prince caspian’s stone table

Originally uploaded by jkenning

I was never able to visit Disneyworld as a child, but I’ve enjoyed my two trips there as an adult immensely. It’s been almost three months since my most recent trip there, in which I was able to visit almost all of the parks, including Disney’s Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot Center, and the Hollywood Studios. I had a great time at every one, even the Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, which I’d already had a chance to visit before and hadn’t expected to be very surprised by on another visit.

At the Magic Kingdom, we took advantage of the surprisingly short lines at Pirates of the Caribbean to ride it four or five times and made sure to take the plunge on Splash Mountain once again. But most of the attractions we visited were new to me: the Hall of Presidents (thankfully, no tea partiers or dittoheads in attendence to shout at robo-Obama/Robama), the jungle cruise (pretty lame, although our “tour guide” was a riot), and the Mickey’s PhilharMagic “4-D movie” (pretty good for what could have been a headache-inducing nightmare) among them. At the Hollywood Studios (formerly Disney-MGM Studios) we passed up most of the attractions that we’d seen the year before, including the “Extreme Stunt Show,” the Muppets 3-D movie, and the Tower of Terror. We relaxed in the “Animation Courtyard,” browsing Disney memorabilia, taking drawing lessons (my sketch of Stitch from the year before was drenched with Coca-Cola hours after I finished it, but my drawing of Eeyore from this trip made it home safely to my refrigerator door), and learning all about the history of Disney, which was much more interesting and inspiring than I’d ever imagined it could be. We rode the Aerosmith “Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster” (yikes) and the Great Movie Ride (yawn), and stumbled upon another attraction that we’d passed up on our last visit: “Journey Into Narnia: Prince Caspian” looked promising enough. I like the Narnia movies. With the help of a little Disney magic, how could this not be another winner?

I’ll abstain from writing an extraneous or overly dramatic retelling of our experience at Journey Into Narnia. If you want to experience it yourself, read the comments here or just watch this video while standing in a dark room. To get to the point (and omit about 1,200 words from my original post), this was an embarrassingly underwhelming waste of time and a stain on our otherwise wonderful vacation memories. It’s also likely on its way out, with the latest Narnia movie (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, set for release this December) being the first of the series that Disney won’t be distributing. So with this space being due for a new tenant, what’s Disney’s next move?

In a quiet corner of the park (across from a giant Coca Cola bottle that periodically sprayed water all over the sidewalk) I spotted a billboard advertising the upcoming DVD release for Ponyo. In a weekend where we took in movie-themed rides and shows and were exposed to hundreds of cross-promoted properties and products, this seemed to be the only sign of Disney’s hand in distributing the works of Hayao Miyazaki in America (and possibly the rest of the English-speaking market worldwide). From the success of Spirited Away to the more recent release of Ponyo, Disney’s partnership with Studio Ghibli has been mutually beneficial, but probably hasn’t reached its full potential. What could help expand the reach of these films in America beyond the relative commercial ghettos of the anime and “art house” crowd?

Just an idea: why not transform this soon-to-be vacant unit into a Miyazaki installation/exhibit/attraction? Spotlight Disney’s hand in helping bring his works to a bigger audience, as well as the company’s influence on worldwide animation. Borrow some ideas from the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo. Sell merchandise. Basically, help make Miyazaki’s films part of the larger Disney experience, and not just a strange sideline that has no place next to Mickey and Minnie (or such classics as, um… Eddie Murphy’s The Haunted Mansion). Of course, no family would go out of their way to visit Disneyworld just to see such an attraction, but that’s missing the point. There are lots of attractions at Disney (the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse, “Stitch’s Great Escape!,” “Journey Into Imagination,” Power Rangers street performances) that families either happen upon or visit on a whim, experience together, and go on to remember as part of their shared Disney experience, not as a some kind of lower-tier, lesser-promoted waste of time.

Besides, if there’s room for Disney to take up park space to promote trashy ABC sitcoms (now owned by Disney) and even “American Idol” (not in any way affiliated with Disney, as far as I can tell), why not find a tiny way to promote their partnership with Miyazaki in the same way? No, this will not cannibalize Disney’s audience for their own features, just help them sell more DVDs and maybe even turn their overseas partnership from John Lasseter’s critically-successful pet project into something a little more lucrative. Over 17.2 million people visited Disneyworld last year. That’s a lot of missed opportunities for Disney to show off (and ultimately help mainstream) one of their most exciting but still misunderstood properties.

At the very least, phase in such an attraction at the Japan pavilion at Epcot Center. It’s almost surprising that Disney hasn’t tried such a thing. I’m not alone in this.