You may have overlooked a recent attraction refurbishment that was announced the other day for the Backlot Tour and not thought anything of it. Generally when a short rehab is announced, it's often overlooked as a usual "cleaning" closure and there isn't any reason to get excited over it, but this closure is a little more intriguing to those of us that follow the progress of Walt Disney World closely. The rehab involves the reported switch over from a Cast Member conducting the tour to an automated spiel and this is something that I don't have warm feelings all over for necassarily.
Assuming the reports are correct that when the Backlot Tour reopens in spring of 2009, it will have a recorded spiel that will play for guests as it progresses through the tour. It will be similar to what Living with the Land went through. While I do like how Living with the Land turned out, I have a few reservations regarding this sort of change when it comes to the Backlot Tour. Primarily, this attraction has been so watered down and torn apart over the years that it's a shell of it's former self. If you compared today's tour to the one that premiered at the Studios in 1989, it's like comparing the Family Truckster from National Lampoon's Vacation to a brand new Hummer. Because Disney has reduced the signifigance of the attraction over the years and removed any real interest from it, this sort of change is a waste of time and money in my opinion. Why spend more time and energy on an attraction that looks like it's operating on one leg? When the attraction has real production to be found on it and when there were some props that meant something to someone today, this sort of change could be justified, but considering the state of the Backlot Tour today, it's an unfortnate waste.
I imagine one of the reasons this change is happening is to save on operating costs. If you can replace a few Cast Members that cost Disney an hourly charge with a recording that has a one time cost and then is "free" beyond that, it's a great money saver for Disney. That being said, a recording never has the kind of "feel" a real living person can bring to the attraction. Before I get on my soapbox about how much better a person is to a machine, I have to freely admit some Cast Members who conducted the tour were quite awful at it and that lead to many boring tours and it's an unfortunate reality when it comes to using people in any attraction. That being said, there are some Cast Members that do a wonderful job at it and it will be a shame to lose those Cast Members that really did make the tour interesting and could actually still convince a few people that Catastrophe Canyon was a real movie set. If one was to grade the tour based on their performance and the automated spiel was a solid "C" (meaning average), I'd rather go with people who may give out a "D" but could also conduct an "A" quality performance.
Beyond the loss of talented Cast Members, I've never felt like Living with the Land had the same feel to it with the automated spiel. Let's face it, if you're hearing a tour from a recording, there's not the same emotion or connectiont to the tour you're receiving. Personally, when I hear a canned speech out of a speaker, I can't get attached to the attraction because there's no connection between me and the recording. With someone conducting the tour, I can sense when the tour guide is impressed with something or has a lot of pride in what they are saying and that's something that you just can't get on a tour that is recorded. This isn't a point that I think everyone will understand but because Disney World Cast Members are so proud of what they do, I think removing them will reduce the impact of the attraction on guests.
I understand Disney wants to save money as well as give guests a consistent experience on the attraction, but it pains me to see an attraction that has been cut from under it so many times stay on this sort of life support. If Disney were to tell me it was going to restore the Backlot Tour to it's former glory (like bring back production to the Studios that would be interesting to see), I'd be all for this attraction but the reality of it is it's like a convict on death row; it's time is limited and I'd rather Disney spend the time and money on a brand new attraction (or attractions) and move past this. It's unfortunate that it's come to this but sadly the time has come for the Backlot Tour and an automated spiel is too little, too late.