Disney parks events used to be a huge deal. Countdown clocks would be set. Fans would line up for hours to snag a spot in convention halls packed with wall-to-wall Disney enthusiasts, all waiting to hear about the latest attractions coming soon to a theme park near them. In recent years, tens of thousands of people from all over the world have streamed announcement events online. Parks events really felt like something special, and pop culture seemed to stand still while whatever exciting new projects Disney had up its sleeve were revealed.
Disney theme parks fans are still of course interested in what is coming next for their favorite destinations. That much hasn’t changed. However, there’s been a shift in how Disney has framed their big projects, and how they are being received by fans in turn.
Instead of announcing a new ride or land, and providing concrete updates about exactly what guests can expect, Disney has recently become much more vague in what it plans for the future, saying they have “ideas” or “concepts” about what they might think about pursuing at some unknown date and time.
Image: DisneyA recent example of this happened at the recent Destination D23 event at Walt Disney World, where it was announced that Disney was considering re-theming Dino-Land USA to South America, and could possibly include attractions based on Encanto and Indiana Jones in this new land. Of course, no one said anything about a timeline, no specific rides, attractions, or characters were mentioned and the company didn’t even really commit to actually pursuing the idea, cagily saying it is a possibility, before showing some concept art, and leaving it at that.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only time Disney has done this, as the parks panel at last year’s D23 Expo featured a “possible” Moana or Zootopia land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom that never moved forward, as well as ideas for what the next expansion for the Magic Kingdom could be.
Image: DisneyAll of these vague maybes, half-announcements, and “blue sky” ideas have created a culture of distrust among Disney fans, who are unfortunately getting used to the idea that half of the things Disney announces, will simply never be built. And sadly, this practice is putting some major strain on Disney’s overall brand perception.
Why is Disney doing this?
Image: DisneyIt may seem counterintuitive, but Disney’s theme park announcements aren’t actually for people who go to theme parks. These announcements, like those made by Disney regarding other aspects of its business (streaming numbers, box office receipts, merchandise sales, etc.), have primarily become a way for the company to communicate with its shareholders through a public forum and showcase its brand power.
If Disney can prove that they’re still getting their fanbase excited about their theme parks (and ready to spend money) then it doesn’t really matter if the projects they announce aren’t actually ever going to happen. They just need to demonstrate that they still command the attention of a willing public so that the Disney Parks stay in the pop culture consciousness and fans keep making plans to visit.
And while this practice may have been mostly harmless at first, it has started to take a toll on even the most fervent Disney fans…
Backlash is building
Image: DisneyThe volume of projects that have been downsized, reworked or canceled in the past five years is pretty staggering. From the re-themed Spaceship Earth to the World Showcase’s Mary Poppins attraction and most recently the Moana/Zootopia re-theme of Dinoland USA, there have been so many projects that Disney has shared information about, but never actually started working on. And that doesn’t even include the aforementioned “blue sky” projects, like the Magic Kingdom expansions, which are teased as “possibilities” but aren’t guaranteed to be real.
Understandably, this has caused some ill will from fans, who are left to wonder which of Disney’s most recently announced projects are actually real and going to happen. With the company now unfortunately having a track record of talking about new projects and either canceling them just a year or two later (or never starting them at all) this skepticism is warranted, and Disney has to be careful in how they proceed. If this backlash continues to build, trust in their brand will erode. And then that will be a problem for shareholders.