or outside of the park?

One of the highlights for many visitors of World Showcase happens when they chat with the Cast Members of the countries, exchanging their culture with other. It is a way to express different points of view that widen your perspective, considering your interpretation of the world as a whole. You are able to respect their culture, understand it, learn from it, and see how it differs from yours. In a globalized world, it is a necessity to comprehend the different aspects of culture because, like it or not, you will be connecting with that culture in some way, whether directly or indirectly.

The concept of a year-round World’s Fair makes this possible. World Showcase offers a new way to understand different cultures and how they all fit together. You see their differences and similarities. The historical struggles, architecture, food, stories, all of this information brings us to a superior understanding of culture as a quilt that bonds communities into countries, and they now bond us into a bigger, wider, globalized environment.

Even though Imagineers will include characters like Remy from Ratatouille in Paris, Anna and Elsa from Frozen in Norway, and the rumored Coco and Mary Poppins attractions in Mexico and the UK respectively, World Showcase should still expose their visitors to the cultures that each country has. With the current political climate, maybe this small initiative from 1982 could go a long way to make people understand how connected is the world and why we should face challenges like poverty, climate change, discrimination, racism, and terrorism in unison.

These challenges are not Epcot’s nor Disney’s responsibility, but the message carried by World Showcase might shift the minds of young and adults alike, embracing different cultures, learning from each country, facing the realities of a globalized world in the 21st century.

D23 Japan: More Details To Keep The Hype Alive

While the D23 Expo at California is considered the main event for many fans, this year’s Japan convention turned the attention of many enthusiasts. Usually, the announcements in this convention aren’t as big as the Anaheim version, but Bob Chapek just gave new details on upcoming attractions and totally new attractions.

As The Price Increases, Damage Control Is Necessary

Let’s not forget the news that Disney wants us to forget altogether: the prices for the parks at Orlando and Anaheim just increased, along with the annual passes. Even though it was expected, Disney wants us to slowly throw it under the mat. This is the first time that there has been breaking news right after a price increase, which shows that Disney is aware that their price increases have become sour news, giving actual bad press for a couple of weeks sometimes.

This doesn’t mean that our excitement should wind down. On the other hand, it looks like the announcements will come for a price.

Paris Gets The Marvel Treatment

Many fans expected that Mission Breakout would come to Walt Disney Studios in Paris, but Disney has other plans in mind. They announced that Rock n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith will receive a Marvel reskin, with the use of the Avengers as part of the experience. This may be good news for the Tower Of Terror fans, as they will get an updated roller coaster without the loss of the beloved thrill ride.

There are also announcements that more Marvel experiences will come to the park. Jack from the DSNY Newscast explains in detail how it will affect the Paris park:

Mickey Is Coming Next Year, Guardians In 2021

Mickey’s Runaway Railway is expected to open next year. Bob Chapek showed some new concept art. Beyond that, there was no new information. Disney might be keeping many details under wraps to surprise us with this all-new 2-1/2D attraction. It has been also announced that the new Guardians Of The Galaxy attraction will open in 2021 and it is one of the longest enclosed roller coasters in the world.

New Pixar Pier Signage An An Upcoming Incredibles Float For Paint The Night

With the new announcements of Pixar Pier, they just unveiled a new signage and a float for Paint The Night that features the characters from The Incredibles. Pixar Pier will open in June 23, 2018.

Star Wars Hotel Will Be Connected To Galaxy’s Edge

As expected, it has been announced that the Star Wars themed hotel will be connected to Galaxy’s Edge, confirming that the park could have special hours to the hotel guests as well as connected experiences between the areas.

You can watch a concept art of the hotel here:

Hong Kong Has A New Marvel Attraction On The Horizon

With th success of the Iron Man attraction, Disney already has plans for a second Marvel attraction for Hong Kong featuring Ant Man and the Wasp. The concept art looks like a S.H.I.E.L.D. Headquartes, making also reference to the Marvel series. The attraction will replace Buzz Lightyear’s Astroblasters.

The Rise Of Disney Ticket Pricing: Why It Keeps Going Up?

Over the past decade, we´ve seen the tickets for Disney theme parks rise straight to the $100 mark many purists thought Disney will never do. How dare you, greedy Disney? But as the quarterly results of the company keep telling us, the parks is one of the most steady businesses the company has. People still go through the turnstiles, no matter the pricing. Not only that, but it will probably keep going up.

The rise of the prices took a turn when Bob Chapek started leading the Parks & Resorts division, doing steady price increases every year with the excuse of inflation. When the tiered ticket pricing por high and low season appeared, it was evident that Disney wasn’t raising prices for inflation. In fact, they were pricing for the value the guests keep getting with their vacations.

This is an unobjectionable excuse: the Disney parks are the single best in the world. Period. And even though prices keep increasing. The parks keep filling up. And when you have parks filled the whole year, that doesn’t make a great experience. Instead, Disney decided to keep the prices up to see if they will receive less guests, but those who go through the turnstiles are more willing to open their wallets for food and merchandise. If this was Chapek’s strategy, everybody needs to agree he has done a damn well job at it.

Still, this doesn’t hide the fact that Disney hasn’t made significant strides in the management of the parks to improve the overall experience.

Yes, we are in the middle of another golden age of Imagineering, for a price tag. And that didn’t happen in ye olde days, were one could say Imagineers did some projects as ambitious as the current ones.

As price increases, the value should too. There shouldn’t be budget cuts that make Mickey stop talking during meet n’ greets, carbon copy elements from other parks like the case of Toy Story Land, or even a slight improvement on more quick service restaurants (looking at you, Magic Kingdom).

Even though Disney seems to be fast paced increasing prices and announcing exciting projects, they’re more dinosaur like with small, significant changes that could keep the magic going within the theme parks.

The company has grown in such a way in the past decade that there must be a way to expand this growth in simple things like customer service at the parks. As the Disney brand becomes more recognizable and winning some enemies, they should take more care about their parks, as it is the main front that many people experience. The only way that many audiences can interact with the Disney brand is within the theme parks.

The price tag for a vacation keeps going up because people keep coming. But as people keep coming, Disney needs to be more aware about which experience they want the guest to remember so they keep coming back. Not only that, but that experience will be the way that family will think about the Disney brand as a whole.

With That New Star Wars Trilogy, A Strategy Starts To Shape Up

Forget about the new trilogy from Rian Johnson. The Game Of Thrones gang is coming to do some interesting work in the force and Star Wars fans can’t be any happier about it. Why? Because with their input, Star Wars will start breathing its own life instead of relying exclusively on nostalgia.

During the quarterly earnings, Bob Iger announced that David Benioff and D.B. Weiss will work on an upcoming series of films for the galaxy. According to the story, Kathleen Kennedy was interested in them to make a TV series, as their work from Game Of Thrones has been praised since the very beginning. The producers told her they wanted to do a series of films in a very specific part of the timeline. That, my fellow readers, are happy fans doing the Star Wars films they always wanted to do. And if they achieve their dreams, it will probably also achieve the dreams of millions of Star Wars fans.

The timing for this announcement seems odd, as many people wondered already about Lucasfilm’s next steps after the sequel trilogy and the turmoil that The Last Jedi did for the fans. That coupled with the fact that Rian announced that he’s also planning its own trilogy of Star Wars films and you have enough to bring some negative criticism. Oh, and let’s not forget the desperation of the fans to see a glimpse of the new Han Solo film.

But the fact that Kathleen is bringing the producers of Game Of Thrones shows their commitment to the beloved galaxy. Not only that, but they also announced that Lucasfilm is working on several (yes, more than one) series about Star Wars. Even though Bob Iger said there is no talent attached right now to the projects, they are in the negotiation process to acquire great talent.

Maybe some fans are still worried, maybe some of them don’t even like Game Of Thrones. What they can’t say is that Lucasfilm isn’t doing their best job to develop interesting stories for Star Wars. We might even see some stories from the expanded universe in the new projects, making them canon. Pablo Hidalgo has hinted that the Solo movie will be very similar in tone to the trilogy of books from the EU, which means that these past stories also inform the future projects.

An overall strategy is starting to shape up. Maybe the trilogies are the tent pole, Avengers-style movies that establish the main story points of the galaxy, while the TV series can show side missions of other characters that are also part of the main arc. If this turns out true, then many fans can finally say that Star Wars is in good hands, with enough stories to keep us intrigued about what’s coming next.

Even though I have my criticisms about Kathleen Kennedy, at least she isn’t stopping to do her best on the job. What many producers consider a daunting task, Kathleen is moving swiftly towards an ideal strategy that keeps the fans and the creators happy. In the end, even many of the talent working for Lucasfilm are huge fans of the same films they are working on.