Monday, February 4, 2013

Why Shanghaî Disneyland Won't Have a Main Street U.S.A or a Frontierland



Editor's Note: Please note that the article below reflects only my thoughts and not necessarily  the ones of the WDC or anyone working on the Shanghaî Disneyland project. In others words, my analysis may be right or may be wrong.  


Michael, a faithful Disney and more reader, sent me a message with this question: "Alain, do you know why Shanghaî Disneyland won't have a Main Street U.S.A or even a Frontierland like in others Disney's Magic Kingdom?" To tell the truth, Michael, no one from WDI explained me why it'll be the case but it doesn't mean that i don't have any thoughts about this.

First, Michael, you're right, Shanghaî Disneyland will not have a Main Street U.S.A as we know it, no Frontierland either ( but SDL will have a kind of "entrance street" which will be totally different than anything that WDI Imagineers have done for others Magic Kingdom ) and SDL won't also have a "Shanghaî Disneyland Railroad". All this was confirmed some months ago when a map of the park was leaked on different forums but what is interesting in this is that the three have a direct link with America. Main Street U.S.A is an american street at the turn of the century, Frontierland is the land of the American West and the usual railroad is a typical american train of the end of the 19th century - early 20th.

So, is it a coincidence if they won't be part of Shanghaî Disneyland? It could be, but i don't think it is and i think i understood why it's not when i was told recently that SDL Toy Story Land will NOT have a Parachute Drop ride. First, i thought: "mmmh that's strange, but may be they will put another ride instead..." or "may be Parachute Drop would be too high to avoid a visual intrusion in others lands of the park...". But i had the feeling that there was another reason and i started to think "why" Parachute Drop couldn't be part of SDL Toy Story Land. After all, HKDL have a Parachute Drop in Toy Story Land and it's very popular, so why not at SDL? And i suddenly remembered what Parachute Drop theming is all about. Sure, for all of us, the ride is linked to the small green soldiers from Toy Story and the ones with which we played when we were kids. But the whole Toy Story Land is also themed like a U.S army camp! And it's there that i realized that may be the lacks of a Main Street U.S.A, Frontierland, a SDL Railroad and a Parachute Drop were all for the same reason. As i've said, all of them have a direct link with America and my guess is that the reason why they won't be part of Shanghaî Disneyland is closer to something called "geopolitics" - or, in more corporate words, "chinese sensitivity" than anything else.




No Main Street U.S.A, no Frontierland, no Big Thunder Mountain, no Mark Twain, and no railroad too for Shanghaî Disneyland. But don't worry, you'll find fantastic new rides that will take your breath away.

If we remember that hundred if not thousands of chinese died helping the construction of the american railroad we understand that it wouldn't be a good idea to have the same kind of train - for which their ancestors died building the tracks during the 19th century - going all around the park. It might remind the chinese not so good memories... And if the 19th century was great for America development in the West or in the U.S cities, for the chinese it was one of the worst period in their history, a time during which China was humiliated by occidental countries - not to mention the opium wars mainly organized by occidentals. So, bringing back the 19th century era at Shanghaî Disneyland even through an idealized american west or a typical "main street " might not be a good idea. And, knowing the importance in China of symbolism having a ride themed like a U.S army camp - even a "toy" army camp - is really a bad idea, believe me. HKDL has it so why not SDL, you say? Sure, but Hong Kong is not China main land. There is a huge difference between Hong Kong inhabitants who for the most have lived like occidentals during one century thanks to the british, and chinese from China main land.

WDI Imagineers may have also remember how Disneyland Paris was seen like an "american invasion" by some french when DLP opened in 1992. Sure, it was completely stupid and now french love the park but i'm pretty sure that Disney takes great care that this won't happen in China with Shanghaî Disneyland and also make sure that SDL will be "geopolitically correct", if i can say. And I think that Disney is right to be extremely cautious on that point, specially when we know that China intend to become 21st century's leading nation, economically speaking. And it's not sure at all that the U.S are going to like it, or simply will let China achieve his goal. Also, the future in the China sea is unpredictable and a conflict might happen for any reason. And even if the conflict wouldn't be a direct one with the U.S chances are that the U.S might be involved in a way or another when they will provide a military or intelligence help to some of their allies, like Japan or Taiwan if it happen that they'll be in conflict with China. Just remember what happened recently to japanese factories in China when China and Japan had a dispute about these two small islands...  I'm almost 100% sure that Disney has thought that having two lands directly linked with America - and Main Street U.S.A and Frontierland are the two most realistic lands in a Magic Kingdom - was a risk that SDL might be the target of chinese anger if anything goes wrong in the future between U.S and China.

And it will be the same for Shanghaî Disneyland attractions: you will hardly find at SDL one ride that could be "linked" with anything U.S.  Fantasyland rides will be inspired by european tales only - mostly from England or Germany, Adventureland rides as usual will be set in exotic locations and even the Pirates of Caribbean ride will be a brand new one with a storyline that will take your breath away. Sure, they might build in the future a Marvel ride in Tomorrowland - so, inspired by classic U.S comic book superheroes - but here it will be different as it will come more from a "fantasy comic world" than "reality".

As we know, Shanghaî Disneyland also won't have a Space Mountain. May be WDI Imagineers were tired to build one more time another Space Mountain - after all there is already five Space Mountains around the world - but we must also remember that China have big ambitions about Space and intend to send someone on the moon as soon as possible. And you can be sure that if they can find a way to put up there a flag big enough to be seen from the Earth, they will do it! I'm kidding, but anything about space is a real sensitive subject in China right now, and will be in the future as chinese will take great pride of their future success. So, who knows, may be the theming of Space Mountain looked also a bit too much like an american vision of space? Anyway, whatever the reason is we'll have a brand new and thrilling E-Ticket ride in SDL Tomorrowland instead of Space Mountain so we don't have to complain, do we?

However, the lack of these two realistic lands that are Main Street U.S.A and Frontierland also have some positive aspects and from what i've been told the whole park should look like a fantasy kingdom, a real magical and happy place, and for sure a different kind of Magic Kingdom. Or, as Bob Iger has said in more corporate words, "authentically Disney and distinctly chinese".

Editing: A kind and anonymous reader posted a very interesting comment, and i thank him a lot for this. Although his comment appear in the comments section, as it is someone who worked on SDL design and as his comment include precious informations i did an editing and include his comment below. And, guess what, it seems that i'm all wrong and that the reasons why SDL will not have a Main Street or Frontierland are not "geopolitical" ! So, yes, i was wrong and i don't mind to be wrong, i like the truth and if i have to be wrong to know the truth, it's perfectly okay for me!

Hello:

I worked on several areas of design for Shanghai Disneyland, and although your speculations for the lack of a Railroad, Frontierland and Main Street are interesting, they are not accurate.

First of all the Railroad -- China does not have a romanticized view on railroads the way Americans and Europeans do. They don't have a stronghold in the minds of the people. Especially in regards to passenger trains. Most Chinese could not afford to ever have ridden the rails of the past - Also few Chinese are aware of the fact that rented and paid Chinese labors were used by the Central Pacific Railroad to help construct the transcontinental railroad. Thousands of Irish, German AND American laborers also died building the Pacific railroad. The truth is, the Chinese government and Chinese investors didn't have an interest in including the park Railroad in the opening group of attractions - although various versions were considered. Too bad, as this park is very large and will require a great deal of walking. This decision was not unlike the Oriental Land Company declining on a PeopleMover for their Tomorrowland at Tokyo Disneyland.

Main Street. Early on it was decided to make this a unique area of the park--First a grand glass covered shopping arcade “Welcome Court” was designed—using many facades from WDW’s Main Street very similar to World Bazaar at Tokyo Disneyland and many new designs that were rather Palladian -Venetian style. As the design process took place, the glass covered atrium (like World Bazaar of Tokyo Disneyland) was discarded and INTERNATIONAL STREET was designed--various blocks represented different areas of the world--there was a French area, an Italian area, a London area and a Moroccan area and even a US area--towards the end segueing into Adventureland--with an entire New Orleans section located were Plaza Inn is in other parks featuring Tiana's Showboat restaurant--this area went into very detailed design phase including elaborate models. Eventually it was felt the main Disney Classic characters needed a stronger presence in the park -then came the concept of Mickey's Main Street--this design literally was a combination of Buena Vista Street facades, Main Street USA (Disneyland type) facades and Toon Town. Eventually this concept has evevolved into Mickey Avenue--and features a more specially designed Main Street USA/Toon Town hybrid.

Frontierland/ Westernland was too designed and there is space for its potential addition at another time, but probably smaller than what was originally proposed. Shanghai's Frontierland did however do away with any kind of representation of a Cavalry Fort or stocades--the lands entrance was to be a river way spanned by a wooden bridge with a large natural arch rock formation framing the entryway. One thing is that since a full main Street USA was not included, Frontierland in Shanghai was designed with three full blocks of Old West false front structures—creating a complete town. The north corner included the Big Thunder Mining load Buildings and a Riverboat landing (With a Molly Brown type Riverboat) The Rivers of the Far West is smaller here, and the central Island -NATIVE ISLAND was designed to be reached buy guests thru two tunnels that went under the river. The island had caves and trails as well as an Indian Village where American Indian type shows would be performed. Frontierland/Westernland just didn’t make it into the opening day offerings budget--but maybe another time.

Also Shanghai Disneyland will be very expensive--and NOT for the common visitor--only the elite and wealthy. There will be areas outside the magic kingdom that will allow the general guest entertainment--the majority of whom will not be able to afford a visit into the Magic Kingdom.

Artwork and pictures: copyright Disney

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Alain great article.

I find it very risky territory where Disney is looking for its next 50 years.

But I have to laugh when people talk about a 3rd world nation becoming an economical leader when their country is based on slave labor, no human rights that are problems that will not be going away anytime soon.

and where most inhabitants still go to the bathroom in a hole in the ground.

I could be wrong....but the Chinese government will never let you know the REAL truth.

Alain Littaye said...

Well, may be, but China is already at the rank no 2 in the list of most powerful countries in 2012. And the only one before them is of course the USA.

See details here: http://europeangeostrategy.ideasoneurope.eu/2011/12/29/worlds-fifteen-most-powerful-countries-in-2012/

The problem with China is that there is 1.353.821.000 inhabitants. Even if you have 1 billion who are still poor and will stay poor, if the 353 million others have money or are rich it's enough to become a super power economically speaking. After all there is 315 M people in America, and everyone is not rich, and this doesn't stop America to be a super power, does it?

And China is not really a third world country coming from the middle of nowhere. China had a great civilization existing since thousand of years, they've invented so many brilliant things during all these centuries - you wouldn't even have fireworks in Disney Parks if chinese wouldn't have invented fireworks - , the roots and vision of the world of the chinese thought is amazingly intelligent and they even have one of the best medicine in the world. I always say that it would be a big mistake to underestimate the chinese and i still think it. But the political system might be their weakest point in the future...or even in the present, so we'll see.

Anonymous said...

well said alain, to the first commentator at the top, it is this 'it is this ''third world nation'' china that the united states owes the most money to a foriegn country! in short China is USA's biggest creditor nation. don't offend your lender.

Anonymous said...

I in no way wanted to sound jingoistic...

But, the Chinese economy is based on selling cheap plastic cr**.

And yes the USA buys a lot of plastic cr**.

But as China's hunger to be rich grows...so do their prices and there goes the cheap plastic cr**.

And let's no even talk about if they started letting foreigners in to cash in. A country is very easy to run with no immigration.

Believe you me...but those with money in China DO NOT want to share it. There is no middle class in a communist society.

I hope it works out for Disney...but China is the vast unknown.

Anonymous said...

Hello:

I worked on several areas of design for Shanghai Disneyland, and although your speculations for the lack of a Railroad, Frontierland and Main Street are interesting, they are not accurate.

First of all the Railroad -- China does not have a romanticized view on railroads the way Americans and Europeans do. They don't have a stronghold in the minds of the people. Especially in regards to passenger trains. Most Chinese could not afford to ever have ridden the rails of the past - Also few Chinese are aware of the fact that rented and paid Chinese labors were used by the Central Pacific Railroad to help construct the transcontinental railroad. Thousands of Irish, German AND American laborers also died building the Pacific railroad. The truth is, the Chinese government and Chinese investors didn't have an interest in including the park Railroad in the opening group of attractions - although various versions were considered. Too bad, as this park is very large and will require a great deal of walking. This decision was not unlike the Oriental Land Company declining on a PeopleMover for their Tomorrowland at Tokyo Disneyland.

Main Street. Early on it was decided to make this a unique area of the park--First a grand glass covered shopping arcade “Welcome Court” was designed—using many facades from WDW’s Main Street very similar to World Bazaar at Tokyo Disneyland and many new designs that were rather Palladian -Venetian style. As the design process took place, the glass covered atrium (like World Bazaar of Tokyo Disneyland) was discarded and INTERNATIONAL STREET was designed--various blocks represented different areas of the world--there was a French area, an Italian area, a London area and a Moroccan area and even a US area--towards the end segueing into Adventureland--with an entire New Orleans section located were Plaza Inn is in other parks featuring Tiana's Showboat restaurant--this area went into very detailed design phase including elaborate models. Eventually it was felt the main Disney Classic characters needed a stronger presence in the park -then came the concept of Mickey's Main Street--this design literally was a combination of Buena Vista Street facades, Main Street USA (Disneyland type) facades and Toon Town. Eventually this concept has evevolved into Mickey Avenue--and features a more specially designed Main Street USA/Toon Town hybrid.

Frontierland/ Westernland was too designed and there is space for its potential addition at another time, but probably smaller than what was originally proposed. Shanghai's Frontierland did however do away with any kind of representation of a Cavalry Fort or stocades--the lands entrance was to be a river way spanned by a wooden bridge with a large natural arch rock formation framing the entryway. One thing is that since a full main Street USA was not included, Frontierland in Shanghai was designed with three full blocks of Old West false front structures—creating a complete town. The north corner included the Big Thunder Mining load Buildings and a Riverboat landing (With a Molly Brown type Riverboat) The Rivers of the Far West is smaller here, and the central Island -NATIVE ISLAND was designed to be reached buy guests thru two tunnels that went under the river. The island had caves and trails as well as an Indian Village where American Indian type shows would be performed. Frontierland/Westernland just didn’t make it into the opening day offerings budget--but maybe another time.

Also Shanghai Disneyland will be very expensive--and NOT for the common visitor--only the elite and wealthy. There will be areas outside the magic kingdom that will allow the general guest entertainment--the majority of whom will not be able to afford a visit into the Magic Kingdom.

Anonymous said...

Yes...many nationalites dies building the railroad

The majority who are outside looking in is what these talking heads always talk about being "the blossiming middle class" in China.

Complete nonsense.

Walt was as non-communist to the nth degree.

And the thought of a "Disney" park in a communist country is so absurd it is laughable.

Chaddy said...

This isn't a political blog, but to the commentor above I would like to say that for a communist country, China is extremely capitalist. Corporations dominate their landscape, like much of America and the west. The difference is just that the Chinese government also invests heavily in many of these corporations (even running many of them). If communism to you means income and wealth redestribution, then China is far from communist, as so many, many of it's people live in dire poverty. Whereas a great deal of wealth resides in the hands of the country's elite. (kinda like the US) It is the shear number of the growing middle-class of China that impresses so many around the world with China's potential.. I think it is that group that the WDC has in mind for it's expansion into China. And who are we to say they dont deserve the Disney magic on their shores because their government isn't one we agree with?

Anonymous said...

this has been a very interesting blog. I initial thought that the lack of a main stret and frontierland was to prevent the park having too much of an american theme. however the comment above by the person above who has worked on the parks design is fascinating. it is a shame disney does not make more of this info more available.

i love frontierland but i can see why is doesnt have to go into stage one. althought the mark should have a big family friendly mine train type ride. I do not like the covered roof of tokyos main street area at all it spoils the views and looks like a shopping mall. the paris design is far more elegant and the covered back street areas are very practical. I am very much looking forward to shanghai and i think it is good that each park should be slightly differnt. i hope it has the stype of paris with its landscpaing and beauty. however i hope they use modern ride systems and a good number of atttractions. the dark rides of paris are a lost opitunity and should seem like cheap ghost train like rides. also the adventureland frontierland area is dreadfully underdeveloped.
the main thing is to have quality.
i sm very glad that the castle will be large. th hong kong one is dreadful. the castle should be large enought to explore inside.
luke j

Marco Antonio Garcia said...

The HK castle is an exact copy of Anaheim's castle and is far from dreadful, it's small, but it's a beautiful castle.

I agree with you though that the covered looks of Tokyo Main Street don't look nice and that DLP Main Street is much more beautiful and elegant, but I completely disagree about the classic dark rides, I think that they are charming, beautiful classic Disney rides, but I must agree that they are already a little outdated, but not in a bad way.

Frontierland and Adventureland are underdeveloped in every park (I would exclude only Disneyland's Adventureland that has Indiana Jones to anchor it) and need new E-Ticket attractions urgently! I love the Frontierland theme though.

But of course, all in all, quality should always be the main thing in every Disney Park.

About avoiding American themes, I think that it's something impossible in a Disney Park. To begin with, there is nothing more American than Mickey and his gang; you don't need a Frontierland or a Main Street to evoke the USA in the minds of Chinese people.

Anonymous said...

i should have said HK castle is a dreadful shame of an oppitunity and not that it looks dreadful. the original in california is fantastic but in HK with modern technology it should have been bigger and better.
in europe we have loads of castles and i visit them a lot, the HK type castle is just too small. HK is also surrounded by mountains making it look even smaller.
With univeral having hogwarts in florida and coming soon to asia i just feel these will be more impressive to look at.

as for the dark rides in fantasyland i feel that big disney fans like those who come on blogs like this will see the charm in these rides but for most people they will just look dated. i am so glad they are updating snow white to a mine train and the new L mermaid rides look wonderful and are truely charming. i think we all want disney to be the best it can be.
luke j

Tom said...

Very interesting article!

I think for us, fans, it's great to have a completely "new" park. I love the idea of a Tron coaster instead of Space Mountain, a Splash Pirates and a new take on Main Straat, USA. I think if they do it with the right amount of money and WDI's love and care, it will be an amazing experience... I just hope the park will have slightly more attractions than HKDL.

It's interesting the writer talks about Big Thunder again, so Grizzly Gulch stays exclusive for Hong Kong I guess?

Very interesting, only Toy Story Land is the thing I really don't get... I like it in Paris, but as an addition to a second park, not as land in a Disneyland. Oh well, let's see what the future will bring.

chris212 said...

Instead of the traditional American 19th century locomotive, build a whimsical, larger version of the Casey Jr. Circus Train encircling the park; not necessarily with the same theme, but in keeping with the whimsical, cartoonish design.

Marco Antonio Garcia said...

I agree that copying Anaheim's castle was a lost opportunity, that they should have built something new like they did in Paris, but I think that copying Florida's castle in Tokyo was also a lost opportunity.

About the Fantasyland dark rides I only partially agree. Don't forget that Peter Pan's flight has always one of the biggest lines in every Magic Kingdom, and Alice, Mr. Toad and even Pinocchio have usually very big lines in Disneyland. Also, I've been to Disneyland with people that had never been to a Disney Park before and they all loved Peter Pan's flight. But I think anyway that they should update those dark rides with better Animatronics, effects, and even sceneries in some cases, always keeping their theme and "essence" though.

On second thought, I think that Adventureland's are not so underdevoped because they have the Pirates attraction, but Frontierland's definitely are underdeveloped and need a big E-Ticket urgently.

I don't think that a cartoonish train circling the park would be nice, for me it would be too infantile, too cartoonish, even for a Disney Park. ToonTown is nice where it is, as a nicely themed area for smaller children (that has a good Roger Rabbit attraction for every age), but I wouldn't like it to circle the whole park.

Finally, to the person that said that China growth is based on making cheap plastic, don't forget that Japan was like that in the 1950's, but made the transition to quality, high technology goods, that China is beggining to make.

Xavier said...

As for the choice of rides I would add another point. IMHO Disney have shown a trend in the last few year to avoid any operationnal hazard. i.e. they favor electric/computer run attractions. Any other kind of rides disappear gradualy. No train & no frontierland means no steam machine. Or look at what happen or the future of the submarines, keelboat, indian canoes, tom sawyer rafts at other disney parks...
There is several reason : bigger capacities, legal liability, streamlined operation, less need for qualifyed CM...
Disney realy is longing for all rides to be in a box. That's pretty clear when you look at the recent parks (DCA, WDS & HK). So we are losing the "natural" part of the Disney experience...

Xavier said...

As for the choice of rides I would add another point. IMHO Disney have shown a trend in the last few year to avoid any operationnal hazard. i.e. they favor electric/computer run attractions. Any other kind of rides disappear gradualy. No train & no frontierland means no steam machine. Or look at what happen or the future of the submarines, keelboat, indian canoes, tom sawyer rafts at other disney parks...
There is several reason : bigger capacities, legal liability, streamlined operation, less need for qualifyed CM...
Disney realy is longing for all rides to be in a box. That's pretty clear when you look at the recent parks (DCA, WDS & HK). So we are losing the "natural" part of the Disney experience...