Walt Is Not Alive But Disney Is Making News

Walt Disney couldn’t stay out of the news this week — from the rollout of the MyMagic+ service and MagicBand bracelet for its theme park visitors that has been a billion dollars or so in the making to news that visitors to the Tokyo Disneyland and Disney Sea theme parks rose 13.8% for the just-ended business year to its animated “Frozen” setting new records to an effort to restore the birthplace of Mickey Mouse (in Kansas City) to a report about a “surprise press conference” by CEO Bob Iger during which he revealed plans to “thaw out Walt Disney’s cryogenically frozen body to make appearances at both American theme parks” for a weekend this summer.

Only the latter item can be attributed to April Fools chicanery, along with a slew of other pranks perpetrated by marketers and chronicled by Stuart Elliott in the New York Times yesterday.

Elliott’s comrade, Brook Barnes, takes an expansive look at both the glitches and the promise of Disney’s MyMagic+ system in the Times this morning. It has been years in development and testing and, before Monday, was only available to Disney hotel guests and annual pass holders. 

A video on the Disney website starring Edna Mode tells us that MyMagic+ will make “your vacation much more personalized,” and indeed it does.

“Among other perks, the system provides a service called FastPass+, which allows visitors to prebook front-of-the-line access to three rides, parades or character meet-and-greets,” Barnes reveals. “The system also strives to make it easier for guests to buy food and merchandise — just stand at the register and swipe your wristband, called a MagicBand, which also functions as room key, park ticket and V.I.P. access.”

Disney day guests do not receive a MagicBand for free but they can purchase one for $12.95 at some park locations, Dewayne Bevil reports in the Orlando Sentinel in a piece that also features a video interview with Walt Disney World Parks & Resorts SVP Jim MacPhee about “next-generation” park experiences.

“Nobody is confused about what this is about — more money coming out of more wallets — but a supervast majority of people like it,”  John Frost, publisher of the independent Disney Blog, tells Barnes. “Most people think it adds to the fun.”

Among the many record-setting achievements for “Frozen,” which are bullet pointed by Brian Stelter on CNNMoney, it passed “Toy Story 3” to become the No. 1 animated film of all time and also pushed into the Top Ten list as one of the highest-grossing movies of all time.

Tokyo Disneyland, meanwhile, set a new attendance record for the year ended March 31. 

“The company attributed the steep rise to special events commemorating Tokyo Disneyland’s 30-year anniversary, the introduction of new attractions, good weather and a comeback in travel and leisure demand,” according to a blog post in the Wall Street Journal. “It specifically touted the popularity of its parade ‘Happiness Is Here’ and its new attraction ‘Star Tours — The Adventures Continue.’”

And fond memories of Walt’s early days were stirring things up in Kansas City, where a group called Thank You Walt Disney has been spearheading an effort to restore the former home of the Laugh-O-Gram film studio where they say Mickey Mouse first saw ink on paper.

“When Disney was working for Laugh-O-Gram, he came up with the idea of a mouse cartoon character, and he named him Mortimer,” writes Michael Mahoney about his report that aired on KMBC. “But his wife didn't think that was such a great name and convinced him to change it to Mickey.”

The restored building would have a museum on the first floor and a digital arts studio on the second. “There seems to be a lot of interest in making Kansas City the Simi Valley of short film-making and digital artistry,” Butch Rigby of Thank You Walt Disney tells Mahoney.

That might be attractive to young animators priced out of the real estate market in Simi Valley, where the median sales price for a home is running $431,000. The average listing price for homes for sale in Kansas City, on the other hand, is currently $165,831. But even Disney Magic couldn’t do anything about the average winter snowfall of 18.8 inches in KC versus the average temperature of 61.95 degrees in Simi Valley. Or could it?

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