What could go right - #15 - Disney
In each (bi-monthly) issue, we usually explore the threats to the business model of a company or sector. For some time now, we have been innovating in this issue with a Design Fiction exercise: we weave an imaginary scenario based on contemporary trends and controversies and explore the factors that could lead to systemic changes in an industry. Here, we look at Disneyland Paris and the industry of themed parks. How can it respond to new regulatory constraints in the future and reflect the changes of our society?
In this imaginary article, we travel to the year 2053, and look back at the years between then, and now.
From zero to hero: the slow evolution of Disneyland
A few days ago, Disneyland Paris revealed with great fanfare its new projects for the park. After almost 10 years of closure, the public was excited to discover the future of the beloved theme park, with a lot less Paris in it: indeed, the company took a completely decentralized approach to its new attractions, with sustainability and nature at the center of it all. The magic of Disneyland is now to be experienced through thematic villages scattered all over France, where Disney stories and characters will meet their natural landscapes: the snowy Frozen universe will come alive in Val Cenis, the seaside wonders of the Little Mermaid will live in Arromanches-Les-Bains, etc. There is a stark contrast between this new positioning and the difficulties of the park almost 30 years ago when the company faced harsh criticism for its environmental footprint and the impact of its choices in terms of representation.
Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?
One of the biggest problems that arose ten years ago was the park's environmental impact. Back when the French government imposed a consumption limit of 2 tons of CO2 emissions per year per citizen in 2042, people quickly protested a measure they deemed unfair compared to the more laxist treatment of companies. In the Paris area, environmental associations published a list of the enterprises whose emissions per customer and per employee exploded the 2 tons limit. Disneyland Paris was among them. This incident brought back a few unpleasant memories in the discussions. There was the public uproar in 2026 when the park’s direction decided to produce fake snow to make the Frozen ride more exciting all year round. Or that time in 2034 when a marketing operation involving influencers being flown from Marseille to Paris caused a social media backlash around the impact of the transport of visitors, employees and goods to the park. But the most recent incident in 2038 involved the CSR report by the company in which the public discovered the failure to meet the objectives of reduction of waste from merchandising sales and restoration offers.
Now in 2042, the criticism did not waver, and visits of French tourists to the park started slowing down dramatically. The park decided to dramatically turn things around. John Smith, then Environmental VP for Disneyland Paris declared to the press: "It was difficult, but it's the heart of Disney to bring magic everywhere, even if it doesn't seem possible at first glance. Rethinking our entire business model without destroying our DNA was a challenge that all of our employees took on wholeheartedly".
10 years later, the new parks have operated a 360: most of the original, energy-hungry attractions were ditched in favor of nature-centric activities in the local parks. The infrastructure was built using the most advanced principles of eco-architecture, with low-impact materials and energy-saving passive architectural strategies. All the energy being used for the infrastructures comes from green sources and half of it is created on-site with low-tech energy-producing facilities. The merchandising offer has been drastically reduced, in favor of artisanal goods produced locally, while every waste produced by the parks is either reused by local secondhand producers. The restoration offer has been localized as well, with 80% of ingredients used being sourced regionally. A number of partnerships were put into place in order to support the company in its ambitions, with several environmental associations being integrated into the park to showcase their actions. A prominent agreement was signed with the SNCF to provide themed trains transporting tourists from everywhere in France towards the delocalized parks.
One of the changes that might change drastically the new experiences of visitors is the focus on the societal impact of each park. There is a clear ambition to merge education with entertainment here, and to influence behaviors and viewpoints in a way that responds to our current climatic and societal challenges. Nature and the environment are clear themes. But another key transformation point is around diversity and representations.
A whole new world
Indeed, running parallel to the environmental PR incidents Disneyland Paris was facing up to 2042, several articles were pointing to issues of representation, in movies and subsequently in the park. Even the introduction in the 20s of new stories and characters by the studio to enhance representation was followed slowly in the park, with an overrepresentation of athletic and caucasian actors and actresses. For the fans of the movie Vaïana, it took 15 years to experience a corresponding ride in the park, when Frozen or Ratatouille rides became public 10 years after the movie's release. Additionally, a 2014 study by Anne-Caroline Prévot-Julliard showed that Disney movies, and their subsequent adaptations into the park, reduced or erased the presence of wild nature. Instead, viewers and visitors were seeing more images of cultivated nature or non-green environments, urban, technological, futuristic… The study pointed to a potential “generational amnesia”, a wider disconnect of younger generations’ to Nature compared with generations past.
As corrective and preventive measures, the park’s direction created a new division in 2027: the HRI (Hub for Respect and Inclusion) had a mission to ensure that representations in Disneyland Paris were in line with a rapidly changing world. This team was central in the measures of the current parks to introduce new characters to well-known stories, as well as putting down the physical requirements for casting certain characters. The primary remaining rule being to favor local employment, the new parks were encouraged to welcome visitors with an ensemble showcasing diverse figures and skin tones, like Lola Shaw, the first black actress to play Elsa in the Val Cenis Frozen park. A move that echoed the diversity strategy of the Disney studios in its movies at the beginning of the 20s, and started with the casting of Halle Bailey as Ariel in the “Little Mermaid” movie in 2023.
And for the inclusion of Nature, not only is it represented in the new parks, but it becomes the central element. Each mini-park is designed around biodiversity. They were built for easy dismantling, with the idea of not spending more than 4 years in the same area. The local ecosystem and biodiversity have been studied beforehand in order to help it regenerate or improve once the park has been moved to another place. And within the preserved natural environment, the attractions and entertainment are well alive: underwater exploration in mermaid bio-suits, ice rides on autonomous electric sledges, augmented-reality fireflies ballet in the forest...
And about the now closed Marne-La-Vallée park? Like a forgotten palace in a fairytale, the company has engaged the works to turn the place into a wildlife sanctuary, using the remains of the dismantled, recycled, and reused infrastructure to regenerate nature, with the ambition of opening a public national park in 10 years.
Why do we do foresight?
This was an attempt at a fictional article about a possible future for Disneyland Paris. To create this story, we based ourselves on macro and sectoral trends, current news about the industry, and shifting consumer behaviors, and projected this scenario following some of those directions.
Although it might seem improbable, the vision detailed here is close to the positioning of the recently opened Studio Ghibli park: a place to wander in the heart of nature in order to immerse oneself in the culture and spirit of five iconic animated films.
With this article we would like to ask you some questions:
Do you think that the entertainment industry should be an important ecological catalyst?
Do you think Disneyland Paris could reinvent itself without losing its raison d'être?
Would you be willing to give up themed parks for the planet?
If you have two minutes, don't hesitate to answer our stafisfaction survey