Would Walt Disney be Happy with his Legacy?

Magical? Or just creepy.

Magical? Or just creepy.

Walt Disney may have been a controversial man but there’s no denying that he was a visionary. From the birth of his game-changing animation studios to his revolutionary theme park in California, Disney created a company that took chances on creativity with designs on making the world a more entertaining place to live.

With his passing, Disney’s investors had to make decisions without their grand advisor at the helm. Disney’s company was by now now a stock market corporation with many employees dependent on its survival. The board had an obligation to make the right fiscal decisions and endeavors to keep the young empire strong. So the question today is, would Walt Disney be happy with his legacy?

Disney’s dream and final project was Disney World in Orlando, Florida – but not exactly the Disney World we know today. Yes, he wanted to build at a location with more land so he could expand his vision for Disneyland and keep out the tacky-looking commerce that had sprung up in Anaheim – however his big Orlando project would be an “experimental prototype community of tomorrow,” or “EPCOT.” Disney is quoted as saying, “EPCOT will take its cue from the new ideas and new technologies that are emerging from the forefront of American industry. It will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed. It will always be showcasing and testing and demonstrating new materials and new systems.”

As we are well aware today, this is not exactly how Disney World in Orlando turned out. The Disney corporation panicked when Walt passed, and instead built a nearly identical version of Disneyland on their new property in Florida. Considering the success of Disneyland in California, it certainly made logical sense to re-create it on the other side of the country. They did follow this up with another theme park called EPCOT, however the name was really the only piece of Disney’s legacy that stuck. The theme park instead became a catch-all for the latest ideas that were being thrown around by the Disney board, namely a permanent World’s Fair, and a land dedicated to the celebration of international culture and cooperation. The legend of EPCOT says that after designing both of these ideas, a Disney Engineer (now called “Imagineers”) pushed the two designs together which instantly created today’s EPCOT – made up of a “Future World” with pavilions dedicated to science and technology, and a “World Showcase” with pavilions dedicated to foreign countries.

Walt Disney's original plans for EPCOT. Way to go, Disney board.

Walt Disney's original plans for EPCOT. Way to go, Disney board.

This set the tone for the entire area. Instead of becoming a pride land for innovation and industry, Disney World (and hence most of greater Orlando) became grounds for theme parks, theme parks, and more theme parks. Disney World’s next two theme parks were sparked out of little more than corporate competition. When Disney’s board caught wind of Universal’s plans to create a Hollywood theme park down the street from their Orlando properties, they rushed to work on a new Hollywood theme park of their own – Disney’s MGM Studios (today called Disney’s Hollywood Studios) – only to finish a year earlier than Universal with a weak and far less significant theme park. Upon discovering that many Disney guests were leaving Disney World during their vacation to visit Busch Gardens in Tampa Bay, Disney decided it was time for a fourth theme park – today’s Animal Kingdom. Trying this time to do it the way Disney might have, this park reflects the Magic Kingdom’s themed lands, its name, and even its architecture (a circular theme park with a central landmark).

So what would Disney think of his empire today? The Magic Kingdom in Orlando, being a vaster version of his Disneyland in California, would probably sit well with him – especially considering the Disney corporation owns all the surrounding land today. We can assume he’d be disappointed that his vision for EPCOT took an obtuse turn without his presence, however Disney himself was quite fond of the World’s Fair and was applauded for his entry – the Carousel of Progress (re-created and still standing today at the Magic Kingdom in Orlando). The Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom theme parks are kind of a crap-shoot. They weren’t created out of a desire to better the world by any means, however they are certainly entertaining. And finally, Disneyland in California – the last great endeavor Disney oversaw to completion – still stands today and remains popular throughout the generations. Of course we can’t really know how Disney would feel about his legacy – who can speak for the man himself? But we do know that he realized and inspired achievements that are still celebrated today, so hopefully he wouldn’t be too upset with that.

Please share your thoughts on this topic. Do you think Disney would be happy that his life’s worked sparked an empire or disappointed by its corporate feel? Do you think he’d change the infamously negative way his company treats its employees or applaud its resourcefulness? Would he prefer The Little Mermaid or Finding Nemo?

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13 comments to Would Walt Disney be Happy with his Legacy?

  • Ralph

    If Walt came back today he would violently and kick some major nuclear butt… right to the unemployment line, beginning with Bob Iger, for what they’ve done to Walt’s work!!! For starters:

    1. They’re slowly incorporating some very bad morals into their newer movies. That had been grounds for immediate firing in the past. Anyone tolerating that at Disney today ought to be ashamed… as well as fired immediately and thrown out the front door!!!

    2. They replaced the ride that represented perhaps Walt’s most prized film with something that is technically better but which completely lost the story!!! Could it be a religious thing? Just look at Disney’s management and look at the Christian imagery in Snow White. So what did they do? They took out a ride that was a precious work of art (i.e. Snow White’s Scary Adventures) and replaced it with more bells and whistles but ROBBED us of the story! And they they LIED to us to boot saying that it was the story told from the Dwarf’s perspective when it’s really NO STORY AT ALL!!! Walt was a Christian. Today’s management is hostile to Christianity for various reasons… and it’s extremely shameful!! Walt would have kicked their butts out the door for that one! How cowardly to wait until Walt and the people around him died to begin dismantling the work that he most favored!

    3. The MK plaza-hub. That area in front of the castle was the crown jewels of WDW. Their taking down the small MS themed buildings to replace them with castle towers was shear INCOMPETENCE!!!! They’ve ruined the forced perspective! Again, Walt would have kicked their butts out the front door. And then they demolished the mote to create more seating for a laser show! Walt would need new shoes for all the butt kicking that would be necessary? How did the Disney company end up staffed with so many idiots?!?! They must hire their friends I guess!!

    4. Avatar Land. It has absolutely nothing to do with the Disney brand. Again… a butt kicking would ensue!!

    5. Star Wars land behind Frontier Land at Disneyland, CA. For Chr…sake! Walt didn’t even want a Frontierland cowboy to be seen in Tomorrowland, let alone a whole land in a part of the park that it has nothing to do with! This time the butt kicking would result in a moonshot! (Perhaps “Star Wars” wouldn’t inappropriately themed after all!)

    I could go on an on. But in summary, the current Disney management is taking advantage of the fact that there are some many millions more people in America than when Walt was here that they could screw it up a hundred times more and people would still come… because they’re board and they need something to do. But boy would I love to see what would happen if Walt came back!!!

  • Jerald pridmore

    I would have to agree with some of the postings and not with others. I think he would be amazed at how his company has done, but disappointed at others. Like many entertainment places, Disney has priced items so high that most small American family’s will probably never get to experience Disney parks. They have made deals with many foreign country’s travel groups to cut cost for foreigners if they pack planes to visit. They forgot one thing and hat is there own back yard. Now you can’t count locals as they live right here And travel isn’t a problem, but if you ask 1 in 20 Americans in outplaying states you will probably get 5-9 that have been here 1 time. Don’t get me wrong it takes money to bring the experience Disney parks brings which is unparalleled to any other company, but you can achieve more if you make it affordable to all. I think Walt would work on that. The boards greed would truly bother him. But what is created is to good for words to describe.

  • Luis

    Today’s Disney management appears successful because they are making more money. But that is only because of the many more people in America than ever before and because of the Disney legacy that they’re living off of. If these same people were trying to build the company from nothing, as Walt did years ago, they would fail miserably because, quite frankly, they stink.

  • Margo

    I think walt will be proud. People can complain about prices and think the company is evil. But no one ever thinks what would happen of they were cheaper? If the ticket prices would be cheaper NO ONE WOULD BE HAPPY. Lines will be 5 hours long. It will he hard to get to one place to another. The prices have to be high in order to control the crowd. I think the idea of a payment plan for annual passports is stupid. Its not fair that locals are the majority because people around the world wont be able to create those magical memories. Because people out there only get to visit once in their lifetime. Not fair that locals get payment plans and discounts.

  • Tom

    I am not sure Walt Disney would approve of all of it. The creativity and ingenuity of some of the attractions, yes. The admission costs, probably not. Walt was a family man. He loved kids. My guess is he would have been disappointed to see many families can no longer afford to visit these theme parks because of the high admission cost. Ballgames and theme parks really have become so expensive. I don’t think Disney was intending to price families out of his theme parks.

  • wayne

    Well. Here we go again. Less then a year after my last post. Parking is up again. Now $17.00, as of last month. Admission just raised, up to $105.00 a day. And I don’t understand why Magic Kingdom would be priced differently from the other Parks.
    But wait. That’s not all. They did away with the no expiration tickets. It was not on the news like the price increase, that you can’t do much about, after the fact anyway. But thanks to DW Tickets, that I have used for years, sent me an email, saying I can still get from them, and without the increase, until March 2nd. So I bought two. 10 day, no expiration tickets. One for myself, and one for my friend. Just under $1500.00 ( $75.00 a day ) It’s all because of the greedy board of Disney. I would love to boycott them, for a year or so, until they get the message. I would. If only others would do the same. And After complaining like me. But without hundreds of people doing that, nothing will change. You have to hit them in the pocket book. as I said. I love Disney. But hate the prices.

  • wayne

    Walt would be proud of most of it, I think.
    Except, how greedy the board is, & ripping us off. Every time you turn around. And it get worse almost every year. or so. I am 59 years old, and have been going to Disney World. for over twenty years. almost all the time with my friend and his wife. Twice a year. It starts with the $14.00 parking. The admission. Even the 10 day park hopper, no expiration. the park food. And The hotel rooms. I stay in Kissimmee, for a third of the cost or less. I don’t know how a couple can bring their children there without going broke. I tell my friends, and other people. I would bet, Walt would not approve of that much, of profit, at the cost to it’s visitors like me. And the many of Thousands and Thousands of others.

    I love Disney World. But hate the prices.

    Wayne,

  • Perry

    Disney is unmatched by any other entertainment group in the world! This is because Walts unique style of managing people has never been duplicated. If you read interviews with Disney employees that worked for Walt you will find one thing in common. They all say that Walt had a way of getting the best out of his employees. But not by threatening them or making them feel inadequate. But instead by inspiring them to achieve more than they thought they could. When he died, I believe part of that inspiration died with him. I believe Walt would be disappointed with Epcot. Simply because they strayed so far from his original vision. I believe Disney World would have been a beacon for the world, showing them the path to a prosperous future if he had been around to see it to fruition. I truly wish I could see what he would have accomplished with even ten more years of life!

  • Donna

    After reading the history of Walt Disney and personally having visited Disney World and a Disney Cruise…I truely think Walt Disney would have been very proud….it is that simple.

  • Angie

    Walt would be proud with SOME things, but would never have allowed the original Universe of Energy to be removed, or several other classic attractions for that matter.

  • Chris

    No, i believe his intension was to help American Industries to challenge themselves with competition and ingenuity. Our lack of knowledge fails to see his real contribution to planned living today.Gated communities are possible because he saw advantages to this concept.h The concept of the electric wedway people mover was and is great and should have been implemented to the transport system(Look at the gas prices today). Innovations constantly being introduced would have stimulated our economy and continued growth of our housing market.
    So no Walt Disney would not have liked it completely he wanted more and saw what we never could see until now!

  • Jordyn

    Absolutley! Maybe some theme parks were designed with different intentions, but the public didnt know and dont seem to care. Disney World is a world because of all the amazing themeparks, waterparks and fun things to do. If Walt could come back to life, if even for just one day, all he would have to do is stand on MAIN STREET USA smack in the middle and watch. He would watch families walk by and read their expressions and that do it. Every year I go to Main street USA and i just stand in the middle and i observe everyone. It’s something I have done, even as a kid. To see the vast amounts of smiles, jumping around, dancing, hugging and kissing their loved ones… it brings everyone together. I have a strained relationship with my Mom. No matter how much we fight and sometimes stop talking all together, she books a one week trip to disney world once a year. Even if were fighting or not talking the day before, we still go. As soon as we get there, we become best friends. Disney World brings us together. I think Walt knew what power his legacy holds, I think he would be approve alright. He would be crazy not to. Even though some of his ideas didnt work out the way he wanted, he still has something very successful to be proud of. He did, afterall, pass away and no one can ask him what theme park to build next. Maybe behind the scenes of the big COPR arent all that glamorous, but all that matters is that those who pay the money to visit, have an incredible experience, and as far as I know, Disney has a 100% success rate with that.

    Walt would be proud indeed!

  • Charla

    Read my other posts on the article, “Working in Disney World”. In my last post it ties in with the last paragraph you wrote. I am trying to rething things about Disney myself and how Walt would view this world he started in the 50s. Thanks for your article