destructionofwdi

The Systematic Destruction of Walt Disney Imagineering — Current Imagineers State ‘Morale Has Never Been Lower’ As Lake Nona Move Draws Closer

Here and there, you’ve probably noticed a social media post from a current or former Disney Imagineer about the upcoming move of most employees in the division from Glendale, California, to Lake Nona, Florida. As the move draws closer, we are beginning to find out who will or won’t make the move to Central Florida. Just the other day, we found out that Kevin Lively, who just recently completed stellar updates of The Jungle Cruise attraction at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, will not be staying on through the relocation.

For some, the decision has already been made, and they won’t be heading southeast. For others, a “yes” to the move was given in hopes that the Lake Nona relocation will fail to materialize or at least fail to materialize quickly, leaving them a few more months, maybe even years of employment at WDI before they have to pack a bag.

imagineering-building

Morale at Walt Disney Imagineering is understandably at “an all-time low,” according to those who we spoke with, all of which are still actively employed in Glendale. How could it not be after the COVID-19 furloughs, which were followed by layoffs, forced retirements, and now this “move” to Lake Nona? Things are bad enough that Imagineers who have been with the company 30 years or longer often warn younger employees that they “shouldn’t trust management” in regards to this Florida campus project and beyond.

Apparently, upper management had such little respect for the leadership at Imagineering that they only told them about the Lake Nona move but a day or two before it was announced to the public. That’s right, Imagineering wasn’t even consulted on this drastic change of scenery for their employees. When WDI Presidents Bob Weis and Barbara Bouza had to break the news to the entire campus, it was said that they looked “distraught,” and the perception of their peers was that they took the decision from the company “very personally.”

Originally, teams were going to be specifically picked to move to Florida, but then about a month ago, the direction became that “all of Imagineering was going to be going.” The internal rumblings on this change are that so few are willing to make the move, that it just makes sense to move all who are willing to go. Some estimate as low as just 15% or less of employees will remain when all is said and done.

Imagineers were given 90 days to decide if they were going to move or not. That’s the point at which many started to leave the organization. As stated before, others not planning to make the move are holding out, whether it be out of hope that the Lake Nona project gets canned or simply to collect their upcoming bonuses early next year. Another large scale exodus of talent is expected at that time.

No matter who you talk to, the story seems to be the same, that Walt Disney Imagineering is a mess at the moment. Some staff was told that if they say “no” to the move, they can change their minds in the future, while others were told the exact opposite. Administrators and assistants were not even offered relocation packages; they were instead told they could relocate themselves and reapply for the position after doing so.

In the end, it is clearer each day to the public what the Lake Nona move is, and Imagineers have known it since day one. It is not truly a relocation; it is a downsizing, cost-cutting measure. The pandemic has offered Disney CEO Bob Chapek and his associates an opportunity to make the company as lean as possible, as lean as they always wanted it to be. The layoffs, early-retirement offers, and now this move are all in the same effort to reduce creative costs on projects, which has been a hallmark of the Chapek regime from the day he was given the job as the head of Parks and Resorts back in 2015. Every Imagineer interviewed specifically brought up the last-minute elimination of entertainment and walk-around audio-animatronics characters for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, and many brought up other projects they worked on which had been drastically slashed over the past six years. Given these circumstances, none of them are shocked as to what is happening to their departments now.

Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios was more robust before massive budget cuts eliminated an indoor shop, a sit-down restaurant, much of them themed elements from Slinky Dog Dash, and more.

So, why would someone stay with the company through all of this? Well, like you and me, these Imagineers, in most cases, are lifelong Disney fans. Multiple Imagineers told us that they know they could make 2-3 times more money and be happier elsewhere, but they pursued this passion because they love the theme parks and want nothing more in this world but to create amazing places for guests to visit. They also, like us, don’t want to see the current regime that is running The Walt Disney Company decimate the product nor the legendary institution that created it.

The reality that The Walt Disney Company doesn’t understand in its fight for a healthy bottom line today is that many of these people are not replaceable. This talent can not be found at a lower price point, and the resulting product, no matter how wildly popular your intellectual properties are, will not make the return you believe it will if the representation in the theme parks and resorts is poorly designed or no different from what a competitor can make.

This post comes from a selfish place, and honestly, so do the pleas of the Imagineers who want to stay with the company now without moving. As people who grew up to love the Disney brand and all that it stands for, we want to see it thrive and succeed while remaining true to its core values. We know that if all this comes to pass, in many ways, the company we fell in love with will no longer be what it once was. Again, these wonderfully talented people know they can make magic elsewhere, but they want to make it for the company they love and for the people who share in that love with them.

If Disney does make this mistake and relinquishes all of this talent to the world, I pray the rest of the themed entertainment industry takes this opportunity to strengthen their rosters. I personally would give anything to have the capital to begin a new theme park endeavor right now, knowing full well I could have my pick of some of the most talented people to ever create and design. Disney’s loss will be the rest of the industry’s gain, or maybe someone will, for once, think of the product they give their customers over a temporary change to a profit margin.

For more information on booking your next trip with our official travel agent sponsor, the Vacationeer, visit wdwnt.travel.

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Dan
Dan
1 month ago

Thank you for this article, while I have heard about this along the way you bring it all home. My wife and I were just talking about how Disney is making us pay more and get less across the board. Hoping for positive changes in hopefully the near future.

Dan
Dan
1 month ago
Reply to  Dan

The other side of this is people keep paying extra. Meaning, after hours events, dessert parties etc. If Disney continues to make money off of things like this they will continue to do it.

beautiful gorgeous
1 month ago
Reply to  Dan

Higher prices and no perks

Cody
Cody
1 month ago

I bet Universal is thrilled with this. Especially with their new park

Sarah
Sarah
1 month ago
Reply to  Cody

Universal cares even less about their employees… they are the same if not worse or more abusive.

Last edited 1 month ago by Sarah
ChapekSucks
ChapekSucks
1 month ago
Reply to  Sarah

In my experience working for both, Disney has asked us to bend over and take it repeatedly, making many of us quit. Not once have I ever felt so disrespected and undervalued at Universal as Disney has made me feel in the last year, so I’m leaving my disney job of 11 years for a FT position with universal.

DonB
DonB
1 month ago
Reply to  Cody

Cody we couldn’t agree more .As highly invested DVC members our plan for future vacations is to stay at our Disney resort and spend our theme park dollars at Universal. Disney is gouging us all and we’re not going to spend money in their parks.

Horton
Horton
1 month ago

If you want to be a reporter then by all means REPORT news. Trying to do a news story thats really just an opinion piece not actually backed up by anything other than social media posts is something Fox News does. Be better.

Moe Chodee
Moe Chodee
1 month ago
Reply to  Horton

I think we found Chapek’s burner account.

Ronald Patterson
Ronald Patterson
1 month ago
Reply to  Horton

Fox,CNN,MSMBC,ABC,CBS ect, all dont back much up, Tom has been covering this for a little bit and pretty fairley i might add, we all know it’s coming,I just hope they leave their CA ideas there and not bring them to florida.

CLG
CLG
1 month ago
Reply to  Horton

This is exactly how it is felt. FEELS LIKE cheapskate wants to kill disney.

Bob
Bob
1 month ago
Reply to  CLG

Actually his name is pronounce, “Bob Paycheck”

Horton SHUSH
Horton SHUSH
1 month ago
Reply to  Horton

doesn’t read article yet knows more about the subject than the author

Ken
Ken
1 month ago
Reply to  Horton

It seems that there are those like yourself “Horton” who was absent from English class when COMPREHENSION was taught. This reporter stated the facts clearly. The reporter also interjected a purely professional opinion of what effects the facts are and how those facts are affecting not only the cast members but also longtime Disney fans.. Instead of being a negative person attacking the person use COMPREHENSION to rea beyond yer nose.

Pedro
Pedro
1 month ago
Reply to  Horton

Someone sounds a bit upset about the truth being let out… keep this up and everyone will sooner or later stop going to your parks. Enjoy.

Melissa
Melissa
1 month ago

Why/how is Chapek still in position? He’s proven time & time again he doesn’t understand Disney and doesn’t care.

Matt
Matt
1 month ago
Reply to  Melissa

He’s still there and will stay for the foreseeable future because he is doing what most shareholders want – they only care about the bottom line.

Rinshu
Rinshu
1 month ago
Reply to  Melissa

Because he makes the shareholders happy. End of story.

Marc
Marc
1 month ago
Reply to  Melissa

PROFITS over PEOPLE. The American way.

Rob
Rob
1 month ago
Reply to  Melissa

Chapek is not there for you and me and the happiness. He is there for the shareholder ,the business people and the money men ,who don’t give a rat’s ass about magic or happiness. They care about the almighty dollar and the bottom line. As much disdain as I have for Chapek in that regard he’s doing a bang-up job of why he was put in place and unfortunately seems he will remain there. Seems we haven’t seen the worst of it yet.

kyle kroening
kyle kroening
1 month ago
Reply to  Melissa

An inexperienced rookie CEO like Chapek sees a year in which they lost BILLIONS and sees the “easy” answer to that problem that’ll keep shareholders happy is reducing costs across the board the following year. His fast and hard cuts (that impact both internal units as well as guest experiences) have been nothing short of disgusting. And for what? You’re not going to recoup billions within a year or even two years especially the longer the pandemic continues to impact all WDW company divisions. It seems the biggest cuts and changes imposed have been applied to the Theme Parks division… Read more »

mis
mis
1 month ago

it has become quite apparent that cheapact cares about nothing but the money, not employees, and certainly not the customers he is fleecing.

Joel
Joel
1 month ago

Bob Paycheck at it again. While I wasn’t a fan of Iger either this is getting rediculous. I forsee a return to the dark yrs ahead.

Binh Le
Binh Le
1 month ago
Reply to  Joel

What’s wrong with Iger?? In my opinion, 0.
What’s wrong with Chapek?? everything

Katharine
Katharine
1 month ago

Working in the industry that Chapek came from before Disney – this move does not surprise me as it’s quite common in CPGs. Cost-cutting is now a measure of success versus true innovation. Hard to see this culture make its way over to Disney.

Fred
Fred
1 month ago
Reply to  Katharine

You are right there are two ways to meet your objectives even with your family budget. You can get more sources of income, like a second job, or more customers, or you can reduce costs. Both take skill and require pain and hardahip.

Disney Tom
Disney Tom
1 month ago

It’s so crazy because on the Disney+ Imagineering series they highlighted how Eisner’s decisions to deliver a very cheap DCA and Walt Disney Studios Paris park we’re blemishes on the company’s creative legacy. Wasn’t it John Hench that said, “…I thought it looked better as a parking lot” (in reference to the opening mess called DCA). Cheap doesn’t keep the ticket turnstiles clicking in the long run. You don’t post hope that Roy Disney would make a corny. I think he’s either done with Disney Corporate or else they are obstructing him purposefully. I find it very odd, especially y… Read more »

Josh
Josh
1 month ago
Reply to  Disney Tom

Roy Disney died in 2009. His daughter, Abigail, has taken over the role of criticizing the company her grandfather and grand-uncle built.

Last edited 1 month ago by Josh
Darryl
Darryl
1 month ago
Reply to  Disney Tom

Alas, Roy E. Disney passed away in 2009, so he certainly can’t help course correct this time around. (I was on staff at WDI during both the best and worst of the Eisner era, and I try never to lose hope that the parks will someday rise above once more)

Tlaw
Tlaw
1 month ago
Reply to  Darryl

Darryl — maybe a new rise of the resistance (i.e. DVV members)?

Tim
Tim
1 month ago

I am the designer of the fireflies at Pirates of the Caribbean and had some astute observations I shared here that were censored anyway.

WHY IS THE WORLD GOING TO HELL?

Donna L Duvall
Donna L Duvall
1 month ago
Reply to  Tim

Because our world right now is all about greed, and the rich getting richer. Won’t last, but the path back to sanity will be long and painful.

Jeff
Jeff
1 month ago

I understand that Disney is cutting costs and quality, but I don’t get the hesitancy to move to Florida. I would think that Disney staff would appreciate the lower taxes and cost of living.

Molly
Molly
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

Not everything in life is about work and money. To move from a place that invests in its citizens to one where schools can’t even choose to have students wear masks without getting sued by their own governor is not an easy move. Plus, people have lives where they live. Asking someone to move 3000 miles for lower taxes but be completely away from their families and homes isn’t easy. I would never move myself and my family 3000 miles to save on taxes in a place where so little importance is placed on health, equality and education.

May
May
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

I know, right? California is so dry, hard on skin. Florida is so much better, and it has Disney World, for heaven’s sake! But of course in practice, that might be difficult to do. Homes to sell, spouses who may not be able/willing to move, kids who like going to a different school, family close by, etc. They might want to move some day, but not now.

Michelle
Michelle
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

It’s not cheaper to live in Central Florida. Yes, there are no state taxes, but you pay for it in local taxes, lack of quality education, and the government here doesn’t care about its constituents. It’s not the happiest place on Earth to live. Orlando and the surrounding area are in a major housing crisis because so many people move here. Personally, we moved here (for work) January 2020, bought a house, and it is suddenly worth $200k MORE than we bought it for. While that seems nice, it’s terrifying that the market will adjust itself sooner rather than later.… Read more »

Dave Fullerton
Dave Fullerton
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

Because, for some people, there is more to life than money. California and Anaheim are much different than Florida and Orlando. A lot of people would leave loved ones and a way of life behind just to make more money and that’s fine. But a lot of people wouldn’t. You can call that irrational if you want.

Branwen
Branwen
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

I have no insights or connections to the imagineering department, but if I had to tell my team that they had to decide to relocate across the country or resign and had 90 days to decide that would be a huge blow and a hard sell. Most people live where they want to be. They have families, friends, and support networks, and asking them to pull up roots and move across the country to a different climate and completely new place is a lot. The fact that administration and support staff were told yeah you can move on your own… Read more »

Holly
Holly
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

A lower cost of living and no state taxes does not cancel out low morale, moving away from your family and friends, moving away from your home, moving to a constant steam room, a covid nightmare because of our crazy governor, a large republican population when you’remost likelya Democrat, poor educational system…I could go on. Not everyone loves everything about Florida. Some of us can see it’s flaws but can deal, some of us are stuck because of jobs. There are many reasonable reasons a Californian would not choose to live in Florida.

Jaina
Jaina
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

There are lots of reasons – a lot of people have spouses who have careers california, family they don’t want to leave, homes they own, kids who don’t want to change schools, friends and community they would be leaving behind. And the company has been so volatile that there’s no guarantee that after all that they won’t be laid off anyway and end up with the short end of the stick. Also it’s true that taxes and cost of living are lower there, but salaries tend to be lower to be commensurate with that. Florida is more “business friendly” but… Read more »

Ronald Patterson
Ronald Patterson
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

Jeff, you have to remember, they live in California, They have a very specific way of thinking and belive Florida us a bad place becuse of lower taxes and the freedom we have

Travis
Travis
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

I don’t think it is about lower taxes and cost of living. Most people have a family. Whether that is a spouse and children, or possibly parents or relatives that need taken care of. To drop all your ties and move to the east coast is daunting. “financially” it might make sense, but there are more factors than just finance. What if your loved one is in a hospital because of cancer and you can’t move to florida due to this reason. Compassion goes a long way, and maybe the lack of compassion is what is causing these problems…

Goophy
Goophy
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

Why don’t they just relocate to a third world country with zero standards? You have to realize, talent likes to live places and have a life outside of work. Shockingly, a lot of imagineers were drawn to their jobs because they lived near a given park and dreamed of seeing those changes come to the park.

California imagineers have no shortage of theme parks in California to jump ship to, mind you, that are still doing a lot of the work locally. So, thanks to Disney’s cost cutting, expect to see improvement at universal studios in the future.

Donna L Duvall
Donna L Duvall
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

You mean where the humidity is stifling and the bugs are as big as Buicks?!

Janice
Janice
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

There are a number of factors. Leaving family & friends is difficult. The Florida weather
is excruciating! The heat & humidity is suffocating to me. Having to deal with hurricanes. Just dealing with selling a home, packing up for a cross country move, living in temporary housing, trying to find a home to buy is not a little thing.

Robert
Robert
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

Florida sucks, Jeff. More to life than money.

Bob
Bob
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

I don’t think you’ve been to California or Florida – because if you have you wouldn’t make that comment. One state is paradise, one is a sauna. Oh, and it’s 2500 miles apart. Can you just up and move like that? Family, pets, vehicles, community – can you give that all up?

ML Boehling
ML Boehling
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

For those that could uproot their families’ lives, I see your point, but moving even in the same city is hard. Moving across the country and away from all your friends, family and support network can be incredibly hard and impossible for some. Imagine (pun intended) leaving your siblings, parents, friends behind and having no back up child support or just support?

Arin
Arin
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

And fewer worker protections. While I happen to live in Florida, I can understand the perspective of someone who currently lives in a very blue state, that their values may be different that someone who lives in a red state. Lower taxes is not something everyone would trade for if they enjoy the benefits they get in trade.

Dizzylander
Dizzylander
1 month ago

Well said Tom, We as Disney and theme park fans need this article now more than ever. We have truly witnessed an intentional dismantling of creative culture and historic institution under the Chapek era (all the way back to his head of parks days).

Fernando
Fernando
1 month ago

Well written! It’s a sad state of affairs. Guests are losing benefits and perks while prices are going up and they’re cutting corners and staff. Let’s make one thing clear. Disney is by no means hurting. Yeah, some execs might not be able to buy that extra car or vacation abroad this year. But this company is by no means going bankrupt or hurting for money. All these changes make very clear they only want money from people they want money from: the rich. They are pricing out the middle class and will be no better than the organizations that… Read more »

mis
mis
1 month ago
Reply to  Fernando

it hasn’t added anything to shareholders stock either. down quite a bit in the last 6 months.

julie
julie
1 month ago
Reply to  Fernando

Disney have priced themselves out of my business. I can afford it but I’m not rich. We just got back from Disneyworld and the prices were so unbelievably high. So much so that we won’t be going back. Very sad because we have been there probably 20+ times in 50 years from Michigan.

Donald Walk
Donald Walk
1 month ago

Chapek is the new Michael Eisner. At least Eisner had a good start as CEO but then really got cheap and cut corners in his last 5-10 years as CEO. Bob Chapek is starting off where Michael Wisner left off. Who will be the next CEO that will have to come in and fix what Chapek has screwed up like Bob Iger had to do when Eisner was kicked out?

ROBERT
ROBERT
1 month ago

HERE HERE !!!!! BRAVO for this vision of the future: Universal Studios will be gaining lots of great talent !! Glad I’m a UOAP member !!!!

Robert Gilbreath
Robert Gilbreath
1 month ago
Reply to  ROBERT

Not really. Most of Universal Creative is also based in Orlando.

Steven Sampson
Steven Sampson
1 month ago

Disney is far from the only company moving jobs out of California. Regulation and taxes are taxes are insane. I’d be thrilled if I was an Imagineer moving to Florida.

Joe
Joe
1 month ago
Reply to  Steven Sampson

Don’t know why this comment was down voted so much. It’s a legitimate point.

Doug
Doug
1 month ago

Thank you, Imagineers, for all the happiness and fun you brought to us. You deserve to be treated so much better than this.

DonB
DonB
1 month ago

This is shockingly sad and yet another thimble headed move by the penny pinching CEO. It’s obvious his goal is to destroy Walt’s legacy and it will take years to recover from this short sightedness.

beautiful gorgeous
1 month ago

I would think that they would want to get out of California. Tent cities, nanny state, anti-business practices, high taxes, expensive homes and socialist leadership. I can see why they wouldn’t want to leave, said nobody.

CA Isn't The Problem
CA Isn't The Problem
1 month ago

Struggling families, a blight of a state, surging inequality, lowered school standards, siphoning money away from public schools…yeah Florida isn’t the paradise you and Ronnie seem to think it is.

Goophy
Goophy
1 month ago

You really make the fox news talking points sound like they are a constant issue in daily life in the state.

Earitch
Earitch
1 month ago

Down voters simply denying the reality that California finds itself in, under years and years of single party rule. Disney moving WDI out of California is as much a commentary on the state politicians as it is Chapek’s stupid decisions.

Alicia Preiser-Honn
Alicia Preiser-Honn
1 month ago

Last edited 1 month ago by Alicia Preiser-Honn
Hunt
Hunt
1 month ago

Being an Engineer in Central Florida, I’ve heard the rumblings of this for months and while it is sad to hear about those departing the company, it was a source of excitement for Disney fans like me who saw this as their chance to finally be an imagineer! But the way it’s all shaking out is sounding less ideal.

Travis
Travis
1 month ago
Reply to  Hunt

It would look good on a resume if you got a job at Disney and stayed for a couple of years though…..

Robert Gilbreath
Robert Gilbreath
1 month ago
Reply to  Hunt

Good luck… and consider yourself warned.