Selling Happiness? A Disney Insiders Thoughts on “Escape From Tomorrow”: Part 2

Selling Happiness?  A Disney Insiders Thoughts on “Escape From Tomorrow”: Part 2

I can’t believe the Disney merchandise people haven’t thought of this headgear yet .

“Life is pain, Highness.  Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

Wesley – The Princess Bride

Just shy of 50 years ago in November of 1963 Walt Disney flew over a swamp and said “I’m going to make that place the happiest place on earth and people from all over the world are going to come to it.”  Realizing that most people don’t equate happiness with festering stench holes filled with snakes, Walt decided he was going to make Walt Disney World on top of that place.  So, he snatched up 43 square miles of land using false names (you can see those names in the windows of Main Street), started building,  and now that swamp is 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, 20 Resorts, 5+ complexes, golf courses, and only the occasional snake.  (True story:  I saw more snakes at Walt Disney World than I did living 6 years in Australia.  One of those fanged nogoodniks actually bit me in the Canadian pavilion at Epcot. )

When you become a cast member at Walt Disney World the first thing you do is take a course called Traditions which tells you the story of WDW.  In that class they show you a video from long ago of Walt all duded up with a grey suit pointing a ridiculously long stick at various places on a floor to ceiling map promising a place dedicated to the happiness of everyone who would come to visit.  (You can check out the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxC_a7qnGi8)  The new cast members are then told that they are going to help make his promise true.  No pressure new cast member, you’re just responsible for making people from all over the world happy.  Here’s a puffy Mickey glove – good luck!

And this is where the mind control plant will be …

The thing with people, and I know because I am one, is that people are fickle things.  Last night I stood paralyzed in front of the refrigerator 5 minutes trying to make a choice between a Poptart (chocolate fudge) and an apple.  Most people have no clue what will make them happy and even when they do experience happiness it may be gone as quickly as a pop tart at midnight.  Too quickly delicious Poptart … *sigh* … too quickly.

So getting back to Mr. Randy Moore and Escape From Tomorrow, Randy apparently has a beef with this happiness deal and how it all goes down at the mouse house.  You see, Disney World in general is a larger version of Disneyland which is itself a place Walt Disney created for the purposes of having a nice place to visit on a Sunday with his daughter that didn’t involve carnie folk. (Another true story: Walt was a bit afraid of carnies.)  Disneyland grew from that idea to become a safe place for amusement that people everywhere could come to to be enveloped in stories told by people who love telling stories.  Every part of the parks and surrounding areas are built to tell stories from the ground you walk on to the music you hear.  Every person working is called a “cast member” because they all become an actor playing a role.  I’m going to get back to this in the next installment, but Disney approaches that fickle thing called happiness by letting people physically interact in stories associated the world round with happiness and excitement for children.

As a child, Randy was affected positively by this story telling.  Then, Randy’s relationship with his dad, who took him to WDW, disintegrated and when Randy returned with his child he felt conflicting emotions surrounding the positive memories he had as a child and the one’s that replaced them.  As an adult, Randy found himself weirded out by these conflicting emotions and came to think that maybe Walt Disney has insidiously constructed some false land where people are brainwashed into living completely in the moment of those constructed, false values by the 60,000 + cast members that are all Manchurian Candidated into propagating.  Get ready for some upliftment, friends, because your soul will certainly be soaring after these inspiring Randy Moore quotes about Walt Disney World and his feelings toward it now!*

“It’s kind of madness. Everyone’s saying, “Celebrate the magic, believe,” that kind of stuff. There was a moment when we were at the phantasmic show in Orlando. It’s at their MGM studio park. At one moment in the middle of the show, there was this hail of pyrotechnics, and all of a sudden, Mickey just appears on the stage at the top of this mountain. There are lasers everywhere. Adults all around me literally gasped as if a god had appeared before them. This was genuine emotion. Somehow they had been brought back to whatever it was they felt when they were kids. At one point when we were shooting one day we were riding to the park and a mother was telling her kids, “Listen, for mommy, Disney World really is magic, so you guys have to behave.” My director of photography and I were listening to this and thinking, “This is the weirdest thing we’ve ever heard.” This woman has been just deeply affected. She believed the magic.”

Ah, what a gem.  Believing that wonderful things beyond your imagination can happen is “madness” and “weird”.  Thank you, Randy! More please.

I’d gone on the first real Disney World trip with my wife, who’d never been there, and my two kids. She’s a nurse and goes between floors at hospitals. At one point she turned to me at some princess fair or something and said, “This is worse than working the psych world at the hospital.” Which is not the easiest floor to handle. So I started seeing it through her eyes, from a foreigner perspective: She’s from Kurkistan, part of the former Soviet republic. “

I love that he clarified that the psych ward is “not the easiest floor to handle.“.  I have always wondered about that.  Finally a formerly Russian nurse came to sate my curiosity.  I don’t know about you, but I just need more from Moore!  I’m hooked on these soul filling  and not-at-all-insulting-to-millions-of-people quotes!  How about these dandies?

“I don’t consider myself a rebel, but I have kids, and you cannot keep Disney from invading their minds.”

“I’d like people to come out of the film thinking about the hidden nature of all things.”

Man, Randy is depressing.  But is Randy right?

Please allow me a response.

***

Three hour wait for Toy Story Mania. Huh. I’m starting to question this whole “Disney” thing.

Continued in Part 3 tomorrow.

Quotations are taken from “Five Questions with Escape From Tomorrow Director Randy Moore” at the Filmmaker website http://filmmakermagazine.com/63249-five-questions-with-escape-from-tomorrow-director-randy-moore/ and from “Sundance 2013: ‘Escape From Tomorrow’ Director Randy Moore Says ‘I’m a Product of Disneyworld’” by Eric Kohn at the Indiewire website http://www.indiewire.com/article/sundance-interview-escape-from-tomorrow-director-randy-moore-says-im-a-product-of-disney-world
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5 Reasons Why Disney Star Wars Is a Good Thing

I know, I know.  When you heard of Disney’s 4 billion dollar purchase of Lucasfilm you probably imagined a future movie montage in which Darth Vader and Han Solo learn the value of sharing set to Randy Newman’s earnest singing.  After years of the franchise being throttled by George Lucas’ grubby fingers, you can’t really blame Star Wars fans for expecting the worst and Disney’s squeaky clean family image doesn’t necessarily generate street cred cool points for acceptance!

I say, however, to disregard the hipsters downturned piercing laden brows and nerd-nazi Simpson’s Comic Book Guy’s “WORST. IDEA. EVER.” takes on this one because I intend to show you 5 reasons to have real hope that Disney buying the rights to Star Wars is the best thing that could have happened to the franchise.

1.  Disney Intensely Values History

A few years back, Disney did something wild.  They traded one of the most popular and most valuable sportscasters on television, Al Michaels, for the rights to a virtually valueless property, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon.  Oswald, Walt Disney’s first cartoon creation, had been sold out from under him by his unscrupulous boss and had never been re-attained.  Why would they do this?  History has value all it’s own to Disney.

I worked for a year and a half at the happiest place on earth and I can personally testify to the value they place on history.  Disney goes to great expense to teach the history of the company, the characters, and the people behind them.  (This is particularly true in character lore.)  Before anything goes into the parks it has to pass historical checks to make sure it vibes with the previously released material and matches the theme of the location it’s going into.  And, let me tell you, nobody pays more attention to detail than Disney.  Everything in the park down to door knobs is carefully chosen.

When it comes to the depth of the Star Wars mythos, how many companies can claim actual experience with anything similar to the Star Wars experience in American culture?  In order to handle it properly the Star Wars franchise needed a crazily multi-faceted company to take it over and there just aren’t that many out there if any who could properly do it.  Disney may be the only one that is on the scale of Star Wars.  Furthermore, not only can Disney do it, they excel at squeezing life from and re-inventing world reknowned iconic characters while keeping the classic goodness intrinsic to them.  Mickey is a hundred years old and every kid knows his name and loves him.  They are the perfect company to restore the goodness of Star Wars while keeping the detailed history of it untarnished.

2.  Disney Understands the Heart of Multi-faceted Programming

When Walt Disney made Sleeping Beauty’s castle the center point of Disneyland, he didn’t have Disney’s princess line of merchandise in mind.  In fact, he didn’t have kids primarily in mind at all.  He had grandparents in mind.  Walt believed that grandparents would want to bring their grandchildren to a place to experience stories that meant something to them in exactly the same way the grandparents experienced and imagined the story when they were a child.  By making it a centralized location able to be seen from anywhere, the grandparents could sit at Sleeping Beauty’s castle and let their grandchildren safely explore the stories they loved at their own pace with an identifiable place to easily come back to.

It’s true.  There may just be a Vader singing montage with Ewoks in the future.  There may be Star Wars programming targeted at kids, destined for Disney XD.  But you can rest assured that that programming is peripheral to programming targeted at the core Star Wars audience that shines with the original glory of Star Wars.  This is because Disney understands that it isn’t really about the child.  It is about the adult wanting their children to experience the story that mattered to them in their childhood in the same way they experienced it.

3.  Disney Provides Access to the Best Writers & Directors 

Is anyone going to argue against the biggest single thing you could do to make Star Wars better is to remove George Lucas?  Better writers who get Star Wars will finally be given the chance to pen ideas that they have dreamed about for decades and Disney has access and finances to anyone.  I cannot wait to see the life breathed into the franchise by these fantastic writers/directors (I’m personally fascinated by a Guillermo Del Toro Star Wars .. ).

There will be avenues for those writers/directors on television as well.  A Joss Whedon Marvel series is already green lit for ABC.  Who wouldn’t want to see something similar for a Star Wars television series?  The sky is the limit.

4.  This Makes It a Shoe In That We Will Shortly Be Able To Actually Sit in Mos Eisley’s Cantina

It’s only a matter of time before an entire section of a park (probably Hollywood Studios) goes completely and immersibly Star Wars in the same vein as the treatment Harry Potter got at Universal.  The small section of Studios that is already Star Wars is pretty frickin’ amazing as it is (with the exception that the ride itself isn’t great).  I can’t wait to see what they come up with for the parks now that they have tabula rasa.  I’m ready to drink some blue milk in Mos Eisley Cantina, baby!

5.  Disney Has the Best Merchandising Department In the World

Not only is it statistically true, it passes the eye test as well.  Go ahead, try to come away from Walt Disney World without buying something.  They know what people want (because they are the best marketing researchers in the world as well).  I guarantee Disney means the coolest Star Wars toys yet.  Can’t wait to see what they come up with.

**

While most of the media attention is focused on it, Disney didn’t buy Lucasfilms for film rights.  Disney’s purchasing strategy is focused on creating a virtual monopoly on licensing properties.  (Disney now owns the top 3 individual licensing properties with the purchase of Lucasfilm.  Star Wars did 1.5 billion in licensing sales alone last year.  Marvel was 2nd to Disney in overall company licensing profits when they purchased it. )  I believe they are also focused on buying properties that will also give them a real presence in video gaming (the one thing they haven’t done very well on in the last few years and maybe the impetus for Wreck-It Ralph).  These marketing lines will be supplemented by television shows – cartoon ones in particular – because they are relatively cheap and produce high profit margins.

The good thing about all of this for Star Wars fans is simple: this strategy hinges of excellent crowd-pleasing films that satisfy a base core of fans and can stand on their own for years.  The movies do not necessarily have to make a ton of money, they just have to be well loved.  George Lucas didn’t have that luxury.  He didn’t do a 7, 8, and 9 because he felt it was too financially risky.  His company didn’t have the depth to survive a modest box office draw.  He had to have a hit in order to make it worthwhile.  And, he knew he blew it before so who was going to wait in lines around the block for another movie with him at the helm?  The only way Star Wars could be salvaged is if somebody with deep pockets bought it.

For the reasons above, all I can say is thank goodness it was Disney.