Brian's Blogs

Is there no stopping the Disney Phenomenon?

What is it about Disney that attracts people of all nationalities across the globe? Why are Mickey and his mates still popular after all these years? And what on earth makes people, who one might assume are normally sane individuals, return year after year, month after month, or in some cases day after day to visit the Disney establishments?

This month has been a major coup for the publicists at Disney Corp. with hundreds – nay, thousands – of column inches being written about this enterprise that, I feel forced to admit, still leaves me feeling pretty luke warm.

I first went to Disneyland – the one in California, that is – some 40 years ago; and Disneyworld, in Florida maybe 15 years after that. I can’t remember being either overwhelmed or underwhelmed at either to be honest; but looking up their web sites and seeing today’s ticket prices for these two “attractions” are $125 and $95 respectively per person leaves me flabbergasted. The old expression “a fool and his money are easily parted” comes to mind.

About 15 years ago I went to Disneyland in Paris on business. It was a cold and wet windswept day and most of the rides were closed. I felt almost sorry for the bedraggled handful of tourists who were trying to force a smile onto their offspring’s faces!

And five years ago I was taken on a journalists’ familiarization trip to Hong Kong Disneyland – which I hated. I remember comparing it to another HK attraction – Ocean Park – and ending my article saying “Given that the most popular sign in HK Disneyland has to be the one saying ‘Exit’, the choice of which theme park to visit should not be a difficult one to make!”

So it was with a stifled yawn that I discovered that this month has been the 57th anniversary of the original Anaheim theme park – the self-styled “happiest place on earth”. Before Disneyland opened, amusement parks were stay-put versions of traveling fairs, with roller coasters and Ferris wheels, and games of chance.

The new Disneyland was a squeaky-clean, family entertainment venue which featured 20 attractions beguiling the 33,000 who made it there on its first day, and helped launch an international theme park industry.

One Californian couple, Jeff Reitz and Tonya Mickesh, have chosen this year – in which they have both been made unemployed - to visit Disneyland in Orange County every day of the year. With annual passholder tickets, they can go to the Anaheim theme park and its adjoining California Adventure as often as they wish. So they decided to go all 366 days in the leap year, beginning on New Year's Day. Reitz says he needs to find employment, though, to afford a new annual pass at a higher price when his current pass expires on December 11. Oh please! Call me an old fashioned humbug, but I have to ask myself if they would not have been better off devoting their time to finding new jobs in the first place!

The Brits, it would seem, are really no better. A 28-year-old mother booked a lavish family holiday to Disneyland costing £6,000 (RMB60,000), despite not having the money to pay for it; and then she and her boyfriend transformed their basement to grow £9,000 worth of cannabis to fund it. A judge told her she was lucky to escape being sent to jail for growing the Class B drug, though her partner was given six months in the slammer.

Over in Europe, Disneyland Paris is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary with a number of new features, attractions and events introduced for visitors of the park whilst the celebrations take place. Their marketing guys are pushing their resort as a way of escaping Olympic fever taking place just across the Channel.

Hong Kong, meanwhile unveiled two new areas in its own Disneyland just this week – a themed area called Grizzly Gulch, just a day after unveiling Toy Story Land. The new attraction tells the story of grizzly bears looking for gold. Riders on Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars will board mine-train themed cars, which will race around a series of twists and turns as animatronic grizzly bears menace the guests.

Hong Kong Disneyland launched the three-phase expansion in order to boost visitor numbers, which are well below original planned estimates. It plans to open a further attraction in 2013 with the launching of Mystic Point which will feature a new dark ride known as Mystic Manor. The three themed areas will then have increased the size of the park by more than 25%.

But the relentless Disney coverage doesn’t end there. Over in the DPRK, Mickey Mouse and Tigger were some of the guests seen dancing during a concert for new leader Kim Jong-un, in a performance featuring a number of (presumably unlicensed) Disney characters.

Performers pranced their way across the stage as footage from Snow White, Dumbo, Beauty and the Beast and other Disney films played on a massive screen. “Kim, who took power after his father, longtime leader Kim Jong-il, died in December, has a grandiose plan to bring about a dramatic turn in the field of literature and arts this year,” the news agency KCNA said. Kim, who is in his late 20s, has sought to project an image of youth, vitality and modernity to the country.

Over in Japan, Tokyo’s Disneyland has been in operation since 1983. Kim Jong Un’s elder brother, Kim Jong-nam, had been the expected successor to Kim Jong-il; but ironically, his stature was tarnished in 2001, when he used a fake passport to enter Japan to visit Tokyo Disneyland!

The Chinese mainland, of course, is not immune to the worldwide Disney phenomenon with plans now well advanced for a Shanghai Disney Resort, which is expected to open in December 2015.

The site will cover 963 acres in Pudong, or approximately 3 times the size of the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort, at a cost of RMB 24.5 billion, with an additional RMB 4.5 billion to build other aspects of the resort.

The park, which will have a theme park, two themed hotels, various dining and entertainment venues, recreational facilities, a lake and transportation hubs, will be built in a style similar to other Magic Kingdoms and will contain numerous themed lands, combining Disney stories and their characters with attractions that are specifically designed for Chinese guests. An interactive castle called Enchanted Storybook Castle will be constructed at the centre of the park that will be the largest of all the Disney castles.

With all the news stories surrounding the world of Disney, investors have celebrated its 57th anniversary by driving its stock up 25% over the past year, and over 31% since January. Someone has worked out that if you had bought shares in the company just 35 years ago, you would by now be enjoying a return of 6,265 percent in their value.

I must begrudgingly admit that it is difficult to argue with success like that!

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