Eisner’s mid 80’s decree to avoid bankrolling new Disney attractions unless they were liberally slathered in ‘story’ (See ‘The Myth of Story’ Nov. 25 2006) may have effectively shut the door on the future development of plot-free pageants like ‘It’s a Small World’, Jungle Cruise, the original Submarine Voyage or even classics such as Pirates of the Caribbean or Haunted Mansion but certainly the creative geniuses at Imagineering were capable of capitalizing on the strengths of this new mandate rather than it’s limitations. If guests had to have literal plot points fed to them while onboard their boats, trains, subs or rickshaws then at least Imagineering could be counted on to deliver wildly original ones.
Guests would have been wise to keep expectations low.
From the late 80’s on Imagineers indeed affixed ‘story’ after ‘story’ after ‘story’ to their rides, shows and attractions. What eluded most of them, however, was originality.
While certainly WDI saw some unbridled successes under Eisner’s ‘What’s the story?’ ordinance, it seems Imagineers had little more than one ‘story’ up their sleeve. And they shamelessly told it again and again and again.
It goes something like this: a character or prop has gone missing and the guests and/or other characters are tasked with finding it/them.
1989 - Splash Mountain
Br’er Rabbit is missing from home and Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear are out to find him. We find Br'er Rabbit in the Briar Patch and escort him safely back home.
1989 - The Great Movie Ride
Our onboard guide goes missing either in the old West or old Chicago but joins us at the Raiders of the Lost Ark set.
1991- Muppet-vision 3-D
Bean Bunny is missing from the movie and it's up to Sweetums, with the help of the audience, to find him in the theater and bring him back.
1994 - Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Five unfortunate guests of the Hollywood Tower Hotel went missing in 1939. Guests join them in the ‘Twilight Zone’.
1995 - Extraterrorestrial Alien Encounter
An alien goes missing after breaking out of his teleportation chamber. Guests are unwillingly tasked with joining him as he gets up close and personal.
1998 - Kilimanjaro Safari
A baby elephant has gone missing, probable victim of ivory poachers. Guests are tasked with helping to find him before it’s too late.
1998 - Dinosaur
A stray baby dinosaur has gone missing and guests are tasked with rescuing it before an asteroid hits the planet.
2003 - Mickey’s Philharmagic
Mickey’s sorcerer’s hat, victim to Donald Duck’s shenanigans, has gone missing. Donald is tasked with finding it.
2004 - Stitch’s Great Escape
Stitch, captive of the Galactic Federation, has gone missing after escaping during prison transport. Guests, having been tasked with guarding him, are rendered powerless as Stitch wreaks havoc and eventually runs off into the Magic Kingdom.
2006 - Monster’s Inc.: Mike & Sully to the Rescue!
Boo has gone missing in Monstropolis and guests join Mike and Sully as they try to find her.
2006 - Pirates of the Caribbean 2.0
Pirate Jack Sparrow, treasure in hand, has gone missing among the villagers on the Isla Tesoro and Captain Barbossa is out to find him.
2006 - The Seas with Nemo and Friends
Nemo is missing again so guests join Marlin and Dory as they search the seas for him.
2007 - Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros
Donald has gone missing before his big concert in Mexico City so it’s up to Panchito and Jose to find him.
2007 - Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage
Nemo is missing again so guests board a submarine to help assist Marlin and Dory as they search the seas for him.
If new management at Imagineering eventually decides to stop hog-tying many of their park attractions to this same old banal formulaic story convention in lieu of truly original E-ticket attractions that dare to forgo plot for pageantry, wonder and charm then you can bet all those aliens, dinosaurs, fish, ducks, rabbits, pirates and little girls won’t be missed.