The Walt Disney Company has faced many negative headlines recently.
However, we must point out that it’s par for the course for a company as beloved as Disney.
In fact, Disney faces at least one PR crisis per two years on average.
If you doubt this, let’s examine some of Disney’s worst controversies during the 21St century.
Disney California Adventure Underdelivers
The millennium got off to a terrible start for Disney.
Poor park and movie performances and financial miscalculations left executives scrambling to pay for previously announced projects.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom infamously pushed some themed lands to phase two, an expansion that we’re still awaiting. Spoilers: it’s never happening.
Still, Animal Kingdom essentially opened the way Disney had intended. But unfortunately, Disney California Adventure (DCA) didn’t prove as fortunate.
In fact, management had anticipated such massive crowds that DCA would face sellouts during its earliest days.
Instead, guests noticed subpar attractions like the laughably bad Superstar Limo. Also, many of the rides felt more like carnival experiences, not Disney ones.
Finally, parents complained loudly that DCA lacked rides that kids could enjoy.
For these reasons, DCA spent the first decade of its existence facing intensely negative headlines.
Its narrative wouldn’t change until the arrival of Cars Land in 2012.
A Disney Turns Against Their Dad’s Company
No, this isn’t about Abigail.
Instead, I’m referencing the famous instance wherein Roy E. Disney, the son of the company’s first CEO, disavowed the family business.
Roy felt strongly that then CEO Michael Eisner had ruined the vision laid out by Roy’s Uncle Walt.
The Disney scion led a revolt against his own company, one that ultimately led to Eisner’s sudden decision to leave the company.
At the time, Disney’s Board of Directors chose an unheralded candidate whom Eisner didn’t respect as his replacement.
That individual was…Bob Iger.
So, history remembers Roy E. Disney for his Save Disney campaign. But what I remember is that it worked.
Iger did, in fact, save the company and position it for later prosperity.
Magic Kingdom Adds Alcohol
The World Showcase at EPCOT has sold alcohol for decades now. So, the idea of drinking at Walt Disney World isn’t new.
However, the thought of drinking at Magic Kingdom appeared unlikely until Be Our Guest Restaurant opened.
Back in 2012, the decision to serve wine and beer proved shockingly controversial.
Guest surveys had persuaded Disney to take this approach. Still, the negative attention from this decision forced management to alter the rules.
Be Our Guest only served alcohol with dinner and only inside the restaurant. That way, visitors couldn’t carry alcohol around the park.
Obviously quite a bit has changed over the past decade.
I count at least eight restaurants that serve alcohol now, but they’re all Table Service locations.
So, park officials continue to control where alcohol is available.
Mission: SPACE Proves Deadly
I don’t want to bum anyone out. For this reason, I’ve picked just one instance of tragedy at Disney theme parks during the 2000s.
Those of you who know your park history are painfully aware of another heartbreaking example at a hotel.
In my opinion, that incident proved beyond Disney’s control. It was a heinous tragedy no one could have expected.
I evaluate Mission: SPACE differently.
Imagineers designed this ride to simulate outer space travel.
Obviously, that’s familiar territory for Disney, whose first space rides circle back to Disneyland’s early days.
The difference here was that ride planners worked with NASA officials to construct the most realistic theme park simulation imaginable.
Regrettably, the intensity of the ride’s centrifuge proved too intense for many early guests.
Two suffered enhanced symptoms related to existing conditions and died. Countless others would exit the ride and vomit immediately.
Disney hosted a Mission: SPACE recovery area for a time, a strong sign that Imagineers overreached on this one.
Pixar Dumps Disney
You’d forgotten this one, hadn’t you?
Back in the day, Disney distributed all of Pixar’s theatrical releases. However, Pixar and its own boss, Steve Jobs, felt that Disney mishandled the matter.
In January of 2004, Pixar dropped the bombshell that it was breaking up with Disney.
At the time, Pixar was making better movies than Disney, which caused infighting between the two parties.
Hilariously, the Save Disney campaign I previously referenced stemmed from shareholder frustration over Pixar.
Not coincidentally, the move that solidified Iger as CEO was his persuading Steve Jobs to sell Pixar to Disney.
If Pixar hadn’t dumped Disney, we might never have gained Iger as head of Disney.
The Rich Skip the Lines in a Heinous Way
This one still makes me sick.
In 2013, a story came out that rich Disney fans had deduced a way to hack the parks, so to speak.
Wealthy individuals would hire disabled Disney annual passholders as guides.
Then, the traveling party would arrive at the parks, claiming they were one big happy family.
Afterward, the holders of the disabilities would enable the affluent guests to skip the lines at the parks. It was a grotesque abuse of a well-intended policy.
Disney cares about its disabled guests and wants them to enjoy the best possible park visit. So, it created the line skipping system.
Later, some vile people discovered a glaring loophole that they utilized at the expense of other park guests. Seriously, I get angry whenever I think about it.
For this reason, Disney adjusted its full disability access service to reduce systemic abuse. But unfortunately, a few people’s greed destroyed an excellent system.
Disney didn’t even do anything wrong here. Its heart was entirely in the right place.
Still, this incident earned headlines for years, as some other disabled passholders sued over the policy change.
Park officials were legitimately damned if they did and damned if they didn’t.
The Segway Ban
Speaking of which, disabled guests also south Disney over a different change in the park policy.
You may not even know this, but Disney has allowed Segway usage at the Orlando campus. In fact, Disney still hosts some Segway tours!
Here’s video proof:
Disney doesn’t allow Segways at the parks, though. In 2004, the park’s decision upset disabled Disney fans who used Segways to move around more conveniently.
Park officials offered to build a similar device for interested parties, just not a Segway. But, alas, the matter ended up in court, where Disney prevailed.
Sadly, this instance once again shows that some Disney controversies occur no matter how the company approaches the topic.
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