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What Would Walt Do?

Jack Spence Masthead


Editorial

I often hear people state “What would Walt do?” when they believe the present leadership of the Disney Company has done something they don't approve of. When I hear this, I think to myself, the man has been dead for 45 years. You've never met him. All you know of Walt is the polished image he and his PR people put out there. How do you know what he'd do?

Walt was always growing and learning. He was always abandoning one idea for another. He was always moving from one project to the next. And he continually changed with the times. We have no way of knowing what he would think today (at the age of 110). And as you'll see later in this article, it can be dangerous to lock ourselves into his “unknown” mindset.

Before I go any further, I want to point out; I'm a big fan of Walt Disney. This man gave me untold hours of joy. When I was a boy, I grew up watching the Mickey Mouse Club, Disneyland, and later, the Wonderful World of Color on TV. I visited Disneyland yearly in my youth and when I turned 18, I got a job there that lasted 9 years. Every time I see the American Adventure, I get goose bumps when I see Walt's picture included with the other famous Americans in the final montage. I'm so happy the Imagineers felt him worthy to be added to this distinguished list. Walt was a genius and an inspiration in many ways.

In no way do I want to detract from all the great things Walt accomplished during his life, but over the years the Disney Company has promoted him to something akin to a demigod. The Disney Company has a marvelous talent of publicizing their successes and brushing their failures under the rug. Because of this, the general public often forgets that Walt was human and made mistakes. And Walt made some decisions that are certainly questionable " decisions that if they were made today, would create an outcry to be heard around the world of Disney. Because of some of his decisions, I'm not sure Walt's “perceived” opinions should necessarily be the litmus test for every project the Company takes on today. By “perceived” I mean, what people “believe” to be Walt's opinion on a particular topic.

First, let me give you just a few examples of some of the questionable choices Walt made at Disneyland.

One of the rides initially planned for Disneyland was to be called “Canal Boats of the World.” Here, guests were to sail past famous landmarks from various countries. However, the cost of building Disneyland skyrocketed and the landmarks were never built due to budget constraints. The boat ride was completed, but not the scenery. Yet, Walt made the decision to use this attraction anyway due to the incomplete nature of Disneyland on opening day. So when Disneyland premiered on July 17, 1955, guests spent ten minutes on this ride sailing past dirt hills and the ride operators remained silent as there was nothing to point out along the way. Even by 1955 standards, this was pretty pathetic and the ride garnered the nickname "The Mud Bank Ride.” After two months of mechanical failures and guest complaints, the ride was closed. It reopened a year later as Storybook Land Canal Boats.


Canal Boats of the World

Storybook Land Canal Boats


As we all know, Walt had a love affair with trains. And of course, Disneyland was going to have two steam trains of its own, one passenger train and one freight train. When Ward Kimball happened upon the construction of the cattle cars, he instructed the workmen to make the openings between slats 12 inches apart, rather than the 4 inches that the plans called for. He knew these larger openings would afford guests better views of Disneyland as the train circled the park.

When Walt caught wind of this, he called Ward on the carpet. Walt told Ward that he had no business changing the plans. Ward then asked Walt, “You want ‘em to see the Park, don't you?” Walt countered with, “I want people to know how it feels to be a cow or a sheep riding in those cars.” Of course, Walt got his way and the slats remained at 4 inches apart. But Walt was dead wrong. People clamored to ride in the passenger train and shunned the freight train. After enough complaints were registered at City Hall, Walt reluctantly had the cattle cars remodeled to provide better views.


Cattle Cars


Walt loved the circus. And he wanted Disneyland to have its own version of the big top to be located on land adjacent to Disneyland for the upcoming Christmas season. His staff pleaded with Walt to reconsider. They argued that circuses are events in their own right. People come to Disneyland to see Disneyland. They're not going to leave the park to walk next door and spend a couple of hours under the big top. Walt wouldn't listen and insisted a circus be created.

On opening day, one calamity after another played out. If something could go wrong, it did. But more than that, the public wasn't interested. Day after day, the seats remained empty. Management adjusted the schedule, ticket prices, and anything else they could think of to lure guests to the Mickey Mouse Club Circus, but nothing worked. This ended up being one of the biggest flops in Disneyland history.


Mickey Mouse Circus Club


In 1959, Disneyland opened the Monorail, the Submarine Voyage, and the Matterhorn. Once again, the project ran out of money and the interior of the Matterhorn was never completed. Riders could easily see steel girders, wooden beams, chicken wire, and plaster whenever their bobsleds were inside the mountain (as could those riding through on the Skyway). This totally ruined the magic of believing you were in Switzerland careening down a real mountain. Although the original plans called for the completion of the interior, Walt did not make this a priority after the attraction opened " he moved on to other projects and completely forgot about the Matterhorn. In fact, the finishing of the Matterhorn interior never occurred during his lifetime. The interior was not completed until 1978 " twelve years after Walt's death. Looking back, it's hard to believe that Walt would leave such an important aspect of a ride incomplete " but he did.


Matterhorn


Walt also made many compromises because of his brother Roy's insistence that they adhere to some sort of a budget. Walt could often strong-arm Roy into doing things his way, but frequently the realities of the real world forced Walt to settle for less than he aspired to. Do you really think he wanted to allow a concessionaire to sell brassieres on Main Street or have the Bathroom of the Future as one of his Tomorrowland attractions? He did so because it was the right business choice at the time and his dreams needed to take a back seat to reality.

Now let me show you what happens when an entire organization starts to ask “What would Walt do?”

Even though Walt Disney Productions went public in 1940, Walt still ruled the company with his foresight and imagination and Roy's financial genius helped him realize his dreams. There were certain Imagineers and executives who could make suggestions to Walt, but it was Walt who ultimately made the final decisions. Walt almost always got his way.

Walt died on December 15, 1966. At that moment, the Company froze in time. Old-timers will tell you that the Company had no direction. Nobody knew what to do next or how to proceed. There were several projects and movies already in the pipeline that contained Walt's inspiration, but once those ran out, what would they do next? As new opportunities came to life, the Imagineers and executives would continually ask themselves and one another, “What would Walt do?” But nobody really had the definitive answer. How could they? Everyone had their own opinion of Walt's way of thinking, but their opinions did not match. This effectively locked the company into gridlock and the mindset of 1966. They forgot that Walt was always growing and changing. In fact, the years between 1967 and 1983 are known as “The Dark Ages” in Disney history.

During “The Dark Ages,” the Company created many forgettable movies and neglected Disneyland to focus on the Magic Kingdom and then Epcot. During this time, the Company became vulnerable to hostile takeovers and in 1984 narrowly fought off an attempt from Saul Steinberg to buy and dismantle the Company. Now I can't say that the “What would Walt do” philosophy was the only reason for the Company's downturn, but it did play a major role in the direction the Company had taken.

In late 1984, Roy E. Disney, son of Roy O. Disney, forced then Disney President Ron Miller out of office and replaced him with Michael Eisner (CEO) and Frank Wells (CFO). One of Michael's first directives was to stop the “What would Walt do” mentality. He forged ahead, making decisions he thought were best for the company and the public, not based on the memories of a leader now gone for 18 years. He knew the Disney Company needed to keep up with the times.


Michael Eisner and Frank Wells


It's easy to second guess Walt. But is this fair? I certainly wouldn't want someone second guessing my thoughts after I die (or even while I'm alive). I think the best we can ever do is agree that Walt tried to bring us quality entertainment. But even at that, we can debate what “quality” is. I recently wrote a blog about the Grand Floridian, the Disney flagship hotel. Many people wrote in telling me that the Grand Floridian is a fantastic resort. But one gentleman wrote in saying that the resort didn't live up to its potential. This individual could easily invoke the “What would Walt do” argument to support his position. In another blog about Golden Oak, one reader wrote in saying that Walt would never approve of this project, while someone else was sure that Walt would love this endeavor.

Personally, I'm disappointed that the new Voyage of the Little Mermaid attraction is using Omnimover technology rather than the more advanced and trackless LPS (Local Positioning System) used on Pooh's Hunny Hunt at Tokyo Disneyland. But I'm not going to say, “Walt would have used the LPS system” because I really don't know what he'd do. After all, this is the same man who left the Matterhorn unfinished.

Most non-smokers are happy with the current smoking policies management has implemented at its parks and resorts. Walt was a longtime, heavy smoker. So how do you think he'd feel if he were told today that he was not allowed to smoke in any of his hotels and he would be relegated to small sections of his parks if he wanted to light up? I don't know. And nobody else does either.

Am I happy with all of the decisions Disney management makes today? Absolutely not. Do I think Disney management has made some colossal mistakes since Walt's death? You bet I do. Do I think that Disney sometimes lives off of its laurels? Yup. But my list of dissatisfactions is probably entirely different than yours. And we could probably both claim that Walt would take our own side of the argument.

Walt made his share of mistakes " just like the management teams that came after him. But Walt's mistakes seem to be forgotten and forgiven, while we seem less willing to forget the mistakes of those who followed.

So what would Walt “think” about his Company if he rose from the dead and viewed it today? Big picture -- I believe he would be astonished to learn there were now eleven theme parks around the world bearing his name and a twelfth under construction. He'd be amazed that his Company has a fleet of four cruise ships. And he'd be surprised to find out that his TV and movie studio is one of the largest and most profitable in the world. I imagine he'd feel that his Company is moving in the right direction. I know that's my opinion.

But maybe he wouldn't. Maybe he'd be ticked off to learn that the city of Epcot was never built. Maybe he never wanted to build another theme park after the Magic Kingdom. Maybe he wanted to focus his attentions on solving urban sprawl. And had he moved in this direction, the resort of Walt Disney World would not be the place we enjoy today. There would be no Epcot, Studio, Animal Kingdom, or parks in Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.

As for the details, I don't know what Walt might think. For all we know, he might hate how the Haunted Mansion, a classic “Disney” attraction, turned out " the first attraction to open without his personal stamp of approval. And he might love “Stitch's Great Escape,” an attraction considered to be a failure by many.

It seems that we only bring Walt's name into the conversation when we believe that current management has blundered. We use Walt's “opinion” as justification that our views are correct and the Imagineers' judgments are wrong. I don't have a problem with people complaining about some perceived “less than stellar” achievement that the Disney Company has created. I do this all the time. I only have a problem with people justifying their opinion with the unknown thoughts of a man who has been dead for 45 years.

In conclusion, I want to say that Walt Disney was a great man. The world is a better place because of his existence. Let us remember all of the marvelous and fantastic contributions he brought us during his lifetime. But let us not second guess what he may or may not have done if he had lived longer. We just don't know. The best we can do is guess, and this really isn't fair to his memory.


Walt Disney



The previous post in this blog was Art of Animation Resort.

The next post in this blog is Backlot Express Restaurant.

Comments (45)

jim:

Wow very insightful. I have caught myself wondering the exact thought. I think it is easy for us to get emotional about Disney and feel like we know just what Walt was thinking. That is really the beauty of the Disney empire it makes people feel like the experience is just for them. Maybe this is why we feel we know what Walt would or would not have done. I personally like the way Disney has gone and have alot of options if I dont perticularly like something.

charissa:

I have to say, that as someone who never experienced WDW until they were an adult with an 8yr old child, I never had the "What would Walt think" moment. I never had an interest in even going to Florida until my daughter practically bullied us into a Disney vacation. We asked ourselves, what could we possibly do for a week at an amusement park? Three years later we are planning our 3rd visit. We've taken everything WDW has to offer at face value, never really thinking about what decisions were made to make it the incredible place it is today. Visitors, and CMs should maybe think about what kind of vacation they're enjoying, or providing, and not be too concerned (like you said) with what Walt might have thought.

Josh:

hey Jack
It is indeed hard to think about what Walt Disney would think about today's Disney. There are some decisions with Disney that I am totaly against while others I have loved. It was cool to learn about the so called mistakes that Walt made. The fact is everyone makes mistakes even Walt Disney but he learned from them and was able to build a theme park that will be there for years to come. can't wait for your next blog and as always keep up the great work.

Heather Young:

Jack

I've found this blog extremely interesting and it shows that Walt Disney was "only human". He had great success but also knew what it was to "fail". Most of us in our lifetime have made mistakes and have hopefully learned from them.

I personally feel that his ideals and idea of good customer service should continue and at the same time let the company grow and move with the times.

I am so sad to say that on my two last visits to WDW I found some (not all) CM's who were bordering on rude and were unhelpful. I know companies have to make money, but they should also remember where that money comes from, the humble guest.

I hope that in the future, the company can tweak what needs to be put right and leave things alone when they aren't 'broken' so have no need to be 'fixed'.

Thank you for another interesting blob.

Heather

Jack's Comment:

I am sorry you encountered rude CMs. This is never good. But I don't think this is a reflection of current management policies. Disney employ 65,000 CMs at Walt Disney World. There are going to be a few bad apples no matter what you do. Even when I worked at Disneyland in the 1970s, there were a few bad apples. I visit Disney 3-5 times a week. I can't remember the last time I encountered a rude CM. I like to believe you just had some unlucky encounters.

Mark:

Thank you for writing this. I am so tired of posters actiing like Walt was a benevolent and all-knowing who would never charge money for anything and spend his company into the ground to have all "E-ticket" type attractions around the park and never make any mistakes.

He was no doubt an amazing person who decided to create a theme park that the entire family could enjoy and did so successfully. We always have him to thank for that, but we don't need to make him a god amongst men.

Kait Rose:

Wow, this may be my favorite blog entry to date (which is saying something because I love all of them, lol).

Walt Disney died well before my time (my father was only 15 when Walt passed away) so I obviously never met him. Most guests to the Disney Parks and those who go to see Disney movies don't know much about Walt Disney the person, they only know Walt Disney the brand--much to my dismay I've heard children in front of the Partners statue refer to it as "Mickey holding hands with the guy".

I personally LOVE Walt Disney: One Man's Dream in Hollywood Studios and visit every trip (usually with little to no other people there) and wish more people would take the time out of their day to visit this attraction to learn more about Walt and the history of the company.

Doug:

Hi Jack,

Great editorial/blog as always. Just a quick question. You mentioned a twelfth Disney park under construction. Where is that one?

Jack's Answer:

The twelfth park is currently under construction in Shanghai China and will be opening in approximately five years.

Scott C.:

Great commentary, Jack. This is true that the company has to move forward on its own vision. Reading that last paragraph I wondered how many people have had jobs over all these years because of what Walt started.
At One Man's Dream, I still marvel at the multi-layer camera shot he created and what is basically done in Photoshop or other software these days.
Thanks for all the great insight you always bring.

Scott C:

Another great post Jack that covers something I think every ardent Disney fan ponders. No one will ever know what Walt might have done (WWWD? bumper stickers coming soon!). You are 100% right in stating the company portrays the man as a god, but it can't be forgotten that he was indeed a business man who made decisions with his head as well as with his heart and imagination.

My wife and I recently went to WDW in May and I actually thought of this topic a little different....how different would WDW or even DL be today if Walt lived into the 1980's or even 90's? Now that's an answer I would love to know!

Greg H.:

Guilty as charged!

I have to admit, the only time I use the "I wonder what Walt would think/do" to justify my own feelings and judgment, is when it comes to the cost of visiting a Disney Park.

Recently on an episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, Mr. Maher's number crunchers had determined that based on an admission ticket to Disneyland from 1982, simply adjusting for inflation, today's admission should only be $28. Of course, what is expected when all of the other parks in the area are charging the higher prices? Still, I feel like Walt would be disappointed at the cost. It's discouraging to think that families might be financing a trip to Walt Disney World.

As far as the other times that I wonder what Walt would think, it has more to do with curiosity, and contemplating his reaction to what has happened with his company since his death in 1966. What would he think of the concept that the sun doesn't set on the Disney Empire? How would he feel about now owning ABC-TV, the first network he dealt with?

Perhaps part of the "connection" I feel is, like you, I'm old enough to remember "Uncle Walt" visiting in my living room on Sunday evenings. To this day, seeing people on TV daily or weekly tends to give people the feeling that they "know" the person on their TV.There was also the fact that we lived so close to Disneyland.

I was 14 when Walt died, and was devastated. Walt's death was the first significant death that I had experienced, and even at 14, I felt like the world would never be the same. I was nearly inconsolable, and some 45 years later still remember the day, and the trauma.

The world has changed so much since Walt's death. When I went to work at Disneyland in 1971, you had to be trim enough, and good-looking enough to work "on stage." With today's anti-discrimination laws, that would never fly. Even in early 1971, the "spirit" of Walt was pretty much alive at Disneyland. Of course on October 1, 1971, we all became the red-headed stepchildren, but that was okay, because we were the original Disney Park. As much as I LOVE WDW, Disneyland will always be very special to me. There is an intimacy there that I don't feel at Magic Kingdom here.

Jack's Comment:

One of the first things Eisner did to help turn around the company when he came to power in 1984 was raise the prices. His number crunchers found that Disneyland was INCREDIBLY underpriced compared to other leisure actives. So if Disneyland had been priced correctly to begin with, Mr. Maher's number crunchers would have had come up with a much larger number.

I won't say that it's not expensive to visit a Disney park. Or course it is. But you need to look at more than just the basic price. It costs the same amount or more to see a Broadway show or a major league sports event. With these activities, you get 3-4 hours' worth of entertainment. At a Disney park, you can have 12 or more hours of fun for the same price. Also, if you buy a multiday ticket, the price per day becomes much cheaper. If a family buys a 10-day Magic Your Way ticket for $340, that means they are only paying $34 per day to visit the parks.

Erwin M:

Excellent article. It runs in parallel with a thought that I've been putting out there for the last several months: just as the Company froze in 1966, so did Walt's world view. Most of the WWWD? folks are taking the Walt of 1966 and dropping him unchanged into the present day. Almost everyone who was an adult in 1966 and is still alive now has had their world view change in that time. (And anyone who claims otherwise is either lying or in severe denial.)

For example, Walt believed, like many people who lived through the 50s and 60s, that technology could solve social problems. Few people today still believe that. Would he have held on to that view, or would it have evolved over time into something else? In the same vein, it was hard to imagine back then (and even well into the 70s, which is when I spent my early childhood) that technology could make people work harder and longer. Yet how many of us are on the electronic leash while on vacation?

It wouldn't be enough to dig Walt out of the cryogenic vault buried under DL's Pirates ride and give him a crash course on how things are different now. His initial reactions would be knee-jerk, and then he would probably want some time to think and observe.

What would Walt do or think? Not what 1966 Walt would have done or thought.

Steve Smith:

At the conclusion of the 2010 Lightship Entertainment DVD Walt Disney World Resort: Behind the Scenes, the narrator poses the question, "What would Walt say if he saw Disney World today?" WDI imagineer emeritus Marty Sklar replied ". . . and he would look around and he'd say 'What took you so long?'"

Jack's Comment:

I have seen that clip in the past. It's an interesting conjecture.

Mel:

Thank you for a really insightful article. As the closing line of one of my all time favourite films goes "nobody's perfect", and neither should we expect them to be.

Douglas:

I don't know what he would think but I think he would've adapted to new methods. When the computer came around he probably would've been one of the first to think 'you know this could be an excellent way to edit or make a film.' He also would've abandoned hand drawn animation once he saw that people aren't willing to spend the money to go see a 'childrens' cartoon. I also think he would've tried adapting new techniques in the parks and if they didn't work out well he would've gotten rid of it for being too impractical and costing too much to keep it like with the Flying Saucers.
Overall though I doubt he would approve of everything but I also doubt he would say to rip everything out.

Also with the complaints people have about Golden Oak, think about it, back when Walt was planning EPCOT one of the aspects was supossed to be, surprise surprise, a RESIDENTIAL area! All they're missing now is that airport and EPCOT will be real, albeit arranged differently from how Walt wanted but you need to be practical about these things.
It's also funny how people complain about the carnival rides in DCA and yet Fantasyland is chok-full of them. Francis' Ladybug Boogie and the Tea Cups are the same type of ride but because Walt had a hand in making the Tea Cups it's accepted. Same goes for the Rockets and Dumbo vs. Alladin's Flying Carpets.

Lance:

Wow, Jack. I've been reading your articles for several months now, and they've always been beneficial to me, but this one is just fantastic.

I don't have the background to speak firsthand like you do, but as a Disney fan I couldn't agree with you more.

Thanks for this reminder!

Angela:

Thanks for writing. I guess this blog has opened my eyes to an apparent reality. So many people love Walt Disney. Maybe the reality of that is that we actually love the "idea" of Walt Disney and actually appreciate the man. The "idea" of Walt Disney conjors up feelings of happiness, safety, friendship and trust. I guess it's easy to believe this man symbolizes all of these things when the company attaches his picture to everything we love. I believe he was a decent man with great talent and vision, but capable of error and fault. If he was allowed to be with us longer, he would have developed great stories and made great mistakes. This I'm pretty sure about...and that's good enough for me.

NT3:

Let's just all agree that Walt would have definitely hated the midway games in Dinoland USA. ;)

Jack's Comment:


Sorry, I won't agree to that. The Shootin' Galleries at Disneyland were nothing more than midway games that Walt approved of in 1955.

Mike Venere:

Appreciate your true thoughts and comments. Instead of condensing it to “What would Walt think” I just roll my eyes at some “Disney old timers” that have issues with change. For example, the wand next to Epcot for the 2000 celebration….to me it was great!!!
Just take it as it is and continue to love the park that has given people like myself and so many others so much joy.
I love your articles on the history of this that and what is next, but it is just that, history. It has been done that way and you’re not going to do anything that is going to fix it.
As for Greg above who talks about the maher episode, c’mon!!!! I do not know what those number crunchers were crunching but do you really think a days admission is worth just $28? Lunch at McDonalds these days is ¼ of that! The only thing that lasts for a day after that is the heartburn!

Phillip:

Dear Jack,
Even on the rare occasion that I find myself disagreeing with you I must acknowledge your writing style and logic are flawless. (I can't even recall the last time I disagreed with a point you made.) I value the depth and maturity you bring to all your essays. Thank you.
I intend to simply cut and paste the URL for this post and insert it as my comment the next time someone brings up that tired old WWWD? canard. You have effectively answered that question, once and for all.
Yours is a voice of reason and contemplation in an internet full of braying cacophony.
Thank you.

Dianne:

Jack,
I really enjoyed your article; very insightful.
I, too, am guilty of WWWD. His death in 1966 was way too early. But I believe that Walt would have rolled with the punches, and kept up with the times. The only thing that really bothers me, and this is judgmental on my part, is the fact that he never gave up the smoking. My parents gave it up in the late '50's and early '60's, and my Dad lived to be 86 and my Mom is still with us at 84. The first time that I went to the Studios, my sister and I were totally enthralled. We stopped and read everything, and looked at every little item. When we turned to see Walt's office, we both stopped dead in our tracks. Almost in tears, we stood there and gaped. I looked at my sister, and said "Look at all of the ashtrays!" She replied, "There are five." A young man looked at us quizzically, and said "So what?" We both stared at him, and realized he was much younger than we were, and replied almost in unison, "That is what killed him." That is my personal regret for Walt, and the world, because, no one will ever know how different the world of entertainment, and the world in general would be if Walt had lived into his 80's.
Thanks for your articles.

Dan:

Jack,

This is one of your best blogs - solely for the fact that it's a very eloquently-written reality check for those who think they can somehow channel the wishes and desires of a long-deceased icon.

Could you write a similar one about Steve Jobs in 10 years, for my more zealous friends?

Dan

Sarah:

Hi Jack,

I have never thought about what Walt would do. When other people say that, I tend to think Walt would have very mixed feelings about his current empire. I can picture him beaming with pride about accomplishments that probably were never a thought in his head and at the same time screaming at the top of his lungs about the way other things have turned out. Even though he was an extremely innovative man, I think he would be in awe with the incredible technology the imagineers have created, even if he wasn’t a fan of the attraction itself. In the end I think Walt would be impressed and pleased with the products that bear his name.

Thanks for the great article!
Sarah

Maria:

You know, I never ever uttered the words "What would Walt do". That never occured to me. I admire the man and am just glad he started Disney in the first place! That said, thank you for this blog. This is very different from the articles you usually do, and I really enjoyed it. Made me think, and my own opinions of what is great and what Disney could do better popped in my mind. And like you said, no two peoples opinions are always the same. But I agree with you about one thing - Stiches Great Escape is easily the most pointless dumb attraction at Disney!(or is it Sounds Dangerous! lol) Thanks again Jack!

Dave Carriere:

Jack - You truly are one of the most insightful bloggers out there, and not just for Disney sites! I would say I agree with 90% of what you say but I do have a viewpoint that I think should be considered as well. I have read every Walt biography out there as well as various histories of the Disney company and you are right on when you talk about how the "What would Walt do?" mentality paralyzed the company upon Walt's death...primarily because every leader had their own "version" of WWWD.

However, I think by starting out the article pointing out the mistakes Walt made in an effort to educate and humanize him does him somewhat of a disservice with out adding in the following point. Walt was a visionary who wasn't afraid to make mistakes and have "dumb" ideas. He had far more hits than misses and as with most visionaries, you can't have all the hits without learning from the misses, which Walt did.

If I would have been a part of the Disney company after Walt's death, my version of WWWD would be to continue to be a "risk-taker" and don't be afraid of failure. Walt re-invented himself and his company multiple times along the way and so I think overall he would be amazed at what his company has grown into and overall would be proud with the risks various leaders have taken along the way.

I work for a large multibillion dollar company that is family owned and our founder, while retired, is still alive. Our decsions as leaders are based on the Mission Statement he created as well as Core Values that are tought to every employee along the way. His son is now the CEO and has grown the business way beyond what his father ever dreamed but he has charted his own course, taken risks, all while staying true to our founders core values and philosophies. So I know it CAN work if you have the right leadership in place who is willing to take risks, make mistakes, but learn from them.

Thanks again for the fantastic article and for all the hard work you do on the Blog Jack...you are the best!

Dave

Louise:

Many of us are guilty of WWWD (myself included), but I think to some degree it is related to the fact that because we walk around in Walt's fantasy made into reality, we feel like we know him. We look at this or that amazing thing, and come up with a reason or backstory and then conjecture what he would think now. Isn't this also what we do when a loved one dies? We say grandpa would have loved this or auntie would have hated that. It's our way of holding dear ones close and envisioning the way that they saw things. Of course noone can say for certain WWWD or how he would like or dislike the state of the parks,but I think when we do opine, it speaks of how Walt has become one of our own.

Natalie H:

Jack,

Wonderful article! I am GUILTY of saying this as well. My family saw Brave opening weekend. When I saw the "behinds" of the men at the castle, I said the same line in my head. :-)

My kids laughed hysterically...I laughed and then I thought it was a little inappropriate. I am no prude, but I thought that may have been a little too far!

I must say that I love WDW because of the sense of safety, fun and love that it fosters. I think I love the image or idea of Walt far more than Mickey Mouse. I believe it comes from his loving, jovial personality on tv. But you are right...how do we know exactly who he was or what he would have thought.

My dear husband pointed out exactly that. We really don't know because we didn't know him personally. Oh well....I love his product and the ideas in his head and I will go back year after year to see the same things over and over. :-)

Jack's Comment:

I saw Brave last Sunday. When the men showed their naked butts, I thought to myself, Walt of 1966 would not approve. He would also not have approved of the snot running out of the kid's nose. However, the Walt of 2012 might have thought this was fantastic because he would have changed with the times. But of course, we'll never know how much his values may or may not have changed.

Rob Dickinson:

Hey Jack,

Well stated and agreed!!

Rob

Jill Hogg:

Jack,

Anytime you feel the urge to write another editorial, please do! I enjoy reading your opinions the most. I find it very insightful to find out what you think about various things Disney. I wish I could buy you lunch at {insert Disney restaurant of choice} and pick your brain. :)

And to Phillip who posted above, you have wonderful eloquence with language! "...an internet full of braying cacophony" is a very appropriate description! I must remember that one.

Andrew Carrieri:

Excellent post. I agree with your take, but you provided many excellent examples regardless. I personally never thought about "What would Walt think?" until I started reading and listening to Disney fan content a few years ago. The classic example I hear is "Walt would have hated Mission: Space because the entire family cannot ride it together." This often seems to be out of "Horizions-nostalgia" as I never hear this argument used to pan the Tower of Terror nor the Matterhorn (it was built by Walt yet has a height requirement).
It often seems that the question is brought up to rationalize one's own feelings, and while Walt may have not have in fact liked [insert decision], we don't know for sure.

Jason:

Amen Jack. Just like your last editorial, you covered a topic fairly that may upset a large number of people who are in their box and not open to hearing your wisdom.

This is the guy you built a private bar, so he could drink while the other visitors didn't wreck the park. He had facial hair but CMs could not. He was human. Did a bunch of awesome things, but also had failures that we overlook or forget. How about passing weeds and vegetation as something exotic?

Eileen Miller:

Jack,

Can you please give lessons on blogging to the world at large? Your attention to detail and your thoughtful consideration of the entire picture of your subject matter is so appreciate by your readers!

I have never liked hearing the question "What would Walt do [or think]?" for exactly the reasons you state. He was always changing and adapting to the times and technology, and he was not a god, but rather a brilliant human being who (gasp!) made mistakes like every other human being. These "WWWD" accusations were flinging fast & furious after the announcement of the 'Avatar' tie-in to Animal Kingdom, and irked me no end. I haven't decided how I feel about the whole project (I'm waiting to see what they actually propose), and I have no idea what Walt would think. Neither does anyone else. I know I can still be surprised by my 80-year old parents (who love WDW, by the way), so who can ever really say what Walt would think about anything?

Thank you for daring us to realize that Walt was not infallible, and that we can never know what he would think about the Disney empire at this point. I like to think he's watching though, shaking his head in bemusement and murmuring, "And to think it all started with a mouse!!"

I know that Walt is probably rolling over in his grave with the "carnival games" in Animal Kingdom. From books it stated he did NOT want the cheap carnival games in his park to take away from the magic, but I guess they don't care any more at Disney World what Walt wanted... especially putting Avatar in at AK which isn't a Disney Movie.

Poor walt.

Jack's Comment:

I guess I failed… Sigh…

During Walt’s day, Disneyland had two Shootin’ Galleries. These were nothing more than “carnival games.” You have absolutely no idea what the Walt of 2012 would think about Chester & Hester’s DinoRama – the Walt who was always growing and changing.

As for Avatar… How could Walt possibly have an opinion on something he’s never even heard of? I guess we need to rip out Star Tours, Tower or Terror, Indiana Jones, and Rock 'N' Roller Coaster -- all of which were not based on Disney movies, Disney TV shows, or Disney singing groups.

As I tried so hard to make clear in my blog, you CANNOT justify your own opinions with the unknown thoughts of a man who has been dead for 45 years. It’s NOT fair to Walt.

kiki:

What made Walt cool to me was his equal love of American Nostalgia mixed with his futuristic vision. I think he would have loved the majority of decisions made posthumously like Pixar. However, I feel he would be very disappointed with EPCOT. That should have been built more to his vision. "The Florida Project" (google it) was one of the coolest concepts conceptualized for it's time.

As for Jack's insights (except for the Circus) I still liked the idea behind Walt's "failures" I just believe the execution was lacking. So to me his demi-God status is warranted. Somewhat.

Prof. Brainard:

Walt Disney was a complex man, and it is impossible to say with any certainty what he would do or what he would think, almost fifty years after his death, something that can be said for any historical figure. The "what would Walt do" people seem to be guided by several factors: a desire to keep the parks the way they were at the time when they first experienced them or at the time when they were happiest in the parks; a desire to justify their own likes and dislikes; and an inability to think abstractly. I understand those impulses. These folks mean well, and they are not always wrong. But we do need to take their criticism with some small skepticism. It is never a good idea to interpret things too literally, which they seem to do with frequency.

It's important to remember that Walt Disney had prejudices that would be seen as "blind spots" today. For example, he insisted that the exterior of Disneyland's Haunted Mansion, grounds and all, be kept in pristine condition, even though it was meant to be an haunted house, presumably abandoned by humans. This came from his obsession with cleanliness, neatness, and order and also from his concern that visitors to the park might think that maintenance was not top notch (something that he demanded). Turn the clock ahead to present times and look at Phantom Manor in Paris, which is deliberately presented as weathered, run-down, abandoned. People have the sophistication to know that this appearance comes about through artistry and not through neglect: it is artistically crafted to look that way! Many things in the parks are now like this, and it adds immeasurably to the theming and atmosphere. Walt would not have approved circa 1960, but, seeing the result today and understanding peoples' reaction to it, he might very well approve of it.

It seems best to think not in terms of "what would Walt do," but rather in the spirit of Walt Disney. What might be a short list of things to consider that would be in that spirit?

- Emphasis on pristine maintenance in the parks
- Emphasis on a positive atmosphere with friendly, helpful cast members
- Nostalgia for the past
- Cutting edge technology to create new experiences
- Detailed theming and immersing guests in an atmospheric experience
- Providing a variety of experiences for all age groups

It seems to me that if the Disney company can accomplish these things, they are carrying on the spirit of Walt (Cars Land and Buena Vista Street are living proof). Having done that, they can then do all kinds of new things, including changing things, a horrifying phrase for some, but something that Walt Disney was always doing: always changing things to make them better.

Hermes:

Congratulations Jack. This is your best so far!!

I've read a few of your blog posts here and there, but after reading this one, you're now going to become regular reading for me. I agree whole-heartedly with this post, and I have been saying what you say in your first couple of paragraphs for some time. The insight into Walt being a fallible human being was also appreciated.

I do find it a bit ironic that in the comments to a post trying to break people from "What Would Walt Do?" thinking, you have people making exactly those types of assertions.

Can't win them all, I guess.

Kevin Q:

Jack,

Thank you SO much for this article. I run into so many people on the internet who scream "What would Walt do?" and "Walt would NEVER do that." Case in point: someone pointed to a backstage door that wasn't finished in Carsland, saying "Walt would never allow a project like that to go unfinished." Your Matterhorn example proves that he did. Ditto everyone saying that high rollercoasters and Ferris wheels offer a view of the park that Walt never would have approved, yet he approved the Skyway.

Thanks again for wonderful posts like this!

Jack, this is a really interesting topic, especially since I find many Disney fans spend a lot of time discussing how Walt would react to the park. He's placed on such a pedestal that no one could live up to those expectations. He was an amazing, remarkable guy with great talents, but like any daring businessman, he made mistakes.

Following other responses, I will support the fact that the price increases have gotten out of hand. I have no idea in knowing what Walt would think about that and won't speculate, but that is the major deviation from at least what was stated as an important aspect of the parks. Also, there are a lot of examples of "bad show" that are creeping into the parks. You offer some great examples of similar issues in Walt's day, so it's not so simple. I find myself comparing the parks today to how they were in the '80s when I was a kid. That's well beyond Walt's time, so it isn't fair to look at it that way in terms of him.

I think each leader of Disney (Eisner, Iger, etc.) since Walt's time has created some great attractions and horrible duds. The current regime is too focused on upsells and "experiences" over rides, but the great reaction to Cars Land could push them back in that vein. The parks are constantly changing; I just hope they find ways to improve the experience while making a healthy profit. I'll pay several hundred dollars for admission if they're worth it to me.

Great post!

Prof. Brainard:

In fairness to the "what would Walt do" people, I must correct a typo in my earlier comment. I wrote, "These folks mean well, and they are always wrong." The sentence should be "These folks mean well, and they are not always wrong."

Samantha:

This was a fantastic post! I'll admit, there have been numerous times where I've said "That's not something Walt would ever do" (Like when I found out about Avatarland) or "Walt would totally approve of this!" (The new Fantasyland for example) - and as I saw someone in a comment before mine say, it is usually for no other reason than justifying my own opinions about something. That being said, you're right that we have NO idea what Walt would have wanted, especially with the rapid changes in technology after his death, as well as the huge changes in what the public wants to see. I've never looked at it the whole "What Would Walt Do" question in this way, but I really think you did a wonderful job at encouraging Disney fans to think a little more before thinking they know what Walt would like to see - I know I will!

Am certainly going to share this article on my Disney tumblr :)

Kim Sherwood:

Just wanted to give you our take on the WWWD conversation. The only time I've ever actually heard anyone use that phrase was at a trip to WDW about 3 1/2 years ago. My son was 9 at the time and was craving popcorn. The kiosks weren't open yet, so we wandered around Frontierland for awhile until we saw one getting ready to open. When we approached the stand, I joked with the young man working there that he'd "saved my son's life." At that point my son ordered a small popcorn. The CM looked at him and said, "you don't want a small, you need a large" and promptly handed him a souvenir bucket filled to the brim. As I started to reach for the money to pay him, he told us it was on the house because "it's what Walt would have done".
While none of us may know what Mr. Disney would think about the way his company is run today, I think the fact that his memory continues to inspire Disney fans and employees in such a way says something very powerful about him.

Neil Norlund:

Hi, Jack.

"What would Walt Do?" is a very timely, thought-provoking blog, indeed.

Many of us (dare I say, most of us?) love to speculate on what a famous visionary would have done or said when we're trying to understand or accept what we see around us. Those of us that have been around Disney entertainment in its various forms for awhile (a long while for some of us ;>) can easily forget the Disney failures of the past and mentally deify the successes. How about Fantasia? I love it, but the American movie-going public and critics didn't when it was first released. I love how Walt, in his own words, characterized the ups and downs of his enterprises in the short movie at the end of "Walt Disney: One Man's Dream" at the WDW Hollywood Studios park. If I remember it correctly, Walt noted that there were times when it looked like financial ruin would overtake both Him and His brother--but then, something would hit, and they would be saved. I think that this sums up what I respect most about Walt and Roy Disney--they were willing to take risks. And when you take risks, you will fail. However, you won't ever succeed if you don't take risks. And I believe that Walt and Roy succeeded greatly. Of course, no one would ever pay to see a feature-length cartoon, or so said the critics. But we have Snow White and a host of others that prove otherwise. And another amusement park in the middle of California orange groves will never catch on--its bound to fail. But we have Disneyland, and all eleven other theme parks, that shout otherwise! And here some are in 2012, wondering "What would Walt Do?" (just as the Disney Company was doing itself during the "Dark Ages" of the 1970s and early 1980s). Well, if there's anything I would like Disney to do more of, it would be to take more risks. As you noted, the Disney Company is wildly successful. So now, even more than in Walt's and Roy's time, they can afford to take big risks and fail sometimes and succeed other times. And I would hope that everyone would be willing to accept the failures that come with success. Probably the saddest comment I've heard recently came from someone who visited both WDW And Universal Studios Orlando. It was his observation that the rides and shows at Universal seemed more technologically advanced; cutting edge than those at WDW. Walt tried many new ideas. From them we have "audio-animatronics", omnimovers, monorails, etc. I'd love to see Disney back leading the development of innovative entertainment technology. And with this I do agree; please, don't try to guess what Walt would have done. Enjoy the multitude of things that Disney offers now, and let's look forward to what new, crazy and innovative things the Disney Company will try in the future, under the watchful memory of its crazy, innovative founder!

Neil

Jack's Comment:

Several people wrote reminding me that Walt was a risk taker -- which is why he had failures -- and why he was able to achieve so many successes. In hindsight, I wish I had mentioned his risk-taking attitude in my article. But alas, I didn't. :-( However, leaving the Matterhorn unfinished had nothing to do with risk. It had to do with neglect. And opening the Canal Boats of the World was done out of perceived necessity. Once again, nothing to do with risk. These were the real points I was trying to make in my article. As wonderful as Walt was, he had his own agenda that wasn't always so grand and magical. Which is why we shouldn't use him to justify our own beliefs.

Today, Michael Eisner is hated by many hardcore Disney fans. I am not one of them. I think Eisner was the best thing that could have happened to the Disney Company. Eisner was also a risk taker who had his share of successes and failures. However, after Frank Wells death, Eisner took a turn for the worse and it was definitely time for him to leave the company long before he actually did. But I will not forget all the wonderful things he accomplished during his tenure. Just like Walt who created magic on a daily basis.

Tracy Borden:

Excellent Jack! I often hear people say the WWWD. My mom used to say what would walt think at the high prices in WDW, and I said to her he'd think wow, look at this place I had a great idea and it was always about the family. The high prices is dictated by the demand of the high level of satisfaction from me you and every other person who loves The World. You want a Broadway show for 20 bucks ain't gonna happen. It is nice though to see a man who had and accomplished so many things actually made human mistakes! Thanks Jack for letting me see the other side of the great man known as Walter Elias Disney.

Bill:

Very thought provoking peice. I have often thought that the WWWD mentality to be faulty. Walt was human and human beings are less than perfect, but also Walt Disney was a man of a different time. A time when everyone smoked and minstrel shows were a commonplace, non objectionable form of entertainment (as such a mintsrel show, of sorts, was included in Dumbo in the personages of the Crows)Walt couldn't possible understand today's world, modern technology and all that. Something as commonplace to us as the internet would have seemed like magic 'back in the day'

Chris Skowron:

Very well written article. Steve Jobs said on many occasions, especially to Tim Cook, don't ask what I would have done, do what you feel is best.

There it is then. Let's all just move forward and enjoy, and be thankful to the two men that gave us all this wonder. :-)

-Chris

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on June 25, 2012 7:41 AM.

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