How Would a Second Art of Animation Resort be Themed?
When the Art of Animation resort opened on property at Walt Disney World in 2012, it was as a variation on what it had originally been planned to be. If you look at a map of the resort and one of the Pop Century resort across Hourglass Lake, you’ll see how similar the two resort layouts are. There’s a reason for that. The basic buildings of the two resorts were built around the same time. But due to a downturn in tourism after the attacks of September 11th 2001, building on the second half of the Pop Century resort came to a halt. Now there appears to be a possibility that the shoe may be on the other foot.
In 2010 Disney returned to work on the previously abandoned resort and decided to not go forward with what had been planned as a “Classic Years” partner to Pop Century, going further back than the 1950s, which is where that resort picks up before carrying on to the 1990s. Instead, they created what we now know as Disney’s Art of Animation resort.
The resort is separated into four different sections which are themed after specific animated films from Disney’s filmography. These include: Cars, The Lion King, Finding Nemo, and The Little Mermaid.
When these films were announced as the focus of the resort, I was initially a little confused. As a longtime fan of animation, and someone who did a lot of cartoon drawing throughout my preteen and early teen years, this didn’t seem to me to be a lineup of films that embodied the greatness of the actual ART of animation. The Lion King stands alone as a really good choice if this is your primary concern.
The resort as a whole does not dodge its title, featuring many themed decorations throughout which emphasize the artistic process that goes into creating animated films. This includes many examples of reproduced pencil drawings both dominating the resort’s central “Animation Hall,” which is the building where guests check in, eat at a food court, and enjoy a variety of other services and with oversized sketch pads leaning up on the ends of many of the other buildings as well. The resort’s primary souvenir shop is called the “Ink & Paint Shop” and is decorated with oversized bottles of paint mix.
But obviously, the higher-ups at Disney wanted their new resort to feature themes that would be most appealing to the most families. And with this as their goal, I have to admit that they did a great job for a few reasons.
1) Each of the featured movies is indeed very popular.
2) Both The Little Mermaid and Finding Nemo are perfect choices in allowing the designers of the resort to integrate them with the necessary swimming pools.
3) While Cars might appeal more to families with little boys, the same could be true of The Little Mermaid and families with little girls. Meanwhile the other two seem a little more neutral.
Still, I can’t help but feel like these aren’t the ideal representatives if you’re focusing on the quality of the actual animation in the films.
So when I heard a rumor that in the long-term, Pop Century might be transformed into a second Art of Animation style resort (complete with the very profitable family suites) I naturally saw it as a chance for Disney to fix this a little. The idea makes sense beyond making the resort more profitable, in that the nostalgia attached to Pop Century undeniably has an eventual expiration date. Most young families are led nowadays by parents who grew up in the 80s or 90s, and that really only incorporates one quarter of the resort. Their children aren’t very likely to share their interest in pop culture from these decades, much less decades from before their parents were born.
What I want to do is to make some suggestions for four Disney films with great animation which might still be appealing to guests for this new version of the Art of Animation resort. I have no idea if this rumor will actually pan out, but there’s no harm in thinking “what if?”
Obviously, Disney animation goes way back to the 1920s, so there’s a lot of material to pick from. Some of the movies feature truly beautiful animation, while others – – less so…
As my pal Lebeau pointed out, if we focus only on the movies with the absolute best animation, there’s a good chance those choices won’t be particularly popular with potential guests. Especially if all of those choices come from somewhere between 1937 and 1959. Well, they mostly would…sorry….
I want to try to strike a reasonable balance between my ideal celebration of those hand-drawn masterpieces and the modern animated films which would be more familiar to younger visitors. In hopes of identifying which animated films might be among the most popular I looked up their box office numbers. Obviously, there’s more to it than that, but I figured that would be a good starting place. Here’s what I found initially…
Right. Frozen is #1, just like we’ve been hearing for the last few years. That’s no surprise. What didn’t occur to me until I reached Monsters University down at #8 was that only The Lion King predates the turn of the 21st century. All of the other movies listed here are much more recent…and of course they are. After all, the cost of a movie ticket is much higher in 2017 than it was in the 1940s. What I needed to help balance out this perception a little was a list of the top-grossing Disney animated films with the numbers adjusted for inflation. That would come a lot closer to giving us an idea of how many tickets were sold to see each movie. Here’s what I found…
Notice anything? Frozen isn’t even on this list. Why is Finding Dory there then? Because this list is based on domestic numbers while the other is based on worldwide numbers. That’s not ideal, but it does give us a decent idea of how popular older movies like Snow White and 101 Dalmatians were when they were released. Of course we also have to take into account the additional money many of these movies took in over the years due to a steady program of re-releases. Films like Pinocchio and Fantasia were initially financial failures due, in part, to overseas markets being closed to Disney at the time of their releases because of the ongoing Second World War. With repeated releases, both of these movies found appreciative audiences and have become regarded as classics of the art form.
How do we fairly determine what the best animation is? Well, we can certainly rely a little on some other critical sources, and on how a movie influenced the future of animation. In general, hand-drawn classics such as Bambi, Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Sleeping Beauty are considered among the most beautiful, but films from later eras have also been important and appealing, including 101 Dalmatians, Tangled, Aladdin, and Moana.
The existing Art of Animation resort features two popular films from the era of the Disney Renaissance (1989 & 1994) and two computer animated films made by Pixar (2003 & 2006). While these do stand out as important to the company in some ways, I’d love for this second version to assist in completing a representation of Disney Animation’s history. In addition, the existing Pop Century resort has three significant pools that they’d ideally work into whatever theme they chose. I’ll try to do that too, but the bowling pin-shaped pool in the 1950s section of Pop Century might need to be reshaped.
Can this be done while still including areas based on Disney movies that will entice families to the resort? I’m not sure, but I’m going to give it a try…a little.
Choice 1: Pinocchio (1940)
Is this a movie that is likely to inspire enthusiastic bookings from young families? Maybe not, but it fits so much more of what we’re looking for. The movie is artistically stunning, historically important to the studio, and as you’ll see, there’s no trouble in working a pool area into the theme.
Pinocchio is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful and influential pieces of animation ever put on film. The artists at Walt’s disposal appear to have delighted in posing challenge after challenge for themselves on this project and the results are still extraordinarily impressive.
Check out this scene in which the animators gave us a look at our main character from inside a round fish bowl with the distortion that would naturally occur.
It was the first feature-length Disney film to bring home an Oscar in a competitive category, winning the little golden man for what would turn out to be the company’s theme song to this day, “When You Wish Upon a Star.”
As for my vision of how to make the theme come to life in the context of a value-plus resort area? I’ve got a couple of ideas.
First of all, we handle the needed pool area by making use of a concept for a Disneyland attraction that was never built and simply scaling it back a bit. So instead of sliding out of Monstro the Whale’s mouth in a boat like a flume ride, you would simply use traditional parallel water slides to emerge down into the pool with a satisfying splash. Depending how detailed you wanted to go with the theming, you could include figures of Gepetto and Figaro on their little boat inside the head of Monstro, also making the effort to exit the mouth.
My second idea would perhaps need to be placed on a building facing away from this pool area in order to avoid a clash in scale. It is based on the opening image of Pinocchio and stars perhaps the studio’s most enduring sidekick character, Jiminy Cricket. Just lean that book up against the end of one of the resort buildings and perch Jiminy up top. At night, there’s probably even a decent method for reproducing that spotlight.
And where is Pinocchio himself? I’m leaning toward putting him opposite the Monstro pool at a relatively life-size scale so resort guests could take photos alongside him
Choice 2: Lady & the Tramp (1955) and 101 Dalmatians (1961)
What can I say other than “people like dogs”?
I’m cheating just a little bit here, but I think Disney would appreciate this slightly less expensive idea after the pretty pricey theming I suggested for Pinocchio. After all, they already own several huge figures based on the main dogs from these popular movies both right there at Pop Century and at the All-Star Movies resort. Moving those, while not easy, allows them to create a theme for the one pair of buildings currently at Pop Century with no pool.
The corridor between the two buildings could offer a unique park/walking area melding the turn-of the century American setting of Lady & the Tramp with an early 60s era London of 101 Dalmatians. The facades of the two buildings would also be unique from one another, reflecting their contrasting artistic styles, with one featuring the lush, warm, Victorian aesthetic of Claude Coats’ work and the other reproducing the more modern layered colors and lines look that Ken Anderson created for the 1961 film.
Both movies are not just popular historically, but also have special places in the development of animation at the studio. Lady & the Tramp was the first animated Disney film to make use of the super wide-screen aspect ratio of CinemaScope. The change was made in the middle of production and required the animators to significantly adjust how they planned and populated scenes, but the final product is one of the studio’s most appealing and underrated visual experiences.
Just six years later, Disney made the change to primarily using xerography for 101 Dalmatians, a move which made the process of animation less expensive and allowed for much quicker production of all of those spots on those dogs. While some fans of animation do not prefer the look of xerography, it does maintain visual evidence of the talent of the artists drawing the characters and its lower cost may have actually saved the animation department at Disney.
Choice 3: Tangled (2010)
How popular is Tangled really? Well, that’s kind of hard to say. It was just the fifth highest grossing animated film of 2010. Of course, that was a pretty big year for animation, because it was still the tenth highest grossing film of the year overall.
Although it continues to reside in the shadow of the mega-hit Frozen, it appears to have remained popular enough to motivate Disney to include it at a steady rate in the parks. In addition to meet and greets with Rapunzel and a dedicated float for the movie in the Magic Kingdom’s daytime parade, perhaps the most highly themed restrooms in all of Walt Disney World were created based on the movie. The gorgeously appointed rest area features charging stations, a hide and seek game with Rapunzel’s pet chameleon Pascal, and has even spawned a popular photo opportunity with one of the film’s floating lanterns.
More significantly, Tangled marks a big leap forward in the improvement of computer generated animation to more closely match the charm and warmth of traditional hand drawn work. The project’s original director, Glen Keane, led a seminar with this specific focus, demanding that the computer imaging program being used be made to “bend its knee to the artist.” Honestly, the idea that he had to argue for such a result seems extraordinary, but the results can’t be argued with.
New programs were created over the course of several years, and many many man hours, resulting in a huge $260 million production budget. While that amount technically gets counted against Tangled’s financials, every Disney animated film produced since it has benefitted from the advances made possible because of Keane’s vision.
So, how do we take the gorgeous Rococo-style visuals of Tangled and apply it to a new Art of Animation resort area? Well, I’m going to suggest something a little more two-dimensional than in most of the rest of the resort. If you look at the way two of Pop Century’s building areas are grouped, you’ll see that they open from one end and feature the broad side of one of the buildings at the other end, with the pool located between. I’m going to emphasize this visual vantage point, by having the large side of that far building painted as a mural of the island kingdom of Corona.
The pool will include a centrally placed model of the boat Rapunzel and Flynn inhabit during the high point musical number “I See the Light.” By day, this feature will be de-emphasized due to generalized light, but at night, lighting can be used to call attention to it. Additional lights will also be used in the building with the mural to suggest the floating lanterns.
Choice 4: Alice in Wonderland (1951)
After lots of consideration and several changes of mind, I finally landed on a suggestion for a fourth movie for a new version of the Art of Animation. Interestingly enough, it doesn’t actually fulfill many of the requirements I’ve laid out previously.
Walt Disney’s history with Lewis Carroll’s stories featuring Alice goes way back, both in terms of his introduction to them and in terms of his plans for the concept in his work on film. Prior to the existence of the Disney animation studio, Walt made a series of movies mixing a live action young actress with animation called the “Alice comedies.” Mickey Mouse appeared in a 1936 animated short based on Through the Looking Glass, and Alice In Wonderland was identified early on as a target for a full-length animated feature. You can see the book leaning up alongside Peter Pan in the opening scene of Pinocchio. For a variety of reasons, it took until 1951 for the project to come to fruition.
Unfortunately, Disney’s version of Alice In Wonderland was initially a relative failure for the company, and didn’t become widely popular until a re-release in the 1970s after Walt’s death. Despite this later boost in popularity and upward critical reassessment, it’s still not one of the top overall box office earners in the Disney filmography.
While there is at least one very large water-related event in the film, it doesn’t necessarily lend itself to theming of the main resort pool.
I will, however, argue that the artwork in Alice In Wonderland is pretty unique and the film itself was only made possible by Mary Blair’s amazing modern design work.
My primary reason for selecting this movie over some of the other possible options relates to the sheer volume of iconic, colorful, and fun characters from it who should make for lively decoration of its resort area. The Cheshire Cat, the Caterpillar, Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum, the Mad Hatter and March Hare, the White Rabbit, the Dodo, and others can easily populate the central corridor of the resort.
One feature that can be imagined would appear at the pre-existing children’s pool in the central area of the Pop Century resort. It is relatively small and shallow and perfectly circular. That reminds me of the caucus race, and by simply placing the Dodo on his pedestal in the middle, you have taken advantage of this pool in making the theme work. The whimsical flower-shaped “Hippy-Dippy” pool might fit in well enough with only mild aesthetic adjustments.
Disney as a company initially resisted the popularity of Alice In Wonderland that cropped up on our nation’s campuses based on its perceived connection with drug culture. To my mind, the only thing they’d have to do in this case is leave the hookah out of any depiction of the Caterpillar.
What do you think?
So those are the suggestions I’d make today if someone asked me about changing Pop Century into a second Art of Animation resort in the model of the first. Are the films I suggested the absolute best in terms of animation? Not entirely. Movies such as Bambi, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White are perhaps more artistically excellent than most of these. I only left out Fantasia because it is already pretty well depicted at the All-Star Movies resort.
But, if you consider the films I did suggest, they do represent the history of feature-length Disney animation pretty well when taken in concert with the first Art of Animation resort. Each decade from the 1940s (Pinocchio) until the current decade (Tangled) except the 1970s is included.
Are there any Disney animated films you wish I had included? Do you have any design ideas for them? I’d love to hear your own suggestions.
Posted on May 8, 2017, in Movies, theme parks, travel, Walt Disney World and tagged 101 Dalmatians, Alice in Wonderland, Art of Animation Resort, Lady and the Tramp, Pinocchio, Pop Century resort, pop century resort map, tangled. Bookmark the permalink. 28 Comments.