When Disney announced plans for Hyperion Wharf on November 18, my first reaction was relief and excitement. As a local resident, I had gotten mightily tired of walking through the area formerly known as Pleasure Island. Its empty facades and its spattering of storefronts was sobering. The Adventurer’s Club remained a heartbreaking reminder of lost potential, and the entire area seemed sadly hollow. After two years, it seemed rather despicable that nothing had been done with that lonely patch of real estate between the two shopping districts of Downtown Disney. The news that something…anything…was going into that space was a move in the right direction. Maybe there was some hope for the old area after all.
The problem, of course, was in what the new concept art showed. Although it was billed as a “nostalgic yet modern take on an early 20th century port city and amusement pier,” there was rising fear among the online community that this new location would be little more than another random aggregation of shops and restaurants. And, of course, that suspicion found rich soil in the resentment over the loss of the Adventurer’s Club to an “early 20th Century port city.”
Certainly, I am far from confident looking at the concept art circulating on the internet, but there are, if one looks closely, some hints of hope.
Take, for example, the name. Although numerous internet sources have pointed out the connection with Hyperion Avenue, location of one of Disney’s first studios, little mention has been made of the other Hyperion. The Hyperion has another place in Disney mythos; it is also the name of the beautiful airship that left its mark as the most memorable part of Disney’s 1974 film The Island at the top of the World. That airship, from a film set in 1907, appears at Disneyland Paris, and the turn-of-the-century spirit of innovation and invention that it epitomizes is well in keeping with Disney’s recent forays into the Mechanikal Kingdom and other alternate history themes.
That reference to an airship and to the turn of the century also fits in well with the plethora of electric lights portrayed in the concept art as well as the integration of the “factory” that remains a dominant part of the Hyperion Wharf skyline.
Although there are no guarantees, Disney has seemed increasingly interested in the rewritten Victoriana of early science fiction. The planned sequel to the Mechanikal Kingdom pin sets and the associated exclusive items hint toward a new sensitivity to popular interest in steampunk and other revisionist views of a past that runs on steam and dreams. I desperately hope that Hyperion Wharf taps into those elements.
Rather than simply representing another shopping district, I cherish the wish that Hyperion Wharf represents a location filled with theme. Disney Historian Jim Korkis characterizes theme as an utterly immersive sense of place and concept that does not require heavy exposition but merely transports the viewer. That is my fervent hope. Much of Pleasure Island fell short because of the ultimate triumph of story – a convoluted history that required explanation – over theme. If this new district can generate theme, really evoking an alternate time and place, bringing to life a turn of the century wharf flavored by a whiff of steam powered adventure, it has potential.
And then, of course, there is the giant elephant in the corner. What about the Adventurer’s Club? Few institutions in Disney history have been so beloved and cherished. Rarely, in recent history, have Disney fans felt so personally attached. When the official Disney Blog posted the news of Hyperion Wharf, almost half the comments beneath the post mentioned the Adventurer’s Club, mourning its loss and requesting its return. Can Disney ignore that kind of demand? Of course. Will they ignore it? I certainly hope not. If Hyperion Wharf lives up to its potential as a themed area with hints of the Hyperion airship and its era, there is more than enough connection to justify a new iteration of the Adventurer’s Club, an institution quite firmly founded in the pseudo-Victorian ideologies of uncharted wastelands and smashing adventures. And perhaps, if the imagineers pulling the strings behind the curtain are given free reign, this new area will spawn a new version of the Adventurer’s Club that, while it will never match up to fond memories, may provide updated entertainment and bring in the monetary profits required to justify its existence and upkeep.
So in a few years, Pleasure Island will be a part of Disney legend and Hyperion Wharf will become a part of Disney present. Here’s hoping that the corporate juggernaut of Disney can see beyond the lure of increasing the number of restaurant seats and return to its heritage of theme and giving its patrons what they want. If Walt Disney refused to lay down the side paths in Disneyland until the people decided where they want to walk, perhaps his heirs can afford to create an area that gives a new generation what they want – a chance to be transported to another time and place, and to do more than just shop. Entertain us, and we will come.