We’re back with a Walt Disney World news & rumors update, this time with entertainment cuts at Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios. In this post, we’ll cover what’s ending and when, the likely motivation for the removal of these acts, plus extensive commentary.
At Magic Kingdom, the Muppets Present Great Moments in American History and Royal Majesty Makers will both come to an end, and Move It! Shake It! Dance and Play It! Street Party will be reduced to two shows per day. Over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, DJ’s Ready! Set! Party Time and the Incredibles at Pixar Place will cease performances. Ditto the Hakuna Matata Time Dance Party at Animal Kingdom.
We can’t confirm specific end dates, but all should end on or around the start of the new fiscal year on October 1, 2019. These entertainment cuts are not yet official, but we consider them highly credible, near-certain rumors. All stem from Entertainment Cast Members working on these particular shows who have been advised by managers that their acts will be eliminated. It’s entirely possible that there’s more to come, especially if budgetary decisions for the next fiscal year are still being made.
I don’t think it’s any secret that I hate the Magic Kingdom street party. I routinely refer to it as the “Move It! Shake It! Whatever It! Roaming Noise Festival” on the blog. Nevertheless, I realize many families enjoy this, and I’m never one to advocate for the entertainment cuts without corresponding additions–especially as Walt Disney World continues to raise prices.
As for the other cuts, both the Incredibles stuff and Lion King Dance Party were, to my knowledge, always intended to be temporary as part of some celebration. DJ’s Dance Party is basically the pre-show for Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy. This was part of the pre-Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge “fill in all available space” initiative at Disney’s Hollywood Studios that has now proven unnecessary; it’s very rare for Racing Academy to draw a crowd. That leaves only Royal Majesty Makers and Muppets as the potentially big loses.
For me, the Muppets Present Great Moments in American History is a devastating cut. It’s no secret that I’m a huge Muppets fan, but have been disappointed by Disney’s treatment of them. Almost all of Disney’s efforts with the Muppets have been misfires, getting the comedic style and voice of the Muppets wrong in ham-fisted efforts to (unnecessarily) modernize them.
The Muppets Present Great Moments in American History was one big, glorious exception to that. In my “Golden Bricks Awards” for the year this show debuted, I named it the #1 new attraction at Walt Disney World, over both Frozen Ever After and Soarin Around the World.
That’s high praise for a show, but I went a step further, calling it “the best addition to Magic Kingdom in a decade. Its tone is perfect, the script is hilarious, and the way it blends education and entertainment takes a page out of EPCOT Center’s playbook and demonstrates how intellectual property could be used for edutainment.”
The Muppets Present Great Moments in American History also strengthens Liberty Square, simultaneously lightening it up a bit and deepening its significance. The show gives guests a reason to pause, appreciate the beauty and detail of the land, and think about monumental moments in our nation’s history…while laughing.
With all of that said, I must admit that I was skeptical about the show when rumors first leaked of a Muppets show in Liberty Square. Skeptical of the rumor itself, especially when Muppets Courtyard felt like a more obvious choice, but also apprehensive of its substance.
Walt Disney World doesn’t exactly have the best recent track record of tastefully injecting IPs around the parks, and I worried that the Muppets humor would be at-odds with the more solemn tone of Liberty Square. Admittedly, I wasn’t particularly vocal about this (only touching upon it here). It’s not like Liberty Square has the best atmosphere, plus Magic Kingdom is a place of whimsy…and I’m probably a bit too willing to turn a blind eye to thematic integrity if it means more Muppets.
As it turned out, a “wait and see” mentality was best. This show turned out to be pitch perfect, and something that was great for both the Muppets and Liberty Square. Sure, it was “just a diversion” that most guests saw while passing through the area, but it filled that role terrifically.
I couldn’t praise it enough and think that eliminating it is a huge error in judgment by someone who doesn’t understand what an asset this is to Liberty Square and the Muppets brand.
In that same spirit of wait and see misjudgment, I want to try to give Walt Disney World the benefit of the doubt here. Every year for the past several, Walt Disney World has made cuts to entertainment right around the end of one fiscal year and the beginning of the next.
Every year, there’s outrage over a couple of those cuts. (Last year, the big one was Citizens of Hollywood.) Every year, Disney subsequently announces new entertainment about a month later–albeit usually beginning at the start of the following calendar year.
Accordingly, it’s entirely possible this week’s anger-inducing entertainment cut rumors will be followed by official news come October about a bunch of new entertainment beginning in early 2020. That’s sort of the pattern, with Disney coasting through the October with less entertainment, before a spike in Christmas-time offerings (and in fairness, Walt Disney World already has announced new entertainment, particularly at Animal Kingdom, this holiday season).
It’s also possible that Walt Disney World is basing its cuts on guest satisfaction scores, stats on how many people took in a given performance, etc. I’ve seen the Municiberg block and Lightning McQueen are at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and both have been ghost towns at various points the last few months. Reallocating resources and budgets to things more guests will enjoy is not a bad idea, nor should new entertainment be discouraged. That’s my deferential or benefit-of-the-doubt take here.
On the other hand, there’s a pattern in recent years for Walt Disney World to cut Equity Actors (basically, any entertainer performing a scripted or choreographed role) and replacing them with non-Equity performers, or non-labor entertainment. For example, pretty much any ‘citizens’ style streetmosphere acts would be Equity performers. The Incredibles characters or anyone mingling among the audience in a dance party would not.
This is why there are more things like dance parties and projection shows, and less streetmosphere doing dedicated acts or stage shows. Entertainment that is less labor-intensive is prioritized, and offerings with non-Equity performers are favored over those with Equity roles.
Moreover, things just feel differently this year. At this point, it’s not really any secret that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge has not met Disney’s internal expectations. Shortly after its debut, Disneyland implemented hiring freezes plus a reduction of labor hours, entertainment, and operating hours for some attractions. Since then, another round of entertainment cuts have occurred out west.
With Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge also off to a slow start at Walt Disney World (albeit during a time that’s historically off-season, so not exactly the same scenario…yet), similar cost-savings measures are being undertaken in Florida. In addition to these entertainment cuts, management-level layoffs began last week, select dining experiences will increase in price on October 1, and other measures are likely at the beginning of the next fiscal year.
It’s also not really any secret that Walt Disney World now aims for constant growth, and is beholden to each quarter’s financial results. If those are off even a bit, every department is asked to reduce spending to help buoy the numbers. This is irrespective of ever-growing attendance numbers, ticket prices, etc.
We’ve witnessed the results of this several times over the last few years, in everything from entertainment cuts to reducing ride capacity in the off-season to reducing staffing throughout the parks. It’s short-term thinking for a business unit that should be more fixated on long-term health. As if Walt Disney World is teetering on the precipice of insolvency, even as attendance and per-guest spending are hitting record highs.
Last year, our Is Disney Eroding Fan Goodwill editorial focused primarily on the pricing and economic side of this, and elicited a flurry of impassioned responses from readers. My concerns today remain largely the same as when I wrote that, but I also worry that we will now see more “fat cut” from the guest experience.
The Muppets Present Great Moments in American History is not why anyone is booking a trip to Walt Disney World, and it probably doesn’t rank highly among anyone’s favorite or trip-defining experiences. However, when it comes to a Walt Disney World trip, the whole is more than the sum of its parts. It’s the little moments, the ambiance of the parks, the live musicians you pass, the way everything just feels alive that, cumulatively, absolutely does define a trip.
First-time guests may not be able to put their finger on exactly what resonated or made them feel happy at any given moment, but it’s all of this, in its totality. First-timers who fall in love with the parks and become life-long fans are not doing so because they view the parks simply as a collection of rides. Live entertainment and the little “unnecessary” things are part of what makes the parks feel lived-in, and those acts you might walk past seep into your mind and do move the ‘guest satisfaction’ needle.
Disney used to recognize this, delivering a level of entertainment that surpassed guest expectations and offered a litany of surprise gems to stumble upon. In large part, I think Walt Disney World still aims to exceed expectations, albeit on a more epic and less charming scale. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Pandora are both spectacular, and other upcoming additions look very promising. What concerns me is the smaller stuff, especially that which is deemed superfluous, expendable, or can quickly save on labor costs. These smaller things are just as integral to the overall guest experience.
As upset as I am about the Muppet show being cut, I’m willing to take a wait and see approach to what’s announced next–while still being worried that Walt Disney World is preparing to trim as much fat as possible to make quarterly results look better. The problem with that is if you trim too much fat, you start to hit bone. Attendance woes become a self-fulfilling property, especially over time. Cutting part of what makes the parks special only further alienates long-time fans while also making first-timers less likely to fall in love with the place, and become lifelong fans. That’s far more detrimental to the long-term health of the parks than an off quarter or two because of the botched launch of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
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What do you think of these Walt Disney World entertainment cuts? Are you optimistic or pessimistic about replacements? Do you likewise worry that the performance of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge could have sweeping ramifications for Walt Disney World? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!