The biggest theme parks typically don’t comment on rumors and speculation, but Disney made two notable exceptions to that standard practice in the past week.
In the span of just 48 hours, Disney forcefully denied two rumors about the Magic Kingdom that were first reported by WDW News Today, a popular fan site that often posts stories about changes reputedly coming to Disney parks.
The first dealt with the Enchanted Tiki Room, which the site said in a June 26 story would be replaced with a “Moana”-themed overlay, citing “sources inside the company.” That same day, Disney denied the rumor, claiming “our fans are being fed incorrect information by unscrupulous sources.”
WDW News Today founder Tom Corless told Orlando Rising that Disney’s statement was “too vague” to warrant a retraction of his initial report. In two separate articles on his site, he called Disney’s post about his Tiki Room story “the most unprofessional statement the company has released in its history” and defended his site’s track record of breaking news about Disney parks before the company has made an official announcement.
Corless stepped up his criticism on the June 27 edition of the WDW News Tonight podcast.
“I think it’s clear, and I don’t think we need to mince words anymore, that WDWNT.com is absolutely, I would say, at war with the Walt Disney Company,” Corless said. “That is the way I would phrase it at this point. It has gotten personal and nasty and that comes from the top down,” going on to accuse Disney’s theme parks division of becoming “petty” under the leadership of Bob Chapek, the company’s chairman of Parks, Experiences and Products.
Corless pointed out that Disney had yet to comment on an earlier rumor he reported regarding the future of Country Bear Jamboree, another Magic Kingdom attraction dating to the park’s 1971 opening. In a June 17 story on WDW News Today, Corless had said the Frontierland show would be closed and replaced with “a Toy Story audio-animatronic marionette show.”
The Jamboree story became something of a crusade, with WDW News Today launching a separate site, SaveTheJamboree.com, encouraging fans to sign a petition sharing their personal feelings about the show.
Disney did address the rumor Friday in another blog post, denying the attraction would be closing.
“Our Imagineers are always looking at ways to bring more magic to our guests through experiences and stories they know, but contrary to rumors, Country Bear Jamboree is not going into hibernation any time soon,” wrote Thomas Smith, editorial content director for Disney Parks. “In fact, we’re looking forward to celebrating its 50th anniversary on Oct. 1, 2021 at Walt Disney World Resort, with Henry, the Five Bear Rugs and the rest of the gang.
In an email to Orlando Rising, Corless indicated was standing by his initial story despite Disney’s response.
“Based on the fact that the ‘rumor’ came from the team working on the Woody’s Round-Up show, I will not retract my story,” he said. “The project has been cancelled and Disney has used this as an opportunity to damage the only large fan site that they don’t have control over.”
Elsewhere, Corless claimed victory. The SaveTheJamboree.com page has now been updated to credit the petition effort with the news that Country Bear Jamboree would not be closing.
“Thanks for all your help! Together, we did it! The Country Bear Jamboree has been saved!” the page reads.
Disney has gotten into public spats with the press before, though the most well-documented incidents involve news outlets outside the theme park niche.
In November 2017, the company temporarily banned a Los Angeles Times film critic from an advance screening of “Thor: Ragnarok” in retaliation for the Times’ reporting on Disney’s history of political donations in races for the Anaheim City Council, estimating Disney had received more than $1 billion in incentives from the city.
Following backlash from other film critics and news organizations, Disney rescinded the ban within a matter of days. But as The New York Times reported upon the ban’s end, Disney “has a history of taking punitive action against news organizations and analysts when the publish articles or analysis it deems unfair.”
Complicating matters in this feud between Corless’ site and Disney is the history of both sides spreading information that has later proven to be incorrect.
Disney has initially denied aspects of rumors that come out ahead of their official announcements. The company once said via Twitter that California’s version of Tower of Terror would not be closing, only for to announce months later that the ride would in fact close,, transforming into Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: Breakout!
For WDW News Today’s part, the site has been credited with breaking stories about future changes to Orlando theme parks. But it has also reported rumors that have not come to fruition, such as an April 2015 report that said Universal Orlando would close two of its Marvel attractions by the end of that year, or an October 2013 story that Disney was securing the theme park rights to “The Lord of the Rings.”
There’s also debate about whether WDW News Today deserves credits for as many scoops as it claims. WDWThemeParks.com, another Disney fan site, has been fact-checking instances Corless cited of his site breaking stories, and found several had first been shared on message boards and Facebook, such as news about the Star Wars hotel and the Disney Skyliner system.
In his responses to Disney’s denials, Corless has both claimed he won’t back down from these kind of stories — telling Orlando Rising that Disney “is trying to get their ducks in a row out of fear that I’ll announce more ahead” of the D23 Expo — and described his own articles as “speculative.”
“Which, as a fan site, I think is a pretty normal thing,” Corless said on his June 27 podcast. “I don’t know how many other fandoms people are in, but the other ones I read anything on the internet, there is a fair amount of speculation of things. I think that’s what people enjoy about any fandom.”
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