Pass the bucks 

Astute Mouse watchers know that the first teaser ads for Disney's celebration of "100 Years of Magic" have begun turning up all over the tube. These commercials -- built around the catch phrase "Share a Dream Come True" -- feature nostalgic images of the company's founder, Walt Disney, and offer glimpses of the parades and shows Disney will present during the year-long, property-wide celebration. A party which, by the way, won't kick off until October.

Why the advance hoopla? Frankly, Mickey needs the boost. Attendance at the Orlando parks has been particularly soft this summer. Bookings at Disney's hotels also are down, so much so that the Mouse postponed the opening of its new Pop Century Resort from December of this year to March 2002.

Mind you, the Mouse actually did have a significant date it could have built a celebration around: the 30th anniversary of Disney World's opening in 1971. The problem is that Disney already had mounted huge parties for the resort's 20th and 25th anniversaries, winning major media play (with much of those media accepting free trips to cover the parties). So the marketing department feared that a 30th-anniversary bash might have been making one too many trips to the well. The only place you'll find that anniversary in evidence is -- surprise, surprise -- the resort's shops, which recently began selling 30th-anniversary merchandise.

"100 Years of Magic" instead recalls last year's "Celebrate the Future Hand in Hand" promotion, with the hope that Disney can duplicate the event's resounding success. But that 15-month celebration coincided with the start of the new millennium, something which occurs only once every thousand years. This one is being built around the centennial of Walt Disney's birth. And while Walt isn't just any dead guy, it's hard to fathom that guests will rush to spend the night in one of Disney World's 28,000 on-property hotel rooms for an observance built around such unexciting things as displays of Walt's original office desk, chair and cabinet.

OK, OK. So the celebration won't only be static displays of Walt's personal effects. But there will be no major new rides -- just four new parades, generating a collective groan that puts Disney's PR machine on the defensive. A pre-emptive press release that the Mouse's marketing staff burped out earlier this summer actually describes "100 Years of Magic" as a "Parade-Lover's Delight."

Quickly moving past the fact that there are no significant new attractions opening in the year ahead, the release then goes into a detailed description of Walt's infatuation with parades -- as if the company founder's love for such displays superseded his enthusiasm for anything else.

So, what else does the "100 Years" celebration offer guests who trek in from the suburbs or otherwise flock to Central Florida expecting to see something new? Still more merchandise.

Take the "Share a Dream Come True" parade, which will be presented daily at the Magic Kingdom with floats designed to look like giant snow globes, inside of which live characters will caper about. Not so coincidentally, miniature versions of these snow globes will be on sale in the newly expanded Emporium gift shop -- at an average cost of $50-$65 apiece.

Then there are the special cloisonné Magical Moments pins. The Mouse hopes these collectibles will elevate to a whole new level the startlingly profitable program in pin trading launched as part of the millennium celebration in October, 1999. The new "smart pins" will feature miniaturized technology that will cause them to activate at particular points around the resort.

For example, the pins will be adorned with tiny lights that -- when they are within range of the appropriate signal -- will blink in time to the music played during each evening's "Spectro Magic" parade at the Magic Kingdom. The anticipated cost of these high-tech beauties: $10-$15 each.

Indeed, the true spirit of Disney's "100 Years of Magic" will be revealed when guests drop in to visit the celebration's central icon: a 122-foot-tall Sorcerer Mickey hat that has been erected at the end of Hollywood Boulevard, right in front of the Chinese Theater at Disney/MGM Studios. Never mind that this oversized chapeau -- sized 605 7/8 -- destroys the faux vista celebrating 1940s Hollywood that was created at considerable expense in the late 1980s.

Might the hat house a museum featuring artifacts from Walt's career? A film that celebrates all that Disney achieved? Sadly, no. It's a store.

"100 Years of Magic"? Honestly, this particular Disney World celebration sounds more like a 365-day-long excuse to pick people's pockets.

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