How Much Change Is Too Much at Disney?

The Walt Disney Company has just announced two new Encanto additions coming to the parks.

Neither of them qualifies as a true attraction – I’m confident that’ll come later – but each example has led to renewed discussion about a divisive subject.

How much change is too much at Disney theme parks?

Example #1

When we discuss changes at Disney parks, we have different recent examples we can evaluate.

small world disneyland

Example #1 will happen in a matter of days. It’s a Small World at Disneyland will gain a digital overlay for a brief period.

In case you haven’t brushed up on your Disney history, It’s a Small World stands apart as one of the most significant attractions ever.

world fair

Photo: boweryboyshistory.com

Walt Disney famously agreed to construct attractions for three different pavilions at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.

Then, less than a year before the World’s Fair began, Disney told his Imagineers that they were building a fourth attraction as well.

Walt Disney Facts

Uncle Walt called it his “Little Boat Ride.” Somehow, he persuaded PepsiCo to transfer the attraction to Disneyland after the World’s Fair ended.

Yes, you may not have realized the fact, but It’s a Small World at Disneyland is the same one that Walt Disney created as a favor to Joan Crawford, the actress and…Pepsi executive.

World's Fair

Obviously, Disneyland officials don’t want to mess with history by updating the attraction too much.

The Encanto change won’t even involve physical updates. Instead, it’s all digital projection cast against the side of the wall.

As such, this is the least significant alteration Disney could do to an attraction while still refreshing it.

Encanto fans get something new, while It’s a Small World remains as Walt Disney intended.

Example #2

However, some Encanto stuff is coming that is more than digital.

The beloved Main Street Electrical Parade will celebrate its 50th anniversaryth Anniversary this year with a return engagement at Disneyland.

disneyland

Park officials have already stated that they’re modernizing the float. The previous theme embraced the 1970s centennial theme of patriotism.

We live in a more divided country now, but the patriotism aspects had grown a bit dated anyway. Nobody in 1972 could reasonably build a parade that’s just as good in 2022.

disneyland main street electrical parade

Photo: The disney blog

So, Disney will modify the floats to feature intellectual property, including Encanto. Preliminary sketches show Mirabel and Antonio from the Madrigal family sitting on a new parade float.

Ergo, we’re not talking about modest changes here. I mean, the Main Street Electrical Parade existed for 49 years before Encanto came along.

Park officials have decided that the outdated elements of the original parade no longer create enough excitement.

disneyland

The next time you watch the parade, it’ll be unlike any performance you’ve seen since your first one. Some of it is brand new.

That’s a daring change for something that makes Disney fans so passionate.

Photo: Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland

Example #3

Speaking of which, we should acknowledge one of the most controversial changes ever at the parks.

A few years ago, Disney officials admitted the obvious. Some aspects of Pirates of the Caribbean were never great for kids. So, they were offensive to many women.

You don’t notice many slave auction jokes in modern American society. It’s as taboo a subject as there is.

Somehow, Pirates of the Caribbean had survived for 40 years despite some deeply uncomfortable subject matter…and I already accidentally explained why.

Pirate's Sunken Treasure

This attraction was the final one of Walt Disney’s illustrious career. He asked his imagineers to create a harness and pulley system so that he could experience the ride as guests would.

Pirates of the Caribbean wouldn’t open until the year after Uncle Walt’s death, making it one of the great tragedies at Disney parks.

pirates of the caribbean

Photo: wdwmagic.com

Due to its heritage, Disney officials tried to look the other way as long as they possibly could. But, eventually, the auction scene proved too much of a sore spot.

So, Disney altered that sequence and came up with something better. Captain Redd the Pirate, a red-headed female captain, now appears. Disney officials love the character so much that she’ll star in her own movie one day soon.

Still, some Disney history buffs express outrage over the decision to this day. And if they don’t like that one…

patent

Example #4

When you want to pick a fight with another Disney fan, ask them what they think about Splash Mountain’s…less tasteful elements.

What you’ll quickly recognize is the lack of uniformity of opinions.

As a reminder, Disney regrettably themed Splash Mountain to Song of the South, a movie it pretends doesn’t exist now.

Seriously, you won’t find the source material for Splash Mountain on Disney+, even though Disney holds the license and could broadcast it.

That’s how much of a trouble spot this one is for Disney. Even so, there’s a second side to the story.

Splash Mountain Cast

You’d be hard pressed to find someone who dislikes Splash Mountain as a ride. It’s a 10-minute smile of a ride experience.

The silly characters, playful audio-animatronics, and grand payoff result in a thoroughly satisfying ride every time. Also, the music is phenomenal, which is also uncomfortable, as it’s comprised of tracks from…Song of the South. yeah This one’s a mess.

Disney has chosen to re-theme the attraction to a vastly superior film, The Princess and the Frog, an uplifting story about a hard-working boss and dreamer.

This story embodies the best of modern Disney, and, oh, by the way, its soundtrack is also divine.

Of course, this ride also won’t be the Splash Mountain that we all know and love. Ergo, the change, while understandable, also comes with frustration.

Disney World fireworks times

Credit: Disney

Can Disney maintain the spirit and whimsy of Splash Mountain with a new theme? Nobody knows for sure, but Disney must try.

The connections to the Song of the South simply aren’t acceptable in modern times.

Splash Mountain is one of the three Magic Kingdom Mountains

Which One Is Best?

Okay, here are four different examples whereby park officials must choose how much to change.

The Encanto/It’s a Small World addition is both temporary and cosmetic in nature. It won’t last, but it’ll add some fun for a time.

The Main Street Electric Parade changes make sense, but it’s weird that a new property like Encanto would anchor a 50-year-old parade float.

Disney had no choice with Pirates of the Caribbean. Yet, it still set off plenty of outcries that the company shouldn’t touch the classics.

EPCOT Tweens

Credit: Disney

Those complaints only grew louder at the (long-anticipated announcement) for Splash Mountain.

I also didn’t mention a fifth change since it may be canceled. At a minimum, it’s heavily delayed. I’m referencing the Spaceship Earth storytelling re-theme.

Closing Times

Photo: Disney

So, Disney doesn’t merely update its attractions when some controversy arises. Instead, park officials react whenever they have a good idea for something new.

I would definitely place the two Encanto attractions in that category. The latter two are more about Disney doing the right thing.

How much change is too much, though? I’m honestly glad that finding that sweet spot isn’t my job. It’s an extremely challenging conversation.

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Feature Photo: OrlandoAttractions.com

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