Friday, November 10, 2006
The Sacred and the Profane
One of the most revolutionary aspects of Walt’s breakthrough park in Anaheim was its attention to comforting visual transitions from one disparate themed area to another. As guests moved from the Victorian gingerbread of Main Street to a time worn Bazaar on the edge of a distant jungle the connecting rooftops, fencing and plantings gradually transformed. The goal for the early Disneyland designers was to never jar the guests eye as they moved from one ‘story’ to another; the concept much like a cross dissolve between scenes in motion pictures.
This uncanny attention to visual harmony became a cornerstone philosophy in the design and execution of Disney’s theme parks for years to come, not only serving to keep guests in the park for an entire day but assuring they'd come back for more year after year.
Once the Accountaneers stormed the castle, however, not only did the clever visual transitions between fully realized worlds bite the dust but the very worlds themselves did as well.
Nowhere is this tragic reversal of fortune more apparent than at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando. Most of the theming here is of the highest caliber, often surpassing even the best efforts of the finest Walt era Imagineers. Joe Rohde and his team have created beautiful worlds within worlds that verge on spiritual epiphanies. From the eye-popping authenticity of a meticulously recreated African or Asian village to the intimate beauty of the Pangani Forest and Maharajah Jungle trails this is a park that deepy understands the worlds its creating, wrapping the guests not only within a convincing environment but within a distinct feeling.
But then there’s Dinoland U.S.A., specifically ‘Chester and Hester’s’ Dino-Rama’, an area so sharply out of step with the rest of the park that it borders on blasphemy. Stumbling upon this loud kiddy playground after a peaceful stroll around the wondrous Tree of Life is like tripping into a pool of vomit after leaving St. Peter’s Basilica.
Blaring, vigorously repellent, patronizing, cheap and visually offensive, this carny hell-hole appears to have taken its theme from traveling fun-fairs; the kind that are quickly loaded and unloaded from the back of U-Haul trucks. One can only imagine that this addition was bourn from the spreadsheets of some Strategic Planning MBA who figured the kiddy quotient wasn’t getting it’s full share of yuks from a park that appeared to skew too ‘adult’, Walt’s admonition to entertain adults and children together long forgotten.
Though Dino-Rama might elicit pained smiles in Peoria, it severely cheapens Disney’s Animal Kingdom; a park that, at its best, reminds guests once again what the ‘theme’ in theme parks really means. That it appears in any Disney park is sin enough, but the fact that it’s butted up against some of Imagineering’s most sublime work in recent years is deeply heartbreaking.