“Tiana’s Bayou Blunder” Checks Woke Boxes But Lacks “Dramatical Tension and Stakes”

(p. A18) In the summer of 2020, as a reckoning on racial justice swept the country, Disney said it would rip out Splash Mountain, a wildly popular flume ride with a racist back story.

Some people cheered, saying the move was long overdue: After 31 years at Disneyland in California and 28 at Walt Disney World in Florida, the attraction — with its animal minstrels from “Song of the South,” the radioactive 1946 movie — had to go.

But Disney also faced blowback. Last year, when Splash Mountain finally closed, someone started a makeshift memorial near its entrance — the kind that pops up at scenes of horrific crimes. Distraught fans spirited away jars of the water. More than 100,000 fans signed a petition calling on Disney to reverse its “absurd” decision.

. . .

This month, Disney posted a nine-minute video tour of the new Tiana attraction on the internet. As of Wednesday [June 12, 2024], it had been viewed 663,000 times, with 10,000 people giving it a thumbs up and 41,000 a thumbs down. The ride “seems to lack dramatical tension and stakes,” Jim Shull, a retired Disney parks designer, wrote on X, based on the video. A smattering of Splash Mountain die-hards nicknamed the new ride Tiana’s Bayou Blunder.

For the full story see:

Brooks Barnes and Todd Anderson. “Splash Mountain’s Bayou Overhaul.” The New York Times (Friday, June 14, 2024): A18.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated June 13, 2024, and has the title “Black Disney Princess Ride Replaces Splash Mountain and Its Racist History.” In the last quoted paragraph, I quote the numbers from the print version. The online version, as of the time I checked, had numbers from June 10, 2024.)

For a refutation of The New York Times claim that Splash Mountain had “a racist back story”, see:

Diamond, Arthur. “Remember Brer Rabbit.” Inside Sources (Weds., July 8, 2020).

(Note: a version of Diamond’s commentary was published in: Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. “Disney Should Rethink Removing Brer Rabbit from Splash Mountain.” The Orlando Sentinel (Tues., July 7, 2020): 9A.)

Dick Nunis Was Resolved That Walt Disney’s “Dreams Would Live On”

(p. C3) When Disneyland opened in 1955, it was, in many ways, a disaster: There were rides out of service, restaurants that ran out of food, soft asphalt that consumed the heels of women’s shoes—all of it broadcast on national television.

Little wonder, then, that there was trepidation as the Walt Disney company approached the 1971 opening of the far more ambitious Walt Disney World, especially as the word spread that it might not open in time. So, when Dick Nunis, the head of operations at the parks in Anaheim and Orlando, took control of the project, he was given carte blanche to do whatever it took to open the gates on Oct. 1.

. . .

Nunis, who died Dec. 13 [2023] at the age of 91, fired contractors who got in the way, held meetings at 5 a.m. and put signs up all over the property that said the park would open on Oct. 1. He made sure construction workers knew that their families were invited to the park a week before opening. He flew palm trees in on helicopters the night before the gates opened.

Not only did he understand the logistics of what it would take to hire thousands of employees, motivate construction workers and oversee the myriad details of opening a resort, he had worked closely with Walt Disney for a decade and knew how the company’s founder and creative visionary—who had been dead for almost five years—would have wanted it done.

“He understood the culture that Walt wanted there,” said Sandy Quinn, who started as marketing director of the resort years before it opened. “Walt didn’t want employees, he wanted a cast. He didn’t want customers, he wanted guests. They weren’t uniforms, they were costumes. And it was a mindset.”

Nunis didn’t just get the Magic Kingdom and the first phase of Disney World open as planned. He spent his 44-year career at Disney opening and overseeing parks around the world, and acting as a steward of Walt Disney’s philosophies as the company grew in the decades after his death in 1966.

. . .

“I had no idea at the time, but in those early years with Walt, he was looking for someone he could mentor by nurturing, challenging, and testing, to ensure that his ideals and those dreams would live on,” Nunis wrote in his memoir. “He was looking for an ‘apprentice.’ As that apprentice, my role and my life expanded beyond what I had ever imagined.”

. . .

Mary Nunis said that although the couple visited Walt Disney World on occasion after he retired, he didn’t walk the park as he had for the more than 40 years he was with the company, which she believed was because he wouldn’t be able to handle seeing something he wanted to change and not be able to change it. But he remained fiercely loyal to Walt Disney and his ideas.

“He just loved Walt Disney,” Mary Nunis said, “and knew that dream was what he wanted to try to maintain.”

For the full obituary, see:

Chris Kornelis. “Dick Nunis Got the Magic Kingdom Open.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024): A10.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date January 5, 2024, and has the title “Dick Nunis, Walt Disney’s ‘Apprentice’ Who Got the Magic Kingdom Open, Dies at 91.”)

Nunis’s memoir, mentioned above, is:

Nunis, Dick. Walt’s Apprentice: Keeping the Disney Dream Alive. Los Angeles: Disney Editions, 2022.

Public “Blowback” Against Woke Agenda “Has Prompted Disney to Retrench”

(p. 19) The emphasis on diversity in some of Disney’s live-action films, including “The Little Mermaid,” “The Marvels” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” has . . . led to fan complaints. Although Disney has also received positive feedback, the blowback — and poor ticket sales for some of the films in question — has prompted Disney to retrench.

“Creators lost sight of what their No. 1 objective needed to be,” Robert A. Iger, Disney’s chief executive, said at the DealBook Summit last month. “We have to entertain first. It’s not about messages.”

For the full story, see:

Brooks Barnes. “The Story of Pocahontas, With Many Liberties Taken.” The New York Times, Arts&Leisure Section (Sunday, December 17, 2023): 17 & 19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 16, 2023, and has the title “What ‘Pocahontas’ Tells Us About Disney, for Better and Worse.”)

“Context Switching Is the Mindkiller”

(p. B7) “My mind often feels…like a very wild storm,” Musk said Wednesday in the same interview. “I’m a fountain of ideas. I mean I have more ideas than I could possibly execute. So I have no shortage of ideas. Innovation is not a problem, execution is a problem.”

He was speaking at the New York Times DealBook Summit on Wednesday [Nov. 29, 2023] in New York City, a high-profile event run by one of the media juggernauts he has been openly needling.

He was only there, Musk said, because of his friendship with the host, Andrew Ross Sorkin. Or, as Musk called him on stage, “Jonathan.”

“I’m Andrew,” Sorkin said.

. . .

“Context switching is the mindkiller,” he tweeted the day after Thanksgiving, a favorite axiom of his that mixes a quote from the sci-fi book “Dune” with computer lingo for multitasking.

In “Dune,” fear is the mindkiller—the idea that the primal reaction to fear is to recoil rather than go forward. In essence, fear is an obstacle to be overcome to reach success. For Musk, the challenge to overcome is being able to handle switching between rockets and tweets and cars and brain computers and drilling machines and superhuman artificial intelligence.

. . .

In the moment that ricocheted around the world, Musk told advertisers unhappy with him to go f— themselves, saying he was unwilling to pander to their “blackmail” and warned they threatened to bankrupt the social-media platform he acquired slightly more than a year ago. And if they were successful, he warned, “See how Earth responds to that.”

. . .

To Musk, the likes of Disney are trying to squelch his freedom of speech. To others, they are simply exercising their rights to walk away.

“Go. F—. Yourself,” Musk said on stage to a stunned audience. “Is that clear? I hope it is. Hey, Bob, if you’re in the audience.”

For the full commentary, see:

Tim Higgins. “Storm in Musk’s Mind Casts Shadow on Vehicle Launch.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Dec. 4, 2023): B7.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 2, 2023, and has the title “The Storm Brewing Inside Elon Musk’s Mind Gets Out.” The 7th, 8th, and 9th sentences quoted above, appear in the online, but not in the print, version of the commentary. Also, the online version of the sentence on being able to handle switching, contains seven added words of detail.)

The science-fiction Dune book mentioned above is:

Herbert, Frank. Dune. Deluxe ed. New York: Ace, 2019 [1st ed. 1965].

Elon Musk Wants to Go to Mars, But He Wants Freedom Even More

The video clip above is embedded through YouTube’s “share” feature. It is a clip from the annual DealBook Summit of The New York Times. Andrew Ross Sorkin interviewed Elon Musk on November 29, 2023 at the Lincoln Center in New York City.

A year earlier at the 2022 DealBook Summit, Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings said: “Elon Musk is the bravest most creative person on the planet.”

Musk’s dream is for humanity to go to Mars. He is trying to privately fund his dream with billions of dollars he hoped to earn from Tesla. His investment of 44 billion dollars to buy Twitter may end his dream. But he bought Twitter to defend free speech, and free speech is required for the fast advance of science and technology. So if we ever make it to Mars we will owe much to Elon Musk. And even if we never make it to Mars we still will owe much to Elon Musk.

“Keeper” of Home Where Walt Disney Screened His Films Wants to “Inspire” the “Creative”

(p. M6) Walt Disney’s former Los Angeles home—now for rent asking $40,000 a month—looks like something out of one of his films: Largely covered in vines, the Storybook-style home has a turret, leaded-glass windows and a cobblestone motor court.

Disney built the four-bedroom Los Feliz home in 1932, and lived there with his wife and family for about 20 years before moving to Holmby Hills, according to Disney historian and blogger Todd Regan. The property is now owned by Kazakhstan-born film director Timur Bekmambetov, who bought it in 2011 for $3.7 million, according to public records.

. . .

He is now renting it out, he said, because he wants people to be able to experience staying there.

. . .

There is a screening room in the house where Disney watched his films, Regan said. In the yard sits a cottage-style playhouse, which Disney gave his daughters on Christmas Day in 1937 following the release of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” he said.

. . .

Bekmambetov, who has directed movies including 2004’s “Night Watch” and “Wanted” in 2008, said he has always been a fan of Disney’s work. When the home hit the market in 2011, he couldn’t believe it was tied to the late filmmaker. “I got a notification that there was a house for sale and it had the Walt Disney name,” he said. “I called my assistant and said to her, ‘Please call. I think it’s a mistake.’” But it wasn’t a mistake, and Bekmambetov decided to buy the home sight unseen.

Bekmambetov said he considers himself the home’s “keeper.” The house inspired a graphic novel and movie script he is working on, he said, about fictional Disney characters who never made it to the big screen. He said he hopes to rent the house to someone who is creative and will be inspired by the home, just as he has been.

For the full story, see:

Libertina Brandt. “Walt Disney’s Onetime L.A. Home for Lease.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, June 16, 2023): M6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 12, 2023, and has the title “Walt Disney’s Former L.A. Home Is Now Renting for $40,000 a Month.”)

The Role Disney “Fans Play in Creating the Disney Magic”

(p. 10) On Nov. 20, [2022],I was relieved to hear the news that Disney’s chief executive, Bob Chapek, had been fired and replaced with the former chief executive Robert Iger. The news was also met with near-unanimous celebration among my community of super fans.

While his ouster shocked investors and Hollywood, many in our community had been actively campaigning for Mr. Chapek’s firing for the past two years. A Change.org petition to fire Mr. Chapek that started in 2020 garnered over 117,000 signatures. (It now reads “Victory.”) Online forums teemed with complaints about Mr. Chapek’s management style and strategy.

. . .

We also pushed to have Mr. Chapek fired because he didn’t believe in Disney magic. Disney is so much more than just another big business. Understanding that is crucial to its success.

When Walt Disney opened Disneyland, he referred to his theme park customers as “guests,” an understanding that is explicitly reinforced in Disney employee training to this day, and by which Disney’s theme park community refers to itself.

. . .

What Mr. Chapek doesn’t understand is the role we fans play in creating the Disney magic. It is our Instagram accounts, our blogs and our websites that those out-of-towners refer to in order to prepare for that revenue-generating Disneyland trip. I get paid to do it, but many others do this work just because they love it. Mr. Chapek disregarded us.

Worse was the way Mr. Chapek treated “cast members,” as Disney’s park employees are known. The people who greet you at the park entrance, serve you food and get you safely on and off the rides have an enormous influence on the quality of your visit. I’ve talked to many cast members, from young people to older adults, about why they’re willing to wear polyester costumes in Florida’s summer heat for relatively low wages. To a person, they say something like, “I want to make people happy, and Disney is the best place to do that.”

So it was disheartening when, in September 2020, Mr. Chapek announced that the company was laying off 28,000 workers, most of them cast members. While many other businesses were laying off workers during that time, Mr. Chapek was also committing Disney to spending billions to ramp up content production for its Disney+ streaming service. As we saw it, Mr. Chapek viewed the incomes and health care of thousands of people — the people who make the magic — as less important than another season of “The Mandalorian.” Many cast members decided not to return to Disney’s parks when they reopened.

For the full commentary, see:

Len Testa. “Bob Chapek Didn’t Believe in Disney Magic.” The New York Times, SundayOpinion Section (Sunday, December 4, 2022): 10.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 29, 2022, and has the same title as the print version. Where there is a slight difference in wording between versions, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)

At Disney World, Cheerful Main Street Strikes Back Against Dark Elitist Star Wars Hotel

Star Wars was never a good fit with the optimistic good-will of Walter Elias Disney, the entrepreneurial dreamer from Marceline, Missouri. I smiled when I read the story quoted below.

(p. A1) Disney bet big that superfans would pay thousands of dollars to spend two days in the ultimate Star Wars experience. It’s going the way of the Death Star.

Part hotel, part immersive role-playing experience, Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser will close in September [2023], less than two years after opening with great fanfare. The hotel transports visitors to the world of the popular film franchise over two nights. Guest cabins resemble a spaceship, with views of outer space projected on screens designed to mimic windows.

Stays in the Starcruiser don’t come cheap: A family of four can expect to spend $6,000 and up, depending on the type of cabin chosen and visit dates. Travel agents and industry insiders say the high price contributed to gradually weakening demand after the property opened.

Walt Disney Co. has tested its theme park fans’ budgets in recent years, hiking the price of tickets, hotels and food at its attractions. Those higher prices and operational changes have drawn the ire of some of the Disney parks’ most loyal customers, including people who purchase expensive annual passes to visit the parks multiple times each year. Under Disney Chief Executive Robert Iger, Disney’s parks division has started scaling back some pandemic-era changes that upset longtime fans, . . .

. . .

(p. A2) A Disney spokeswoman attributed the Galactic Starcruiser’s cost to the way it thoroughly immerses guests in a fantasy world.

. . .

The Galactic Starcruiser’s steep price tag was a hard sell for even some of the most ardent Star Wars devotees, fans and travel industry analysts say.

. . .

“This premium, boutique experience gave us the opportunity to try new things on a smaller scale of 100 rooms, and as we prepare for its final voyage, we will take what we’ve learned to create future experiences that can reach more of our guests and fans,” a Disney spokeswoman said in an email Thursday [May 18, 2023].

While aboard the Starcruiser, visitors interact with costumed Disney employees, completing missions on the ship. Singers dressed as aliens give performances at dinner.

. . .

The attraction won an outstanding achievement for brand experience award from the Themed Entertainment Association, one of the industry’s top honors.

. . .

The hotel was expensive to operate in large part because of the so-called cast members who played roles in the immersive experience, said Dennis Speigel, founder and CEO of International Theme Park Services, which consults on projects at amusement parks.

For the full story, see:

Jacob Passy and Allison Pohle. “The Empire Strikes Out At the Star Wars Hotel.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, May 20, 2023): A1-A2.

(Note: ellipses, bracketed year, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 19, 2023, and has the title “Disney’s Star Wars Hotel Was Too Much—Even for Star Wars Fans.”)

Mermaid Remake: “Joy, Fun, Mystery, Risk, Flavor, Kink — They’re Missing”

(p. C1) The new, live-action “The Little Mermaid” is everything nobody should want in a movie: dutiful and defensive, yet desperate for approval. It reeks of obligation and noble intentions. Joy, fun, mystery, risk, flavor, kink — they’re missing. The movie is saying, “We tried!” Tried not to offend, appall, challenge, imagine. A crab croons, a gull raps, a sea witch swells to Stay Puft proportions: This is not supposed to be a serious event. But it feels made in anticipation of being taken too seriously. Now, you can’t even laugh at it.

. . .

(p. C8) . . ., the movie’s worried — worried about what we’ll say, about whether they got it right. That allergy to creative risk produces hazards anyway. I mean, with all these Black women running around in a period that seems like the 19th century, the talk of ships and empire, Brazil and Cartagena just makes me wonder about the cargo on these boats.

For the full movie review, see:

Wesley Morris. “Remake Finds Its Feet but Loses Its Bubbles.” The New York Times (Friday, May 26, 2023): C1 & C8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the movie review was updated May 26, 2023, and has the title “‘The Little Mermaid’ Review: The Renovations Are Only Skin Deep.”)

Future Disney Fashion Designer Was “Fascinated” by “Snow White” Movie as a Child

(p. A20) Alice Davis, a Disney Company costume designer who created the outfits worn by the animatronic figures in two of the company’s most enduring and popular rides, It’s a Small World and Pirates of the Caribbean, died on Nov. 3 [2022] at her home in Los Angeles.

. . .

Ms. Davis had been designing lingerie and other garments for several years when Walt Disney himself asked her in 1963 if she wanted to work on the costumes for It’s a Small World.

. . .

She had been fascinated with animation since seeing “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” when she was 8 (“I just about vibrated out of my seat,” she said), and she hoped to pursue the form as a career.

. . .

She was steered to costume design, although Ms. Chouinard suggested that she also take an animation drawing class with a new instructor at the school: Marc Davis, who was by then one of a core group of animators Mr. Disney referred to as his “nine old men.”

She graduated in 1950 and married Mr. Davis in 1956; he died in 2000. She leaves no immediate survivors.

Ms. Davis’s other Disney work included establishing costuming and quality-control procedures for the company and creating standards for three-dimensional characters in other rides and shows.

In 2012, Disney recognized Ms. Davis as its most famous costume designer with a tribute that is among the company’s highest honors: a commemorative window installed on a storefront on Disneyland’s Main Street. It sits next to a similar pane honoring her husband.

For the full obituary, see:

Ed Shanahan. “Alice Davis, 93, Who Designed Outfits For Two of Disney’s Most Popular Rides.” The New York Times (Saturday, November 19, 2022): A20.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Nov. 18, 2022, and has the title “Alice Davis, Costume Designer for Disney Rides, Dies at 93.”)

“I Was There and I Was a Part of This Wonderful Thing That He Was Doing”

(p. A20) If Snow White looked suitably snowy in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” if Pinocchio’s nose grew at just the right rate, if Dumbo was the correct shade of elephantine gray, all that was due in part to the largely unheralded work of Ruthie Tompson.

. . .

In 1922, after her parents divorced and her mother married John Roberts, a plein-air painter, Ruthie and her sister moved with her mother and stepfather to Los Angeles, where her mother worked as an extra in Hollywood movies. The family lived down the street from Robert Disney, an uncle of Walt Disney and his brother Roy.

The Disney brothers founded their first film studio nearby in 1923, and it happened to be on Ruthie Tompson’s route to school. Walking past it each day, she peered through a window, transfixed, as the work of animation unfolded.

One day, Walt Disney spied her.

“He came out and said, ‘Why don’t you go inside and watch?’” Ms. Tompson recalled some nine decades later in a podcast for the Walt Disney Family Museum.

“I was really fascinated,” she said. She returned to the studio many times, becoming something of a fixture there.

During those years, the studio was shooting the Alice Comedies, a series of silent shorts combining animation and live action, and sometimes enlisted neighborhood children as extras.

Among them was Ruthie, who appeared in several pictures, receiving 25 cents for each. Her cinematic salary, Ms. Tompson recalled, went toward licorice.

Her association with the Disneys might well have ended there had it not been for the fact that a decade later Walt and Roy chose to take polo lessons.

. . .

“Ruthie Tompson!” Walt Disney declared on seeing her there. “Why don’t you come and work for me?”

“I can’t draw worth a nickel,” she replied.

No matter, Mr. Disney told her: The studio would send her to night school to learn the rudiments of inking and painting.

“Of course,” Ms. Tompson recalled, “everybody around me said: ‘Don’t say no! Don’t say no!’”

. . .

In 1948, she was promoted to the dual role of animation checker and scene planner. As an animation checker, she scrutinized the artists’ work to see, among other things, that characters literally kept their heads: In the animators’ haste, different parts of a character’s body, often done as separate drawings, might fail to align.

The scene planner was tasked with working out the intricate counterpoint between the finished setups and the cameras that photographed them: which camera angles should be used, how fast characters should move relative to their backgrounds, and the like.

“She really had to know all the mechanics of making the image work on the screen as the director, the layout person and the animator preferred: how to make Peter Pan walk, or fly, in the specified time,” Mr. Canemaker explained. “What she did ended up on the screen — whether you see her hand or not — because of the way she supported the directors’ vision.”

. . .

In the Walt Disney Family Museum podcast, Ms. Tompson fondly recalled her long-ago association with Walt Disney and the unexpected career to which it gave rise.

“I never got over being awe-struck at the fact that I was there and I was a part of this wonderful thing that he was doing,” she said.

For the full obituary, see:

Margalit Fox. “Ruthie Tompson, Invisible Hand Behind Pinocchio’s Nose, Dies at 111.” The New York Times (Wednesday, October 13, 2021): A20.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Oct. 12, 2021, and has the title “Ruthie Tompson Dies at 111; Breathed Animated Life Into Disney Films.”)