How important are the official names of Disney’s theme parks? In theory, the title should help to explain what we’ll experience once we’re inside the gates. There’s a limit to how much a few words can really convey, however. The original Disneyland took a known quantity (the Walt Disney name) to help market a physical environment. It was more than just a branding tool, however. The title helped guests understand the theme of this new kind of park. They were entering a world they’d enjoyed through Disney’s films and television series.
The plaque that you see while strolling into Disneyland expands this idea to “the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy”. It’s a brilliant way to summarize what we should expect when we walk into Disneyland. For Walt Disney World, the name indicated that this was a full resort with the blessing of size. It was more than just a land; this was a whole world! Roy Disney added “Walt” to the title as a tribute to his brother after he died, and that made perfect sense. In a certain way, the completed Walt Disney World was a tribute to Walt’s accomplishments. His dream started the ball rolling in Florida, and that continued with Epcot.
What does this have to do with Disney’s Hollywood Studios? Bear with me for a few moments. Epcot sprung from Walt’s ambitious ideas for EPCOT the city, an experimental prototype community of tomorrow. It’s a well-known story, and Sam Gennawey chronicles it wonderfully in his book Walt and the Promise of Progress City. Naming the theme park version EPCOT Center made sense; this place incorporated ideas from Walt’s concept. The name was unfamiliar to the average person, and that added to the idea this was an innovative concept.
This brings me to the Disney/MGM-Studios, which opened in 1989 as Disney World’s third park. It was strange to see another studio in the title of a Disney park. The choice made sense given the other film properties on display in the original park, and the MGM name brought Hollywood muscle. The Great Movie Ride offered only a small collection of Disney movies (though many also weren’t MGM titles), and the park’s spirit covered movies in general. The 2008 change to Disney’s Hollywood Studios conveyed that aura but in a more generic way. It did make it easier for Disney to expand their offerings at the park without any ties to MGM.
A Place to Cinemagine
I’ve mentioned the history because it relates to the current climate for Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It’s not the only Disney park that’s changed its name to indicate a different approach. EPCOT Center became Epcot ’94 during that major transformation and eventually switched to just Epcot. It’s no longer an acronym and works because guests know the park well. The original Disney’s California Adventure Park lost its possessive during its overhaul, which was a strange move. There’s little consistency among Disney’s park names, so there’s no clear precedent.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios is in the middle of a serious transformation; the park will look quite different by the end of 2019. It hasn’t been a studio for a long time, and rumors have persisted of a name change. It seemed like a move to Disney’s (or Disney) Hollywood Adventure was coming for quite a while. This adjustment makes sense because of the lack of production facilities in the park. It’s easy to sell a place of adventure connecting to some of our favorite movies. This isn’t the type of change that helps with a big marketing push, however.
On Episode 147 of The Disney Dish Podcast, Jim Hill and Len Testa discussed a silly name that had emerged from the contenders — Disney Cinemagine Park. This was not just a flimsy rumor. Legitimate sites picked up the story as real, and many jokes emerged about the name. I see what Disney might go for with Cinemagine, but it feels too cute. I loved Cinemagique at Disneyland Paris, but I wouldn’t want that name for the entire park. In fairness, even that title would be an improvement over Cinemagine.
The crazy thing is that Disney may have considered worse options. Guest received surveys in 2017 with options like Disney Kaleidoscope Park, Disney Storyverse Park, and my personal favorite for terribleness — Disney XL Park. I used to work in marketing at a large company, and these are the types of choices we’d throw out in early brainstorming sessions. Any of the survey possibilities (as outlined in this Theme Park Insider article) would cheapen the park. Disney found a way out of this conundrum, however. They punted the discussion for a future time.
The Safest Name
On Wednesday, a Disney Parks Blog article by Jennifer Finkley-Baker released the first concept art for the Alien Swirling Saucers in the upcoming Toy Story Land. It also included a surprising paragraph that clarified the Studios’ name for what a significant time period. Here’s the full text of that explanation from Finkley-Baker’s post:
“In response to questions we have been receiving, we also want to let fans know that the Disney’s Hollywood Studios name will remain the same for the foreseeable future since we are immersing our guests in a place where imagined worlds of Hollywood unfold around them from movies and music, to television and theater.”
The most interesting part of this statement appears in the very first line; Disney rarely uses its official blog to respond to rumors. This point about “responses to questions” shuts down the rumors about Disney Cinemagine Park that were swirling. The Studios’ name might still change, but saying that it will stay for the “foreseeable” future is noteworthy. Calling the park a studio and then mentioning “imagined worlds” makes little sense, but that’s just about the branding. The gist of this message is confirming that a name change is not happening soon.
For pure simplicity, maintaining the status quo makes a lot of sense for Disney. There is considerable activity right now at Disney World, with multiple expansions in the works. Given all the preparations underway behind the scenes for the resort’s 50th anniversary in 2021, why rock the boat? Guests know the current name, so it minimizes confusion for less avid fans. Disney also doesn’t need to change signage, merchandise, web copy, and much more.
It may be logical to stick with Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but it’s still an odd name for the park as it enters a new era. Galaxy’s Edge will be an immersive trip into a believable world of Star Wars, not the studio that provides it. I’m probably over thinking it, but I suspect this issue won’t die with Disney’s latest announcement.
We may not hear much more until after 2019, but we don’t have a clear definition of how long “foreseeable” might be. News changes fast at Disney World, and rumors will probably keep flying in the online community. If nothing else, the statement gives Disney time to consider other names. Disney has a long way to go before topping even the current name, and that’s not a good sign for future progress.
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