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Disney World Opts for 50th Anniversary Celebration with Zero Nostalgia

You no doubt have seen the new commercial for Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary, “The World’s Most Magical Celebration”. If you somehow missed it, here it is:

The commercial shows banners and the “Beacon of Magic” lighting we have been promised for the event, but not much else. The song choice is “A Whole New World” from Aladdin, which is odd, given that not much new is actually announced to open for this event, other than a delayed Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, you know, a ride that opened at Disneyland Paris in 2014 and was supposed to open at EPCOT in 2020. Disney stalled, delayed, and even halted construction on other attractions planned for the 50th anniversary, most notably TRON Lightcycle Run and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, but they also haven’t hit a ride opening deadline in Florida in many years, so we expected those to be a little late to the party anyway.

Before we start blaming the pandemic for this situation, let’s also remember that Universal Orlando Resort completed the VelociCoaster during the pandemic, a large-scale roller coaster attraction with zero animatronics. That’s not wildly different from what TRON or Guardians of the Galaxy are, with the exception of being mostly indoors, in gravity buildings that were pretty-much completed before a park closed in Orlando in March 2020. Smaller, regional theme parks completed many of their rides that were being constructed at the time as well, many of them debuting those attractions this summer.

Regardless, the broken promises of new attractions are not even the reason I am writing this. I could easily forgive the delay of major additions if given something, anything actually celebrating 50 years of Walt Disney World. As of now, there is no museum aspect, no major ride restoration, no nostalgia-laden advertising, and no press release that even mentions anything from the past.

What was striking to me about the commercial, for a monumental 50th anniversary, is that it has zero references to the storied history and legacy of the Vacation Kingdom of the World. There is no mention of Walt Disney and his last great dream, or even a nostalgic look at vintage footage of guests and characters in the parks. They took the time to put 16 “hidden” references in the commercial, yet none of them are related to anything other than Disney films. We are not celebrating 50 years of Disney movies on October 1st, by the way.

Here’s a recent Disney Parks ad that actively grabbed hold of your emotions and memories of the past in a thoughtful way:

The above isn’t even an anniversary ad, it was just for a short return of an old parade. Mind you, Disneyland Resort typically shows an understanding for what people love about the place, and that dates back to their 50th birthday.

Disneyland’s 50th anniversary celebration was not littered with new attractions either, but it did embrace the park’s incredible history. A film starring Steve Martin to recap the five decades that came before played at the Main Street Opera House and was accompanied by a thoughtful and well-curated historical exhibit. Classic attractions were also restored and added new magic, such as Walt Disney Enchanted Tiki Room, The Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain, and more. This formula worked so well that Disneyland has replicated it over and over again, parlaying it into a massively successful Diamond Celebration in 2015 and decades of nostalgic merchandise that they have sold since 2005.

Ads for Walt Disney World’s 25th anniversary celebrated nostalgia too, along with the original song, “Remember the Magic”:

Smaller amusement parks are even doing a better job than Disney World on capturing these feelings, all while celebrating their key milestones. Knott’s Berry Farm is marking 100 years this year, and in celebration, you’ll find a new attraction that pays homage to a long-lost one, resurrected meet and greet characters from the past, and photo-ops for extinct attractions. These are not wildly expensive things, they’re just thoughtful and show some level of care.

What is so remarkable about a 50th anniversary is that guests who have visited over all 50 years are still with us and can return to celebrate this special place. Walt Disney World has been visited by so many people over these decades, and it’s not just people who are active fans on social media. There are millions of people who have an emotional connection to memories made at these parks and resorts, memories that pre-date the attention span of the management currently in the company and their marketing strategy. Doing small, yet thoughtful things playing on our nostalgia means something to us, the most loyal and loving of guests, and shows people that you care about more than just their money. A golden anniversary is not the time to look at your audience as numbers, it is a time to embrace their feelings for your destinations and establish a connection with them, showing that you understand what they cherish about it.

With 126 days left until October 1st, 2021, I think I speak for everyone in saying we hope something will materialize, something showing an appreciation for returning guests and the incredible feats that were pulled off in 1971 and beyond.

We are pleading with The Walt Disney Company to care about this anniversary before it is too late. There is no do-over on a 50th birthday celebration.

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