The spoils of war 

This past weekend's $75 million opening of Pearl Harbor is good news to the Walt Disney Co., which could use it. Rarely have the Orlando parks had such a run of bad press. Here's what you may have missed:

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* On May 17, a tourist tooling around Lake Buena Vista noticed something odd lying on the rocks next to Cap'n Jack's Oyster Bar at Downtown Disney. No, it wasn't an alligator. It was a pipe bomb. Cap'n Jack's was quickly closed and the surrounding area evacuated. Orange County's bomb squad removed the object, a 3.5-inch section of PVC that was found to have explosives in it.

* Disney officials remained tight-mouthed, other than to say the resort's security staff and Orange County officials are investigating. As for suspects, one wag was heard to say, "I'd start with those 1,200 salaried employees the Mouse just laid off."

* Chuma, a 10-year-old gorilla on display in Animal Kingdom's "Pangani Forest Exploration Trail," decided to challenge fellow gorilla Gus' dominance. Big mistake. Gus, an 18- or 19-year-old silverback, mopped the floor with the younger one.

The after-hours incident left Chuma riddled with bite wounds. Disney vets tried to save the ape, but the infection proved to be too much. Chuma succumbed on May 17, making him the first gorilla to die inside the theme park.

Disney officials spun the incident, citing the vet staff's heroic effort. But shouldn't Mickey accept some blame? After all, it's the very design of the enclosure that forced the two into mortal combat. The way Disney has its "Gorilla Falls" exhibit set up, Gus, Chuma and four other male bachelor gorillas live on one side of the enclosure while a family group that includes females and children lives on the other. Gus and his companions could see and smell the females but couldn't get near them.

As gorillas reach sexual maturity, the scent of a female is enough to induce instinctive behaviors among the males. One of these behaviors involves challenging the resident silverback. This is evidently what Chuma did. Gus then also followed his instinct to defend his position as group leader.

Had this happened in the wild, Chuma would have had the option of running away and forming his own group elsewhere. But in captivity, Chuma had nowhere to go.

What's going to happen when the other four gorillas reach sexual maturity?

* While the Mouse remains guarded about attendance, there was evidence of panic in a new benefit offered to locals.

Typically, the Florida Resident pass offers unlimited admission to all four Orlando parks except during block-out dates -- usually the busy weeks around holidays as well as the summer months that regularly see peak attendance. Thus, seasonal pass-holders can't visit the Magic Kingdom, Epcot or Disney-MGM Studios from June through August. This year, however, they can visit Animal Kingdom all summer long.

Reading between the lines, it's obvious Mickey waived the restriction so that someone -- anyone! -- would visit Animal Kingdom during the summer months.

And speaking of hot ...

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* It was bad enough that Disney had to contend with the Four Corners blaze sending smoke across its resort. At one point the Mouse distributed leaflets asking WDW hotel guests not to open their balcony doors, due to concern that the wind-blown smoke might set off in-room smoke detectors.

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Disney put word out that, since the fires were miles away, there was no cause for alarm. Then on May 18, the woods next to Epcot's parking lot burst into flame. Fire crews had the 10-acre blaze under control in about an hour, but the damage was done: TV crews were airborne within minutes off the first call, and images of fire so close to Spaceship Earth ran worldwide.

* Days later, WESH-Channel 2 broke the story that Disney Cruise Line employees stood accused of smuggling drugs. During a routine search, customs officials discovered two crew members had three kilos of cocaine taped to their bodies. A third allegedly masterminded the scheme to bring the drugs from St. Marteen aboard Disney's boat.

* That little pick-me-up might have helped enliven the recent ho-hum reaction by members of the Travel Industry Association of America to Disney's "100 Years of Magic" promotion, a 15-month event whose biggest splash will be new parades in each of the parks. Should the rumors prove true about Disney World's next promotion -- a celebration of the 100th anniversary of powered flight, to tie in with the 2003 opening of Epcot's "Mission: Space" attraction -- the year 2003 looks like a snooze, too.

That's why Mickey is so happy "Pearl Harbor" is a hit. What better way to distract people from disaster than with a movie about an even bigger disaster?

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