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!
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.
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