As we emerge from the dark ages of the Bob Chapek era, where we watched the failed executive try to run Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products and eventually the entire company as CEO, there are certain moments that make it clear that Disney is likely on the right track to recovery. For me, the greatest sign of that commitment to right the ship is a culture change at Walt Disney Imagineering that begins with the return of Bruce Vaughn.
In the years after Bob Iger became CEO of The Walt Disney Company following Michael Eisner (you know, the first time), it was clear that many of the Disney theme parks around the world needed to be revamped, and embarking on such changes would require a significant investment. During those years, Bruce Vaughn led WDI as Chief Creative Executive and oversaw many positively received offerings that helped to correct creative mistakes, such as Cars Land and Buena Vista Street at Disney California Adventure, as well as Mystic Manor and Grizzly Gulch at Hong Kong Disneyland.
Other projects from that era include the Disney Dream and the Disney Fantasy cruise ships for Disney Cruise Line, New Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom, and eventually, Pandora: The World of AVATAR at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It can easily be argued that the years when Vaughn was an executive were the high point in the organization’s incredible history, or that it was, at the very least, one of the greatest eras of Imagineering.
Any fan will tell you that the Disney Parks around the world flourished during this period, and the art form experienced a real renaissance, at least until it was derailed by executives who didn’t understand the company they had inherited. Lackluster projects crippled by budget cuts and forced IP infusion became the norm, such as the shade-barren Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the rushed and disjointed Pixar Pier at Disney California Adventure, and a Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge that lacked any of the aliens, droids, and interactivity guests were originally promised.
Coming off of the last few years, where Imagineers experienced mass furloughs and layoffs and lost many important creative battles to deliver quality products, the return of someone with such longevity within the organization can only be seen as a positive.
Some Imagineers have voiced opinions to WDWNT that they felt like the company did not want “Disney people” working in WDI and that the Walt Disney Company was going out of its way to morph the organization through different hiring practices. A sign of these changes was the addition of Barbara Bouza in 2020. Bouza previously served as Co-Managing Director and Principal at the Los Angeles-based Gensler, a global architecture, engineering, and design firm, before joining Disney, eventually being named president of Walt Disney Imagineering. Her hiring signaled a change in the way business would be done as the company seemed to switch to a budget-centric approach.
Following the departure of Bob Chapek, Disney seems to be working quickly on restoring their commitment to creativity. Recent changes have swung the pendulum back to the artistry required of such a company, and the return of Vaughn is certainly a big step in that process. Perhaps, Disney management better understands the importance of creativity and realizes its best path forward cannot rely solely on an executive that lacks decades of creative experience in the realm of themed entertainment. Vaughn’s return marks the start of a welcome restructuring for Walt Disney Imagineering.
The co-leadership between Bruce Vaughn and Barbara Bouza probably does a lot to placate everyone within The Walt Disney Company. Many of the creatives within Imagineering were reportedly excited to hear of Vaughn’s return today, and surely many Disney executives will be pleased that someone like Bouza can bring experience on the delivery and budgeting of such large projects. It does seem that the duo could bring some much needed balance to the division, at least on paper.
The internal memo sent to Imagineers today by Josh D’Amaro stresses that “creativity is the heart and soul of who we are and what we do at Disney.” As Disney fans, whether we simply consume the product or work to create it, we surely believe these words, and a move like bringing back Bruce Vaughn does something to convince us that maybe Disney management does believe what they say. I remain optimistic that the quality, the care, and the creativity I have come to love and admire from the Disney theme parks may very well be restored in the near future.
Now, we just need Disney to increase those Florida cast member wages…
This content was originally published here.