Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Synergy, shmymergy!



Something to be aware of: Disneyland is becoming one big Toon Town. The original themed lands were representations of different times and places and the attractions in them were geared more toward the land themes than anything else. Disney characters, aside from an occasional appearance, resided in Fantasyland – and then in Toon Town.

Lately most new attractions across the park are based on whatever latest movie is out. The result is that you have cartoon Tarzan taking over the Swiss Family Treehouse, Buzz Lightyear in Tomorrowland, soon to be Finding Nemo replacing the sub rides and Pooh over in the far corner of Frontierland.

To further clarify the point; for instance, a Frontierland with permanent features like the Golden Horseshoe, the Mark Twain and western buildings can really take you back in time, as if you were magically transported to that time and place. An occasional appearance by a Disney character that fits in with the theme comes as a pleasant surprise and reminds you of where you really are.

But it is quite a different thing to be in a Frontierland with permanent features maybe more like Woody and Jesse’s Shoot’em Up Saloon, Pluto’s Western Bounce House and Nemo’s Explorer Canoes. You aren’t really being transported back to that place and time anymore – you know you’re in an amusement park, and actually more of a kiddy park.

I don’t think this has come about as the result of conscious overall creative design, but rather the result of a company structure with business managers at the top and creative people under them, scrambling to give the managers what they want – synergy. Synergy is a good thing in small doses, but this strategy will never give us another Pirate ride or Haunted Mansion. The system needs to be reversed, with the creative leaders deciding what attractions would really enhance an area in an amazing way, with the business managers there to support them and turn the projects into reality. Duh.

17 comments:

mnmears@go.com said...

I have no problem seeing characters all over the park ... but it's better when the characters don't jar you and seem out of place ...

I remember when a space-suited mickey mouse roamed Tomorrowland along with a Star Wars-style cantina band. I've also seen various characters playing Duck Duck Goose in the front of the park -- it was cute.

I don't think it's appropriate for Woody and Jessie to be walking in New Orleans Square -- but think they'd be welcome by crowds in Frontierland.

And, don't force a direct tie-in for every new Disney ride or attraction. Would we all be celebrating "Pirates" today if there had been a box-office bomb tied to the attraction in the 1970s? We know this is a costly attraction to maintain and operate. Would it have been shut down because a film -- a very different beast -- failed to perform?

A little synergy is good -- but too much and the public gets a whiff of something not quite pleasant. We know when we're being sold ...

You don't need to push so hard ... the Disney parks can survive on strong word of mouth. I'm much more likely to trust a friend's opinion of Rocket Rods, let's say, than all the hype marketing can muster.

The Jungle Cruise rehab at DL is another example ... low cost addition, gigantic bang for the buck with the public at large. It was getting as much word of mouth as the more highly-advertised and touted Disneyland 50 years exhibit. A little plussing can revive attendance and leave the guests giddy about seeing a good show.

DucktaleDave said...

Synergy has always been a part of Disneyland's history -- 'way before the term was invented. Heck, Disneyland's construction was largely paid for through the Disneyland television program, which had episodes about the construction of Disneyland.

If "synergy" can be defined as taking advantage of a familiar and popular intellectual property in one medium and applying it to another, then all of the classic Fantasyland dark rides are examples of synergy, as are Star Tours, Splash Mountain, and Indiana Jones Adventure.

The Buzz Lightyear attraction is a worthy addition to Tomorrowland, and there is nothing inherently wrong with making the submarine attraction fun and compelling for today's audiences by adding Finding Nemo characters and storyline -- depending upon how it's done.

You see, the concept of synergy can be a good thing, because it can layer memories of an outside experience to an attaction and add more weight to it. The problem is with how well it is applied.

It is appropriate for Winnie-the-Pooh to reside next to Splash Mountain in Critter Country, but the issue is that it is less memorable and of an inferior quality than the attraction it displaced.

Similarly, Tarzan's Treehouse is an appropriate addition to Adventureland, but the new Tarzan characters look cheap and don't fit in well with the look and texture of the original Swiss Family Robinson enviornment that they are placed into.

Synergy is fine, and revising an attraction to make it more popular with changing times is fine, but the execution needs to be well done.

Danny and Jackie said...

My only addition would be to agree that many of todays new attractions dont seem to have been that well thought out in terms of "classic" lasting appeal.. The only exception I would say is ToT which manages to create an atmosphere all the way through the queing area and right through the ride (perhaps more so in Florida than in CA where the ride has a dissjointed split loading system and an odd corridor you have to cross before boarding that seems hopelessly thought out. Buzz is fun and is based on a disney/pixar film but in essence the ride isnt imaginnered out, its simply a clone ride. And lets not even mention the stitch ride.If ever Disney finally came up with a real new mass appeal character its so frustrating and dissapointing to see what attractio came out of it..(I do Admit though it has some great pre show Animatronics however)..

Ghostbuster626 said...

Please Disney im begging you here...as a loyal customer I dont want any more cheap movie tie-in attractions especially pixar ones like Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage (what does THAT have to do with Tomorrowland?) and Buzz Lightyear with its cardboard cut outs!

pariartspaul said...

Ducktaledave: I do agree with most everything you say. But I think my point is that there is a difference between a themed land that incorporates actual elements you might expect to see in the place – and a themed land that is more of a cartoon version of the same.

For instance, a Frontierland with permanent features like the Golden Horseshoe, the Mark Twain and western buildings can really take you back in time, as if you were magically transported to that time and place. An occasional appearance by a Disney character that fits in with the theme comes as a pleasant surprise and reminds you of where you really are.

But it is quite a different thing to be in a Frontierland with permanent features maybe more like Woody and Jesse’s Shoot’em Up Saloon, Pluto’s Western Bounce House and Nemo’s Explorer Canoes. You aren’t really being transported back to that place and time anymore – you know you’re in an amusement park, and actually more of a kiddy park.

It’s just something to consider as the park evolves in the future. Yes, synergy is a good thing, but it must be used with more descretion I think.

DucktaleDave said...

That's an excellent point that I overlooked. Attractions based on "animated" characters don't fit in well with lands build around around "real-life" or "live-action" characters. I agree with that. Animation-inspired attactions might be better reserved for Fantasyland, Toon Town and Critter Country than, say, Tomorrowland.

And on further reflection, I would much rather see the Tomorrowland subs be given the full "20,000 Leagues" treatment with "Indiana Jones Adventure" equivalent effects. A Little Nemo attraction would work better in a location more like the old motorboat cruise area (as nostalgic as I am for the Captain Hook ship!)

barry said...

I agree that the "toonification" of Disneyland has gotten out of hand in the name of synergy. Everyone loves these characters but they increasingly do not serve the "show"and theming of a land-appropriate adventure, and in the meantime serve as an easy fix for what could be a wildly imaginative original attraction (like POTC) expanding the richness of that land's experience.

The latest addition of Nemo to Tomorrowland, while being the catalyst to bring back a unique attraction, fits that land very poorly and only serves as a simple overlay to what could have been a fresh experience.

New Park attractions should not be overtly influenced by the latest character/film marketing, but by the inherent possiblities of visiting a world of tomorrow, the Old West, or a tropical land. Save for the front gate meet-and-greets and parades, I would not be greatly disappointed to see the cartoon characters appear only around Fantasyland and Toon Town, and allow guests to be immersed in original adventures in whatever other land they're visiting. Let's look forward to immersing ourselves in reliving storybook tales when we're in that part of the Park.

Don said...

This is kind of a one-sided comparison. Frontierland never had characters? What was Davy Crockett, then? Fess Parker was as much a Disney character in the 1950s as Mickey Mouse was. Yeah, I "get" that there weren't *cartoon* characters all over, but what exactly is the difference? Weren't the Country Bears, for example, "characters?" As for Buzz in Tomorrowland: Bring him on (apart from the annoy Club Buzz, I mean). Tomorrowland doesn't have much in the way of a theme, anyway, so who's to say a little sci-fi Space Ranger action is out of place?

It's not like the public at large complains about the additional characters since they are, in most part, what a lot of families come to see. Why restrict 'em to Fantasyland or Toontown?

Take Adventureland: Sure, it never had cartoon characters as a rule in the old days. But Walt never had Tarzan to work with. Can you honestly say that Walt wouldn't have put Tarzon into Adventureland? I don't know, either, but I bet he woudl: He put those "Swiss Family" characters into A'Land, didn't he?

Yeah, out-of-theme characters shouldn't be in the various lands. You're totally right there. And I would definitely like to see more really creative attractions that don't have their origin in a movie. Hopefully the new management will take some steps in that direction. But don't just knock the character thing as if it were something new. PLENTY of mega-classic attractions were character- or movie-based:

- 20k Leagues
- Swiss Family Treehouse
- Obviously, all the F'land dark rides

Just to name a few. So "synergy" isn't something new - it's just become almost the EXCLUSIVE way of getting new attractions, which is the shame.

Anonymous said...

BAHHHH!
Walt didn't need characters and movies to create rides. Matter of fact Mickey Mouse wasn't even tied to Disneyland when it first opened just in case it failed. FYI it was Tinkerbell.

How about creating rides based on the wild imaginations of the designers, artists and craftsmen and not the heartless calculator figures and graph sheets of the lawyers and suits that ran the place into the ground.

PIXAR are certainly the heir apparent to everything Disney. They have a genuine love for it. I have every faith in the world that Disneyland will return to being the world class destination that it was during it's first 25 to 30 years. And the great talent at PIXAR will be the ones to do it.

Karl Elvis said...

You hit it on the head with this point - business people on top, creative people underneath.

That's the core of what's wrong. Walt himself, who may have been a decent businessman, was a heart an artist and a giant kid. He was making parks *he wanted to go to*, and that had nothing to do with selling movies, it had to do with making magic.

Creativity needs to get the focus.

the bird fam said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
the bird fam said...

i'd like to see a new attraction just for the sake of a new attraction. no movie tie in (though indy was/is great) or "character" focus or with an exit that leads into a retail establishment with the ride's emblem splashed across every sort of chotsky (sp?). obviously, it would still need to fit the theme of the land it occupies, with meticulous detail that wdi has been known for in the past.

i don't necessarily have a problem with inserting a disney character in the area, but i do have an issue with constructing a "meet and greet" location, specific to a character or movie, even if they already fit the theme (i.e. woody in frontierland). the characters should enhance a land, not be the focus of it, even if the "meet and greet" is superbly themed. how about bringing back (still in small doses) the different mickey costumes themed to a land? instead of tying-in to the latest dud-of-an-animated movie, how about reviving the classic characters that helped build disneyland? remember, it was all started by a mouse, not the cows in "home on the range". (still haven't seen that movie.)

AlaniP said...

This was one of the first things I noticed when DL started to really go downhill: the cool, unique stores started disappearing and everything started becoming a different version of a Disney Store. I became sick to death of having Disney swag crammed down my throat in every available space. I worked on Main Street in the late 70s/early 80s. I worked in shops like the Tobacco Shop and Rings and Things - no Disney characters in sight! I just find it horribly offensive that I've just spent $50 to enter the park, yet my senses have to be overloaded with mountains of Disney merchandise at every turn. Walt knew better than to cram the park with crap, and he had many high-quality stores that had little or nothing to do with Disney licensing. Same with the rides: every new attraction wasn't just a movie/merchandising tie-in. Amazing!

Epcot82 said...

Three little words:

Western River Expedition.

There's even still room to build it at Disneyland OR Walt Disney World.

If the suits at Disney could finally realize that their audience is not dumb, that would be a start.

Disney plays it safe at their theme parks just like they do their movies, where it's cheap sequels and bad remakes all the time. (OK, "Pirates 2" ain't cheap.) They don't trust guests to enjoy a truly innovative, original attraction that has nothing more "going for it" than Disney storytelling ability.

Sad, but true: They disdain us.

Matt said...

Am I the only person who misses Mission to Mars? Show of hands?

Although Alien Encounter was a welcome addition to the "new" Tomorrowland, I always loved the pure cheese that was MiM. Plus anything beats that Lilo and Stitch crap they have in there now.

SymbiosisHost said...

I think that the central critique here is the one most often overlooked by respondents, i.e., the incorporation of ANIMATED characters in the various lands (excepting Fantasyland) weakens immersive theming. Let there be Davy Crockett and pirates and astronauts, yes, but, aside from the occasional appearances by Disney characters in appropriately-themed costumes, the attractions and entertainment offerings in Adventureland, Frontierland, Tomorrowland, and Main Street, USA, should consist mainly of 'realistic' environments that transport guests to times and places far from the world outside the berm.

Anonymous said...

There is a large proportion of guests that come to the parks with no need to use stroller parking lots and want to enjoy escapism for themselves. Furthermore, I believe most adult guests at the parks see the overuse of animated characters ("live" or ride-based) in the parks as either distractions, an abuse of "product placement", and/or the result of a desperate attempt to make nice with Pixar. The danger of losing these and future adult guests (i.e. children) is real and will be due to the loss of magic through poor "place" theming and sloppy attractioneering.

An attraction such as Turtle Talk with Crush is a wonderful use of clever technology--which Walt would have loved--and is theme-appropriate to its each of its homes in DCA and Epcot. However, a Nemo-the-fish Submarine ride isn't really Tomorrowland material unless it is some sort of "Monsanto's Ocean of the Future" with infotainment about pollution and global warming. (Yawn!). Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters walks the thin line between overused black-lighted-cardboard-cutout-dark-ride and cool use of technology immersing the guest into the experience. And Mike and Sully to the Rescue... well... Not every ride needs to be based on a film (pick anything ride ending in "Mountain"... even Splash Mountain - you did eBay the copy of the Japanese laserdisc version so your kids would know who the heck Brer Rabbit is, right?).

What say we show some restraint for a bit and see what films really deserve a ride of their own and which we can devote a grotto or a plaque to. Now that the shareholders have voted to become one, lets hope Mssrs. Lasseter and Ouimet will resist the urge to prep the park with a ride ready for simultaneous release with the latest talking animated movie... I like the Jungle Cruise the way it is and don't want to experience Schweitzer Falls' "back side of water" through a Nascar-themed talking car-boat, no matter how funny Owen Wilson is.

And finally, say what you will about the Lucas collaborations but proven classics like Star Wars and Indiana Jones made for great background environments to build attractions around. We've seen "The Executives Strike Back" now I'm anxiously waiting for "Return of the Imagineer". Return the park to a state that a 5-year-old and I will be able to enjoy as much today as when we've both grown up.