Monday, May 15, 2006
Attention Must Be Paid
Although Re-imagineering’s goal is to catalog the litany of missteps within WDI over the last couple decades, when an Imagineer and his team not only 'get it' but get it right, attention MUST be paid.
Expedition Everest, the new themed coaster at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando, continues to expand upon and advance the rich traditions of Disney's classic attractions. Hats off to Joe Rohde and the entire team of passionate designers, craftspeople and storytellers who stayed true to their vision despite the constant threat of corporate meddling.
• Most notable, this is an attraction not based on a preconceived film property. In a hobbled WDI culture where nothing gets off the ground unless it’s firmly hog-tied to a synergistic game plan, getting an original idea to fly is next to impossible. Let us hope this is the beginning of a beautiful trend.
• This is an attraction with timeless appeal. Yesterday, today and tomorrow the legend of the Yeti isn’t going away anytime soon. Here is an investment with built in resonance decades from today.
• Working in the Eisner era of relentless penny pinching, Joe Rohde and his team fought for and somehow secured several tours of China, India and the Himalayas to research the culture, architecture and landscapes that informed this attraction. Is the exorbitant cost of sending a team halfway across the earth to do research for a theme park attraction really going to make any difference?
Such obsessive attention to the tiniest detail is what the theme in Disney theme park is all about, every bit of it in the service of transporting guests to a wholly authentic world that not only delights but challenges and informs. Who knows how many countless visitors will be inspired to learn more about the architecture of ancient temples of China, backpack through Paro Bhutan or study the rich history of Nepal?
• Expedition Everest is an attraction that explicitly understands that a loving regard for story is at the very core of Disney’s best theme park attractions. From the first curve in the pre-show queue, the tall tale of the legendary Yeti of the Himalayas has already begun to cleverly unfold. Surrounded on all sides by the rich visual mythology of the region (in the fictional village of Serka Zong) guests instantly become active participants in their own adventure with the promise of danger and excitement just over the hill. Within the ride itself carefully choreographed set-ups and pay-offs, complications and resolutions, cliff-hangers both literal and figurative and a well orchestrated climax add to the rich storytelling tradition that is Disney Imagineering at it finest.
• For the first time in years a Disney theme park attraction brings the art of audio-animatronics back into the spotlight and this time bigger and more sophisticated than ever.
Though Expedition Everest is a success on nearly all counts we wouldn’t be doing our jobs at Re-imagineering without noting a handful of minor criticisms for the record:
• This isn’t the first Disney runaway mine train attraction (Big Thunder) nor the first Disney rollercoaster with a Yeti (Matterhorn Mountain).
• Expedition Everest is yet another thrill ride wrapped in designer rock-work.
• Other than the state of the art Yeti figure, the largest and most powerful to date, the remaining technology within Expedition Everest doesn’t appear to have been pushed to levels heretofore unseen. Universal’s Mummy attractions got to the forward-backward gimmick several years before Disney and the actual ride system (though sporting a whisper quiet lift) doesn’t break any new ground.
• A huge chunk of Expedition Everest’s backside, with all the support structure, walkways and show girding exposed, can be clearly viewed from the parking lot, contributing to the infamous “bad show” cast members are all too familiar.
• Finally, and this can perhaps be seen as a compliment, the show is just too short. With a ride time well under four minutes and the climactic brush with the Yeti coming in at around five seconds one wonders when guests will ever see another 15 minute fully immersive attraction again. Here’s hoping that’s Joe Rohde’s next assignment.
Still, these are quibbles. When Disney Imagineering gets it as right as they do here all involved deserve every accolade thrown their way.
To Joe Rohde and his exemplary team of designers and craftspeople, kudos of the highest order. You guys truly “get it”. Against all odds you fought for your vision within a politically charged and often toxic corporate culture and you succeeded beautifully. Let us hope that your expertise will touch many more Imagineering projects in the years to come.