You are currently viewing Joe Rohde Returns to Imagineering (UPDATED)

Joe Rohde Returns to Imagineering (UPDATED)


Lower than per week after the announcement that he’s being honored as a Disney Legend, the legendary Joe Rohde has introduced his return to Walt Disney Imagineering in some capability. This submit shares the information and why we’re so excited for this growth. (Up to date March 25, 2025 at 1:15 p.m. Jap.)

Within the clever phrases of Rafiki, “The King Has Returned.” Joe Rohde broke the information himself on Instagram, with a video of him strolling as much as the entrance doorways of Walt Disney Imagineering’s headquarters in Glendale, California. Rohde wrote: “Do a bit of labor on the previous farm.” Right here’s the video so you’ll be able to benefit from the goosebumps second for your self:

Turning to commentary, we’ll begin with the plain. Wow was this satisfying to observe. Although I suspected this is able to occur, I nonetheless didn’t fairly consider it. And seeing it’s one other story completely. I’ll admit that I watched this little loop a couple of dozen instances for the dopamine hit, after which a dozen extra to see if there are any little clues in Rohde’s reflection or something.

This makes me extra assured within the course of Disney than I’ve been shortly–and I’ve been skewing in the direction of optimism since late 2022! Provided that we already know that Animal Kingdom is on the precipice of the park’s largest enlargement since (no less than) Pandora – World of Avatar, it’s so good to have Rohde again within the constructing.

On one other observe, I’m very happy to see Rohde announce this himself and it not come as a part of a sophisticated press launch from Disney. I do know that would find yourself being a distinction with out a distinction, nevertheless it looks like there have been a number of cases of Disney bringing again ex-Imagineers to “seek the advice of” on tasks…when in actuality, what they’re doing is extra akin to purchasing a brand new non-disclosure/disparagement settlement. (See Tony Baxter.)

Name me silly, however I don’t suppose Rohde would take the initiative of posting this himself if he have been merely being purchased off. I feel there’s there there to this. (Say that ten instances quick.) This isn’t the identical as a Disney press launch asserting Animal Kingdom enlargement that breaks the “no pants rule” and the corporate attaching Rohde’s title to it in an try to not directly invalidate the “no pants rule.”

With that stated, and earlier than we get carried away with pleasure, you will need to observe that the extent to which Rohde is returning is presently unclear. Doing “a bit of labor on the previous farm” may imply any variety of issues. It may imply he’s milking a cow for a day (having lunch with previous colleagues) or it may imply that he’s taking on as chief animal technician (lead on Tropical Americas). Or a variety of issues in between.

My guess is it’s that final one. Rohde is a great cookie; he wouldn’t submit one thing ambiguous that he is aware of goes to interrupt the Disney web if it’s deceptive. That will break our collective hearts, and he is aware of it. Conversely, we additionally know that Tropical Americas goes to be Florida-led, which makes it unlikely that he’s in a key position. An energetic artistic marketing consultant place is extra doubtless. (Much more doubtless is that he has main involvement with Pandora at Disneyland, given his expertise and its location.)

Don’t be shocked if Disney doesn’t disclose additional or full particulars simply but. Bear in mind, the Animal Kingdom enlargement announcement has not but been made. Whereas Rohde returning is completely colossal information for followers and the cat is usually outta the bag in the case of DAK growth, that’s not official but.

So Disney’s method to this growth could be to disregard, deflect or downplay. We would not know the total scope of Rohde’s employment till the Annual Shareholders Assembly, D23 Expo, or every time Disney chooses to formally announce and unveil Animal Kingdom enlargement.

UPDATE: Effectively, precisely that has occurred because the Walt Disney Imagineering Instagram account has since shared the next: “Starting this week, Imagineers have a chance to take part in a sequence of grasp class work classes led by Joe Rohde. Following within the footsteps of many former Imagineers, Joe continues to mentor and share his years of storytelling data with present Imagineers, contributing to the way forward for creativity at Walt Disney Imagineering.”

Whereas that’s not practically as thrilling as Joe Rohde being again in a artistic capability, we’ll once more remind you that Disney has not but introduced the specifics of the Tropical Americas enlargement or that it’s about to start. All of that was uncovered by way of new permits Imagineering filed with the South Florida Water Administration District.

Maybe this can be a matter of believing what we wish to consider, however we’re skeptical that Joe Rohde is again merely to show lessons. Our guess is {that a} splashier announcement is on the horizon, and there’s extra to this story. A minimum of, that’s our hope! Alternatively, it’s additionally potential that Disney scrambled to submit the following photograph and clarification with a view to regulate expectations, so followers like us didn’t get carried away with hypothesis and false hope.

Provided that we actually simply mentioned this a number of days in the past, I don’t have anything new so as to add. In case you missed it, beneath is what we stated then, once we argued that Disney ought to convey Joe Rohde again–and never simply as a Disney Legend…

With the return of Bruce Vaughn final 12 months, we speculated that Bob Iger was engaged on rebuilding Imagineering. It’s price remembering that Walt Disney Imagineering was hit actually laborious in 2020-2022. This began with precise layoffs, and continued with layoffs in disguise by way of WDI’s deliberate transfer from Glendale, California to Lake Nona, Florida. As you doubtless know, that transfer didn’t occur.

Our hypothesis has been that Bob Iger is gearing up for an additional growth cycle and desires an ally at Imagineering. Iger and Vaughn labored collectively over the past large increase for the theme parks, so this is able to not be even a remotely far-fetched state of affairs. With the latest departure of Barbara Bouza, the President of Walt Disney Imagineering, this appeared much more believable.

This all pertains to Joe Rohde as a result of he was one of many high-profile retirements through the darkish days of Imagineering in 2020 that may have truly been “retirements” (with heavy air quotes). Joe Rohde and Bob Weis rapidly getting new jobs after leaving Disney means that these have been “retirements.”

Quick-forward to 2024 and the setting is dramatically totally different. Chapek is out. The Lake Nona transfer just isn’t taking place. Disney is not in a holding sample on new growth. Vaughn and Iger are each again. Animal Kingdom is on the precipice of enlargement. An Avatar expertise of an undefined nature (maybe Pandora?) is coming to Disneyland.

Heck, even Tom Staggs is as soon as once more working with Disney in a consulting capability. (Rounding out the trio within the photographs, James Cameron remains to be on the market doing James Cameron issues, like being a submersible skilled…and likewise being named a Disney Legend. Hmmm.) It’s like 2014 another time. Few may fathom Disney can be at this level again within the darkest depths of 2020 when Rohde “retired.”

The stage ought to be set for Joe Rohde to return to Disney. It’s not any one among these particular person issues, however the totality of them. Naming Rohde a Disney Legend was an inevitability, so it’s actually not simply that. However after all, honoring his storied profession actually doesn’t harm–and is one other instance of fine ole original bridge rebuilding that has occurred through the second Iger regime.

(I’ll as soon as once more say that I feel a few of you who view Iger and Chapek as interchangeable “villains” really underestimate simply how a lot invisible injury Chapek inflicted throughout his reign of terror. There’s a purpose so many individuals throughout the firm cheered Chapek’s ouster and Iger’s return…and likewise again Bob within the proxy combat, for that matter.)

Designing and constructing theme parks is a extremely collaborative endeavor, and so they’re by no means the singular imaginative and prescient of anybody particular person. It’s the intersection of artwork and commerce, with a bunch of various stakeholders (artistic and in any other case) all having enter. However to the extent that there has ever been a theme park auteur, it’s Rohde with Animal Kingdom.

He has been the guardian of Animal Kingdom and safeguarded the park and its unique imaginative and prescient. By and enormous, Animal Kingdom nonetheless is at present what old fashioned EPCOT Heart followers want that park nonetheless was: thematically pure. There have been a few shut calls over time, however Rohde all the time managed to work his magic and make alien additions really feel like excellent matches.

That’s the criticism when Pandora – World of Avatar was first introduced, and it was completely scathing. Walt Disney World followers as an entire questioned a land about Blue Alien Intercourse Cats, and Animal Kingdom purists have been furious {that a} supposedly inconsequential blockbuster film can be added to their beloved zoological theme park.

And but, Joe Rohde silenced the haters with Pandora. It’s not excellent, nevertheless it’s a greater and extra thematically coherent addition to Animal Kingdom than it has any proper to be. Imagineering wants Joe Rohde to make sure the identical for the upcoming Tropical Americas undertaking (and past).

In our view, the important thing distinction between Pandora and upcoming enlargement is that Joe Rohde and his deft contact have since left Imagineering. For this reason we’ve expressed skepticism about blue sky daydreaming for Animal Kingdom enlargement over the past couple of years.

Actually, the very same announcement about Animal Kingdom getting Encanto or Indiana Jones could possibly be made, however by Joe Rohde, and I’d felt a lot better about it. He’s one of many few trendy Imagineers to have earned that belief. Rohde’s capability to world-build and thoughtfully combine mental property the place it in any other case may not belong was fairly unimaginable. He’d get the little particulars and placemaking proper, guaranteeing that the tales Tropical America tells usually are not simply extensions of flicks, however befitting of Animal Kingdom.

That is exactly why Imagineering must convey Rohde again. He made Avatar work in Animal Kingdom, so he can actually make Encanto and Indiana Jones work. These IPs are a cakewalk as in comparison with Avatar. I don’t doubt that there are different Imagineers who can weave them into Animal Kingdom tastefully, however nobody can do it like him.

Rohde would doubtless return if he thinks his very worthwhile enter would truly be heard and he has the possibility to make a significant impression in serving to to form the way forward for Animal Kingdom in a significant approach. Now it’s as much as Disney to select up the telephone, and convey Rohde up on stage the evening earlier than the Legends ceremony for a way more vital presentation.

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What do you consider legendary Imagineer Joe Rohde returning to WDI in some capability? Assume this–and different issues–are indicators that Rohde will work on the Tropical Americas at Animal Kingdom or Pandora at Disneyland? Or is that merely wishful considering on our half? Do you agree or disagree with our commentary? Any questions we may also help you reply? Listening to your suggestions–even while you disagree with us–is each attention-grabbing to us and useful to different readers, so please share your ideas beneath within the feedback!