Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Why moving it’s a small world from the Magic Kingdom to EPCOT benefits both parks

The below is reprinting from a letter drafted to the Walt Disney Company arguing why it's a small world should be moved from the Magic Kingdom to EPCOT.  I'm sending it to Bob Iger, Bob Chapek, and the presidents of the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT.  Hopefully it will be read.


There is probably no attraction more synonymous with Disney than it’s a small world.  The Happiest Voyage that Ever Sailed. Originally designed for the 1964 World’s Fair, it has become a staple of every Disneyland style park that the Disney Company has built (apart from Shanghai, a little too early for that one potentially).

Generally it’s a small world has been placed in the Fantasyland section of Disneyland style parks.  And the Magic Kingdom is no exception.  In that park, it’s a small world has a prominent place at the edge of Fantasyland and Liberty Square.  And this placement has served the attraction well for nearly fifty years at this point.

But Walt Disney World has something that other Disneyland resorts do not have, namely a larger variety of additional theme parks within the resort.  In this case, there are issues with the particular it’s a small world attraction in the Magic Kingdom, along with larger issues in the park, as well as EPCOT, that would make EPCOT a much more beneficial home for the classic attraction.

In this letter, I will address:
The current issues faced by the it’s a small world attraction in the Magic Kingdom
The broader issues faced by the Magic Kingdom park itself
The issues faced by EPCOT
The potential barriers to making such a switch
The proposal
The benefits to the Magic Kingdom for moving it’s a small world
The benefits to EPCOT for moving it’s a small world

The current issues faced by the it’s a small world attraction in the Magic Kingdom
While the attraction has existed in the Magic Kingdom for nearly fifty years at this point, it has not been with a unique set of issues faced by the attraction in this location.

First, the it’s a small world attraction in the Magic Kingdom is the least aesthetically pleasing of all of the it’s a small world attractions, particularly in regard to the exterior façade.  All of the other theme parks have the Mary Blair-inspired façade, Disneyland in the classic white and gold, with the remaining parks in the multi-color version.   The Magic Kingdom has the medieval tent inspired, box-like façade with a nod to the original on the back wall of the loading area.  This was originally implemented as a concession to the heat and rain in Florida, but there have been other versions of the classic it’s a small world façade that have been used in similar harsh climates (Paris and Tokyo).  It is a shame that the most attended theme park in the world has the least appealing version of this classic attraction.

Second, the attraction in the Magic Kingdom has not received the upgrades that the other parks’ versions have.  Lighting upgrades, sound upgrades, the addition of Disney characters into their appropriate countries.  There are several items that could greatly benefit the attraction that have not yet been addressed in this version.

Though these may seem small, to address them, the exterior in particular, would require a near complete rebuild of the attraction.  If a rebuild is required, then the location is something that can be evaluated.  Particularly in light of the issues that are addressing the park as a whole.

The broader issues faced by the Magic Kingdom park itself
As the most attended theme park in the world, the Magic Kingdom itself has broader issues that need to be addressed.

First, the park is in need of additional walkway capacity to minimize congestion and choke points.  The park feels crowded far too often and is in need of additional attractions and additional pathways to alleviate the crowding.  The area between it’s a small world and Peter Pan’s Flight becomes one such choke point, with the extended queue for it’s a small world spilling out into the walkway and requiring Cast Members direct traffic to keep each side moving in one direction only.   This walkway needs to be widened and that will affect it’s a small world.

Second, the park is in need of attraction capacity.  While it’s a small world has a great hourly capacity, it takes up a great amount of land and blocks further northward expansion.  It could be replaced by much more than exists in this area currently, hopefully increasing the overall attraction hourly capacity.

Finally, moving it’s a small world and replacing it with a new attraction could help provide the anticipated boost that New Fantasyland was supposed to bring.  While the New Fantasyland section is a definite aesthetic upgrade, it did not prove to be quite the draw that was expected, perhaps due to low attraction capacity.

The issues faced by EPCOT
Likewise, EPCOT faces several issues that make it’s a small world a better fit for this theme park.

First, while the World Showcase is a very solid section of the park, Future World is in definite need of an identity.  There seems to be no central theme for this area of the park, no core identity that is driving expansion and refurbishments.

Second, EPCOT is in need of attractions.  EPCOT is able to absorb many more people than the Magic Kingdom, but it does not have the drawing power needed to pull people away from the Magic Kingdom.  It is in need of attractions with a large hourly capacity that are proven draws to get people into the park, and potentially away from the Magic Kingdom.

Finally, EPCOT is in need of family or child friendly attractions.  EPCOT is thought of as the adult park.  It has tried to add attractions that will draw in younger guests, there is still a lot that could be added.

If these issues can be addressed by moving it’s a small world, then the main concern is seeing that the benefits outweigh the costs.

The potential barriers to making such a switch
As with any change, there are inherent barriers to the change that must be overcome to justify and validate the change.

First, there is the barrier of cost.  This should be addressed first and gotten out of the way.  Moving it’s a small world to EPCOT (essentially a complete new build at EPCOT, destruction at the Magic Kingdom, and new build of a replacement) will cost a significant amount of money and time.  While I cannot begin to estimate the costs monetarily, I can imagine that the time concerns can be offset by the fact that the existing ride could be open while the new one is constructed and only taken offline when the new location is open, minimizing the impact on capacity.  Monetarily any choice regarding the attraction will have a cost, including the choice of inaction.  The only question is will the benefits outweigh the temporary monetary cost, however great.  I firmly believe the benefits to both parks will do so.

Second, there is the barrier of the status quo.  The way things have always been done.  If the ride is attracting people currently, why make any change.  While the ride definitely has its fans and pulls in people as needed, there are broader issues related to the parks that must be taken into account.  With the attendance at the Magic Kingdom on the rise, there will have to be radical steps taken to alleviate overcrowding and congestion.  I believe this one step could have a great impact in diverting guests from the Magic Kingdom into EPCOT, a park better suited to handle the crowds.

Finally, there is the barrier of nostalgia.  This may be the most challenging barrier to overcome.  There is a sense that it’s a small world belongs a Disneyland style park like the Magic Kingdom.  I believe this can be overcome by building a great new location for the attraction and by showing the connection to the purpose and identity of Future World in EPCOT.  It will be a challenge, but it should not be insurmountable.  Largely his is overcome by exciting people about the additions, drawing them away from the change.

The proposal
The ideal proposal would be to “move” it’s a small world from Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom to another park and then replacing present Magic Kingdom location with an appropriate fairy tale set of attractions.

In evaluating the other parks in the Walt Disney World resort for fit, Animal Kingdom is definitively out, as it’s a small world focuses on peoples of the world and their cultures, not the animal kingdom or man’s interaction with it.  Likewise, it’s a small world has no connection with the Walt Disney Studio or radio, television, and film media beyond the song, so Disney Hollywood Studio is not a good fit, either.

That leaves EPCOT with its focus on the future and world culture.  As the World Showcase is essentially a larger form version of the attraction, there is an argument for inclusion in EPCOT. The question becomes where to place the attraction within the park.

Ideally, as a signature attraction, it’s a small world should have a prominent location within the park, so that the façade can be used as a weenie to draw people to it. Around the World Showcase this would place the attraction either in the American Adventure location or directly across from it (12:00 and 6:00 locations respectively).  Since the goal would be to add to the park, not replace, the American Adventure location would not be desirable.  Similarly, with the attraction pads in Future World largely full, a location in either Future World East or Future World West would not be ideal.
Accordingly, I would propose adding it’s a small world to Showcase Plaza, taking up the open space and the two Port of Entry shops and extending into the lagoon.  While this would involve some reclamation given the size of the attraction and some reworking of the Friendship boat docks, I feel it would be very beneficial to both parks in the long run.

it's a small world in Showcase Plaza

The benefits to the Magic Kingdom
The opening up of the it’s a small world plot in the Magic Kingdom would provide many benefits to the park.

First, removing it’s a small world and the connected Pinocchio’s Village Haus restaurant would allow for expansion of Fantasyland to push northward in this area to match the New Fantasyland expansion.   The replacements for the area could be set back farther north, matching the new back park boundary created by Be Our Guest, Gaston’s and The Little Mermaid.   There is a substantial amount of land north of it’s a small world that is currently inaccessible.  To get to it, you either have to go through it’s a small world or around the Haunted Mansion, hugging the river.  Reworking the it’s a small world area seems to be the more direct approach.

Second, such a reworking above would allow for a wider walkway in the area north of Peter Pan’s Flight and additional walkways and pathways in the new space, to spread out current crowds.  This is highly desired given the current crowd levels.

Finally, the amount of space that would be freed up for replacement and expansion, several new attractions could be added, potentially increasing the total overall ride capacity of the park.  For example, the area containing it’s a small world and north of the attraction could be replaced by nearly the entirety of the Arabian Harbor in Tokyo Disneysea (to add an Aladdin component to complete the Disney Renaissance feel to the New Fantasyland expansion).  If Sinbad’s Storybook Adventure was stacked on top (to the north) of the Magic Lamp Theater, Agrabah Market, and courtyard, the area would be filled with room to spare at the north most portion.  This adds two attractions on top of the replacement, replaces the restaurant, and adds a market and larger open courtyard.  It would seem to be a much more beneficial use of space that the current situation.

The benefits to the Magic Kingdom are small compared to the benefits to EPCOT.

The benefits to EPCOT
EPCOT in addition receives several benefits from the addition of it’s a small world.

First, it’s a small world can solidify the identity of Future World.  Currently Future World struggles to have a coherent identity.  Each pavilion has its own identity, some stronger than others, but there is no tie between the pavilions providing a central theme or message.  Nominally, it is about man’s future and technology, but it is not borne through in the presentation in the park.  In the past, Future World has been described as a continual world’s fair.  I believe that this theme has the greatest potential for a cohesive identity for Future World and can be solidified by focusing on the world’s fair with the greatest Disney connection, the 1964 World’s Fair.  In looking at the 1964 World’s Fair, it is clear that EPCOT has attractions that have links to the four Disney attractions at that New York Fair.  The American Adventure is the clear successor to Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.    Test Track has a similar visual look and purpose to Magic Skyway and the Ford Pavilion.  Even past attractions like Horizons has a spiritual link to the Carousel of Progress.  EPCOT has needed it’s a small world to complete the set.  Please note, all arguments in this letter can also be used to explain why the Carousel of Progress belongs in Future World in EPCOT as well, as opposed to Tomorrowland.
Second, it’s a small world provides the connective link between Future World and World Showcase.  EPCOT has always felt like a park with two separate and distinct areas, connected only by a plaza.  With it’s a small world in Future World, at a prominent connecting location in Showcase Plaza, it serves as a connective link between the World’s Fair Future World and the celebration of countries and cultures in the World Showcase.

It’s a small world also adds a much needed family attraction and draw to EPCOT.  It’s a small world has a high hourly throughput and is for many a seminal ride experience for a Disney trip.  Guests will be drawn to this attraction regardless of the park that it is in.  It would be beneficial to draw more guests into EPCOT, which is better suited to handle them, and away from the Magic Kingdom, which is already overcrowded.  Further, it’s a small world is a perfect attraction for guests of all ages, especially needed for a park that is thought of as the adult park.  There are steps already underway to counteract this perception, like Frozen and Ratatouille, but it’s a small world would be a great draw in this respect as well.

A purpose build of it’s a small world in EPCOT also allows for a total refreshing of the attraction itself.  Walt Disney World would finally get an it’s a small world attraction façade that is worthy of the ride.  Given the location, the façade would need to surround the attraction, but it could be used to great benefit.  In particular, the attraction could be used for a projection show in EPCOT as it is in Disneyland, both as a standalone show and as part of Illuminations.  The purpose build could absorb the Port of Entry shops on each corner and could likewise take care of adjustments to the Friendship boat docks.  Showcase Plaza could be transformed into a better utilized space.  The side of the attraction facing the water could be used for a new stage and amphitheater or could be used for the build of a new restaurant and terrace.  The new build opens up possibilities, including upgrading the interior of the attraction with projection mapping, the Disney character dolls, and improved sound and lighting equipment.  Finally, a new build could prepare the Walt Disney World attraction for the it’s a small world holiday overlay.  The attraction could be positioned in the plaza so that the EPCOT tree would figure prominently into the it’s a small world holiday overlay.

Given the benefits listed above to existing issues with the attraction, the Magic Kingdom, and EPCOT, I would strongly urge and petition that the Disney company move the it’s a small world attraction from the Magic Kingdom to EPCOT.

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