After the recent passing of Robin Williams, I have seen several Facebook posts, Twitter feeds and blogs calling for a return of the attractions he starred in at Walt Disney World. While I was personally a huge fan of Robin, this makes no sense in the reality of operations.
In my humble opinion, Timekeeper was one of the funniest attractions to ever hit Walt Disney World. The soundtrack alone is, hands down, the best score I have ever heard on any attraction anywhere in the world. However, bringing this back would cost an absolute ton of money. That theater was already gutted once to bring in the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor and to simply rip that out again to put the same attraction back in couldn’t possibly justify the cost.
For starters, as much as I and many Disney fans loved the Timekeeper, it never packed in the crowds. Sure, on extremely busy days when Magic Kingdom was filled to capacity, the theater may have been full a handful of times. But that’s the exception, not the rule. Monsters Inc., however, is one of Disney/Pixar’s biggest franchises earning over half a billion at the box office. Regardless of what you personally think of MILF, the theater is often filled and that’s because guests can identify with those characters. Branded attractions will, in this day and age, do better than stories told from scratch.
The reason many fans feel this way is because they brought back Captain EO to 3D theaters at Epcot, Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris after the passing of Michael Jackson. Keep in mind, this wasn’t just to honor Michael, it was also a business decision. For months after his passing, fans were eating up any spoonful’s of nostalgia they could between the “This Is It” documentary that was released in theaters to the “Immortal” tour put on by Cirque Du Soliel. Fans were spending money on Michael Jackson branded experiences and thus, Disney hoped they would flock to Disney to see this one-of-a-kind film on the big screen again. Granted, Disney had to get permission and set up a payment schedule to the Jackson estate in order to get the rights to use this again in the theme parks. Also, it was no coincidence that Captain EO merchandise was put back into production and was available by the day it returned back to Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
Sadly, the Captain EO craze was never that big of a boost to the bottom line for Disney Parks. The initial burst of excitement wore off quickly and within a few weeks, the theaters that previously were showing Honey, I Shrunk the Audience returned to half full capacity at best. A few weeks after that, EO merchandise was pulled from the shelf because it just wasn’t selling as much as Disney (or the Jackson estate) had hoped. Sure, as of now EO is still playing in Disney Parks in the United States, but more often than not, the theater maybe reaches a third capacity at best.
Which leaves us to “Back to Neverland.” Yes, it’s easily considered a “classic” and even though the animation process has changed since the film was produced in 1989, it still holds up as a great tribute to what Disney animation is capable of and just how entertaining Robin could be. However, it’s gotta go somewhere. In theory, it could be placed in the “Drawn to Animation” theater, which currently houses an interactive show about how Disney characters are developed starring Mushu from “Mulan.”
However, this would cost thousands of dollars to not only retrofit the theater and add a new full-sized movie screen and projector to the room. In addition, most likely Disney would have to negotiate with Williams’ estate for the rights to use his likeness in the parks again and develop an appropriate pay schedule. Getting a return on investment for this seems extremely slim as the amount of people who would visit Walt Disney World just for a ten minute film are few and far between and the odds of them buying merchandise created just for this come back would be even smaller.
For better or worse, when you do a project like this at Disney or any major theme park these days, you need to find a way to justify the cost. Personally, I don’t see how “Back to Neverland” could possibly be worth the cost of putting it back in the theater again, but crazier things have happened. Your thoughts?