Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Brushing Up On The Classics

Ask current guests of the Disney Parks what their favorite couple attractions are and you’ll almost always hear Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion. It’s as if they’ve always belonged in the same sentence.

Both are nearing their 40th birthday and both have yet to be topped at any theme park anywhere in the world for their sheer audacity, artistry and showmanship. Will modern audiences ever see new original attractions that even begin to compare? More importantly what do these two attractions have in their DNA that hasn’t been as successfully replicated since their debut?

The answer is elusive yet at the core very simple.

As both attractions were designed and built by people with long and illustrious careers in film, these first generation imagineers shared a storytelling philosophy that deeply informed these shows. As far as they were concerned Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion were three act plays obligated to unfold much like great motion pictures do. Screenwriters, directors and cinematographers still bandy about the same buzzwords these early imagineers were all too familiar with; spine, structure, premise, thru-line.

Though not stories in the traditional sense (and this cannot be stressed enough; these were NOT literal narratives and were not burdened by plotting), these E-ticket experiences still share an underlying structure that informs the very best storytelling. Both start with a first act proposal and continue to play out a carefully choreographed climax and resolution, with every last show detail, from lighting, to costumes, music and animation at the service of a carefully crafted progression of events.

With Pirates the proposal is that we better keep a ‘ruddy eye open’ because ‘there be plundering pirates lurking in every cove.’ Act 1 serves as a sort of warning with the skeletal remains of past treasure seekers scattered throughout a cavern and the promise that ‘dead men tell no tales’, then turns course with our inadvertent discovery of that ‘cursed treasure’. Act 2 begins with the arrival of a pirate galleon at the forts of a port city intent on finding that treasure. Tension mounts as we witness the marauders sell off the town’s women, get drunk, pillage loot and, in the third act climax, burn up the city.

In Haunted Mansion the proposal is that if we remain quietly seated we might very well see a ghost. Act 1 and we only sense their presence as rooms stretch, candelabras float and doors knock by themselves. Act 2 and the spirit world seems ready to make an entrance, but only fleetingly. Act 3 and an entire graveyard of ghouls throw caution to the wind and partake in an outrageous party to die for, now so comfortable with our presence that they promise to haunt us until we return.

With imagineers fully understanding the classic traditions of storytelling it’s no accident that both of these attractions start with quiet and end with mayhem, begin in small intimate spaces and climax inside giant show buildings, weave several variations of a musical theme throughout, showcase running gags and characters, employ set-ups and payoffs, tensions and release. Was it any wonder these theme park attractions inspired actual motion pictures 35 years after they opened?

Arguably Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye was the last stateside attraction that came close to usurping the crown in 1995 but take a more critical look and you’ll realize that when it comes to visual storytelling (at least in the actual ride thru- the queue is spectacular) there’s no comparison. Though rich in detail and full-up of state of the art technology, the tone is singular, the context confusing and its set pieces rarely interested in informing and building upon the last. In the end it’s all sound and fury signifying very little; a somewhat empty thrill.

If Imagineers are to reclaim the glory of these earlier E-tickets it’s best they take a long hard look at what truly sets Pirates and Mansion apart. It’s not rocket science. It’s just visual storytelling.

And in this time of change at the Mouse House there’s no harm in brushing up on the classics.


Anonymous said...

Is it any surprise that the first-generation Imagineers (and especially those who led the development of Pirates and the Mansion) were all former animators, practiced in creating short 7-and-a-half minute stories?

Even some of the people who weren't working directly on story or characters - like X. Atencio working on sound or Wathel Rogers working on Animatronics - still had strong animation backgrounds.

I have long felt that this is one of the key differences between the original masters and today's crop of highly-specialized and sharply-focused Imagineers.

Personally, I feel strongly that Imagineering could use a lot more cross-pollination from the movie / animation world. I'd love to see what a Tim Burton or a Peter Jackson (or a Syd Mead, for that matter) could come up with for a Disney theme park attraction...

April said...

Now that Pixar executives (John Lasseter, etc), with their storytelling skills are a formally a part of the Disney family, they can bring back some of that magic to new Disney attractions.

The new Finding Nemo attraction that is taking over the old Submarine Voyage may be a place to start. Although I must say that Nemo and his pals would be more at home in Fantasyland (if anywhere) rather than Tomorrowland.

Let's see what happens.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely brilliant!

I've been reading all of these posts, and they're all wonderful, but this one was so piercingly brilliant that I had to speak up and say thanks.

It seems everyone who has seen a movie believes they can tell story, but very few can. In the same way that Pixar puts their primary emphasis on story, so should Imagineering. It's a worth while investment.

My God I hope Lasseter and friends are out there listening, and can help guide the company back in this direction. The talent is out there [and maybe already exits in the Imagineering ranks; as an outsider I have no idea], all that's needed is a structure in which it can thrive.

Keep up the fantastic site......

Anonymous said...

You had me nodding yes all the way until you bad mouthed Indy. I would have to only disagree with you on that point alone. Everything else is spot on in my opinion.

In fact, I agree that Pirates and Mansion only follow a loose storty structure. While I believe that Indy is much more rigid in its story telling method and even more effective in its emotional impact.

Let's face it, none of them would ever win an Academy Award for "screenplay" or the like. That's not their purpose. But as far as you can use a ride-through medium to convey a story, I think Indy wins hands down.

Beginning with the queue and its exposition of the legend of Mara, lost tourists and Indiana's disappearance, there is an Act One setup. There is a fully fleshed out temple ruins location complete with booby traps.

The plot point that leads us into Act Two is when a fellow rider looks into the eyes of Mara. From that moment we take a turn from an expedition, unsure if the purported legends are true, to an escape for our lives.

Act Two is of course the chase and the escape. The Act Three resolution offers the escape for both Indy and everyone in our vehicle. This finale sequence is definately an appropriate end to a wonderful build up. I can't really say the same for Mansion and Pirates. The experience in Indy starts to build with the rat cryo. screen, to the darts, then finally to the exciting conclusion. I've never heard anyone mention the upramp in Pirates with the same vigor. The Hitchhiking Ghosts are a bit more interesting then the burning rafters or up ramp in Pirates, but still not quite the impact as the boulder sequence.

As I said in the first paragraph, I couldn't agree more that Pirates and Mansion are two classics that need to be studied and modeled after. But I would most definitely include Indy in the same class, and in some cases as an even better model.

Unknown said...

Let's be honest though, 95% of the visitors going into the Haunted Mansion don't have ANY idea what that story is. On the flip side, Indiana Jones has one of the clearest stories from an attraction at ANY theme park.

You cannot possibly say Indiana Jones misses the mark and glorify Haunted Mansion which has a story that not even half of Disney enthusiasts know.

Anonymous said...

David- if you're thinking that what this blog is talking about is traditional storytelling then you've barely paid attention to the entry. In the same way that a classic symphony isn't really a story, its underlying structure has everything to do with the way it communicates its ideas in a carefully choreographed series of musical hills and valleys. If Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye were a symphony, all you'd hear was a series of loud trumpet blasts in your ear. Pirates or Mansion? Now THAT's a symphony.

Epcot82 said...

Terrific essay!

My big problem lately on The Haunted Mansion has been that the ride is simply not loaded properly. There was an extraordinarily careful attempt to create a mood and a story, and it can pay off if the attraction were simply given a couple of minor -- very minor -- tweaks:

1) Reinstall turnstiles just before the front porch. Allow only a limited number of guests onto the front porch, which is, after all, the "loading area."

2) Once those guests are admitted into the first room, where the "Ghost Host" begins his narration, close the front door. Don't start the recording until the front door is shut. See? "When hinges creak in doorless chambers" suddenly makes sense!

3) Follow this pattern throughout the loading area. Give guests (even those who have been on it before) the chance to see and hear what they've been missing.

Ironically, the same pattern IS followed at the Tower of Terror. Imagine not seeing the Rod Serling video, or coming in halfway through?! A change like this could make all the difference in a classic attraction.

But, you're right -- they don't build 'em like this anymore. Here's hoping they will someday.

Karl Elvis said...

You're dead on here. While the 'story line' in the Mansion is subtle, it's there; it may not tell a literal story, yet it's organized in a linear story format. The story underlies the ride even if we don't directly see it.

Aside from artistic factors and willingness to pace the ride slowly, it's the storytelling that sets these rides apart from all others.

And while I do love Indy as a ride, you're right that it falls flat as storyline once you're in the ride. The frame is there, the brilliant walk-up, the newsreel, the banter pre-ride; everything up to where you see Indy tells a story brilliantly in the style of those others. Yet at that moment, it sacrifices the story for roller-coaster thrills.

The ride is brilliantly designed, looks amazing, and is fun to ride, worth many many rides, yet it falls flat when it comes to the tale. It rushes by too fast, and loses any sense of narrative. Interestingly, it's the Dinosaur ride in Animal Kingdom, which is built on the same technology, that does a better job with the story; though it suffers as a ride, it wins on storyline.

Honestly, Indy is my second favorite ride in the park after Pirates, but I imagine how much *better* it could have been if they'd given it a bit more story focus; and I wonder if I'll still be wanting to ride it in another five years. I know I'll be on Pirates and the Mansion a half-dozen times each on every trip in five years, I've been riding those rides every trip since I was a kid. But will I still love Indy by then? I don't think so, not when I've memorized every bump and sound. Once the trill part of thrill-ride wears off, it needs something else to make you want to keep going.

Anonymous said...

Man, you hit the nail square on the head with this one.

I am continually amazed to see the very thoughts I've been thinking for years expressed with clarity and passion in this blog. Thanks, and let's hope they're listening!

Anonymous said...

The problem is you are trying to compare two different types of stories and mediums. Pirates is more of a passive experience as opposed to Indy that is meant to place you in the middle of the action.

Can you really say that just because Indy's ride portion is non-stop action that it's any less of an emotional, story-driven experience? Can you say that the Indiana Jones movies are poorly told stories because they are mostly action?

To me Dinosaur is one of the worst stories in any Disney park. Is it easy for guests to comprehend...yes. Do they care if they "get that dino"...most would probably vote no. The dialog is so laughable and the story so corny that I'm almost embarrased to ride it. Especially after having been on Indy.

Online Degree said...

I didn't even know that Pirates had a story until I read this blog :) Of course, I also haven't been on that ride since I was 5-6 years old!

Klark Kent 007 said...

The original Imagineers had diverse backgrounds which gave them more 'colors in their palate', they were able to draw from multiple experiences (in multiple fields) to create cohesive and interesting entertainment.

People such as Marc Davis and Ward Kimball personified this.

Evan said...

Wonderful post. You're absolutely right about what makes those two rides so great.

I think Star Tours deserves some honorable mention here. Like Pirates and the Mansion, I never get tired of riding it--one of a very short list of rides I can say that for.

As a story structure, I'd say Act II's on the skimpy side, but Acts I and III are excellent.

Unknown said...

Anonymous, I hardly agree with your analogy, but I understand what you're getting at. I think a better way of putting it would be to say Indiana Jones is more like a pop song versus a classical piece like Pirates or Haunted.

I understand completely with the blog says, and with much of it I agree with. I think there's a greater sense of balance with both Pirates and Haunted versus Indiana Jones, very much because the first act of Indy and the final act are VERY brief.

More or less though, my point was that I think that Indiana Jones can't be sold short as it is a masterpiece in its own right. It's not Beethoven or Mozart, but its unique and quality in its own right.

NotesfromtheBarn said...

Its particulary satisfying to see that in Paris The Phantom MAnor got a real storyline "Ravenswood and the bride".. As for Pirates though What the heck happened when the ride was put in Florida, half the detail and pieces are missing..

Indian Jones is just a ecorated of the shelf attraction in the same vein as Dinosaur, heck even the Mummy at Universal (Florida that is not CA) does a better job at the story telling.

Among the vids on our blog is a look at the latest Monsters inc previews at CA. Here is another soulless ride.. Perhaps there is an equation that is being followed, Take the speed the ride travels to determine how much detail and strorytelling is needed in each scene..

Karl Elvis said...

D&J, about Pirates in Florida - yeah, I was there in May, and while the walk-up is nice, half the ride is missing. Honestly if you've only ridden Pirates in Florida, you haven't ridden Pirates. It's a shadow of the D-land version. Only one (short) drop, a fraction of the caves before you get to the pirate ship, and a very short ending. While the Florida park got a lot of things right, this is one (Like taking out Toad) that they blew it on.

Anonymous said...

While not my favorite attraction, Spalsh Mountain is great for creating that story / buildup / pay-off / and epilouge. To me, it is a natural progression of those classics POTC and HM.

Regardless of the type of experience (i.e passive or active) they are all immersive and that, to me, is the key. The "E Ticket" attractions that came after POTC and HM (Splash, Indy, TOT, BTMR) all deserve to bear the Disney name and thats what gives me hope.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for reminding me bartender...

I tend to think that Splash Mountain comes closest to the story telling of the classics. Which is also why Splash Mountain tends to end up on most 'favorite' lists.

It's interesting that the favorite attractions are not those with the biggest thrills, but are those that allow the guests to fully experience the environment. In my opinion, this is one of the biggest problems for Indy. Sure it's fun, but it's almost impossible to absord the surroundings while riding.

It's not just about ride speed though. I think Everest tells a very good story that is immersive. However, it starts with an extremely detailed queue that builds anticipation, so that by the time you are actually on the attraction, you know exactly what to look for. The suspense doesn't come from having the Yeti make a sudden, midway-style haunted house appearance. We all know the Yeti is going to appear. The suspense comes from wondering how the Yeti will appear, and the danger that will come from its appearance.

Roger Alford said...

Surprised that Splash Mountain wasn't mentioned in the article (glad others finally mentioned it here). I put Splash Mountain right up there with Pirates and Mansion, the natural progression of those two. I thought about Indy myself, but have only ridden it once (sure wish we'd get it in Florida!). To me, Splash Mountain is like the Back to the Future (the movie, but the ride is also great) of theme park attractions: it just hits on every cylindar. It has a clear three-act structure, great music, completely immersive environment filled with detail, a moral (!), and the thrill part works as part of the storyline, not just thrown in for thrill's sake. What's more, the ride doesn't just suddenly end after the drop, which would have been so easy to do. Instead, you get the post-climax scenes with "Zip-a-dee-do-dah." It leaves me singing every time I get off the ride (and wanting to see the movie again), and wanting to jump right back on. Never get tired of riding it.

Anonymous said...

What does Indy, Star tours, and Tower of Terror have to do with Disneyland? Yes, they may be good rides, but where is the magic of Mary Poppins, 101 Dalmations, Lady and the Tramp, or even Herbie? Classic....

Karl Elvis said...

Anon, I'd like to have a Mary Poppins ride, but I don't thnk we're talking about the same thing. B^)

pariartspaul said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I'm in total agreement with Mr Banks.

While I love thrill rides and Raiders is perhaps my favorite movie, I rank the Indy ride a whole order of magnitude lower on the enjoyment scale than Pirates or Mansion.

My issues with Indy are that the ride is so dark, fast and loud most of the time, you can't tell what's going on around you. And the motion is so herky-jerky, that it's more uncomfortable than scary.

Maybe it's the nature of a family ride vs. a thrill ride, but Pirates and Mansion allow you to see all the details, slowly build up to the exciting scenes, and relieve the tension with humor and fun songs.

In Indy, there's a little bit of set-up on the ride itself about not looking into the eyes of the snake, but the set-up is very short. A slower build-up showing what happened to other adventures who tried to enter and some taste of the dangers inside (a crumbling wall, your jeep coming dangously close to a cliff as it rounds a corner) would have been nice. I realize that the queue provides set-up, but I think it would be more effective if the ride itself did more of that.

Inside the temple, I would have liked to have seen more distinct set pieces, with a slower and quieter interludes between the hazards. I would have liked a better look at the dangeous bridge before we attempt to cross it, for example.

I would have liked to have had a happier payoff at the end. Not a song, of course, but perhaps a great treasure revealed or Indy getting the girl.

As others have said, Star Tours does all this better -- the small taste of reckleness and danger in the Star Tours port before the jump to hyperspace, seeing each of the big dangers (comets, star destroyets, death star) before hurtling into them, and the ending with the Death Star destruction and the humor of almost crashing at the end. Same with Splash Mountain -- the leisurely ride on the outside of the mountain, the action and set pieces within, and after the big spash down, a big show number.

All of these rides have three acts -- but Indy's first and third act are too timid, while the second act is one long blur.

pariartspaul said...

Mr Banks, I think your analysis here is brilliant! Sure the old Imagineers were great “storytellers”, but I think that definition alone falls short. I’ve always thought of them more as great showmen who created fantastic theatrical spectacles than simple storytellers. They took broad, simple entertaining story ideas and translated them into three dimensional environments. The story progression was simple, clear and easily understood by all. Then the fleshing out of the actual environment, with AA figures, sets, props and whatever else, is where the true art of it came in.

It’s a Small World for example is nothing more than one big theatrical spectacle with a very simple theme… and it’s as satisfying as watching some great pageant or parade, but with the added difference of being able to immerse the guest right into the middle of it. It doesn’t need to be anything more than that does it?

I don’t know, but somehow over the years this way of presenting simple theatrical spectacle has been lost, and too many complicated ideas and story points are being pushed. Sometimes you get off a ride now and you think “what the hell was THAT all about?!” Simple is better I think, keep it simple, entertaining and easy to understand.

Someone commented above that AK’s Dinosaur ride (originally Countdown to Extinction) is one of the worst attractions ever designed. Guess what, I designed it! (Along with other team members – writers, producers, etc.) It’s a great example of what can happen when you have too many convoluted story ideas coming from everywhere. It started out with a couple of pretty simple story ideas, but as we progressed we were told it had to tie it into the Dinosaur film that was in production at the time. But the film wasn’t scheduled to open until a year or two after we were supposed to be finished - and their story was still in development and changing every few weeks. (Then I remember at one point during the design, I was told that they could afford the dinosaur figures, but not the sets!) So it took some years to physically build the dinosaurs, vehicles and all, and it was a race to get it done in time for the AK opening. I recall the final story was pretty much thrown together as almost an afterthought, during the last few months. It was definitely a scrambled thing and it shows. So we’re left now with a half realized attraction tied to a film no one remembers.

My biggest regret on the attraction was how the ride itself eventually played out. We were stuck with what was estimated to be built so there wasn’t any tweaking allowed once we were able to actually ride the vehicles and see it all for the first time - plus it needed to open along with the rest of the park. I was totally burnt out on it after a year of the on-site installation and was glad at the time to just get it open.

I think it would be a great attraction to Re-Imagineer one of these days. The bones of a great attraction (no pun intended!) are all there just waiting. It’s got some of the greatest dinosaur animatronics ever created inside of it, and those fantastic ride vehicles. I think with a good story revisit, along with some added sets and lighting, it could be the great attraction we once hoped it would be.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with this post. Narrative throughline is so important in these attractions --otherwise it's all a lot of lights and noise. Though I enjoy the Indiana Jones ride I think where it succeeds most is in its que. The theme-ing in this area is brilliant. The ride however is mainly just bombast and potential back injury (my wife can't ride it at all).

Structure is so key here. Beginning, middle and end. It's such a basic yet oft-overlooked concept.

When Imagineering begins hiring writers (and I think they should) please look me up via my website.

[Shameless self-promotion ends here.]

Mr Banks said...

I would argue that even Small World, for all its simple pomp and pageantry, has a three act story of sorts (again, not in the traditional sense). Act 1 is the queue outside, with the parade of children and the clocktower beckoning us with the promise of a colorful stylized world excursion. Act 2 and the children of the world sing about harmony and our common humantiy but only in the context of their own native countrys. Act 3 climax and all the children of the world have come together on one stage, all boundaries gone. So simple a structure, yet so elusive in todays themed attractions.

Will Robison said...

Ironically, I think Dinosaur worked so much better when it was Countdown to Extinction - I'd have loved to see what the final version would have looked like had it not been for the requirement to tie it in to Dinosaur. I was first at AK about 2 weeks after it opened and I absolutely loved Countdown. It was probably one of my three favorite rides of the trip. When I came back in 2002 and it was now Dinosaur, I found the ride to be nowhere near as fun. I don't know if they tweaked it or slowed it down, or whatever, but I just found it to be boring. Somehow, in connecting it to the movie - which was terrible, imo - the ride lost all of its flavor.

I share the concern other's have about putting Jack Sparrow in POTC. I worry that this one little change could ruin the ride, by making this classic ride serve as a shill for a movie, instead of the other way around. Do the imagineers not understand the concept of If It Ain't Broke... or is this another case of the Corporate Overlords making things "better"?

Anonymous said...

Hi guys,

I'm a former Disney Castmember. I worked for the Disney Reservation Center in Florida, until a lot of "new thinking" from George Kalogridis guaranteed that I'd be out of a job.

But that's not why I'm writing. I heard recently that they're redoing the Pirates of the Caribbean at WDW to make it more similar to the movie.

Now I know there's been a lot of talk about redoing things and fixing all the crappiness and corporate greed in the parks (I myself miss the Magic Shop on Main Street. For crying out loud, they already have a Disney Megastore at Downtown Disney. And MAN do I miss the Centorium at EPCOT. They used to have all these futuristic toys on the second floor. I remember that was the first place I ever saw a Voltron robot.)

But come on. Pirates of the Caribbeam is great as it is without having Cap'n Jack Sparrow (who I agree is a great character) and Cap'n Barbossa tearing it up with a bunch of pirate zombies.

Someone needs to get Lasseter to Florida and stop this.. it's almost as bad as that rumor floating around in 1983 that they were going to replace "Grim Grinning Ghosts" with "Thriller."

M.A. Capley

Anonymous said...

It's very interesting reading a lot of the replies to this one. I personally do not understand that people can say that a ride like Indy doesn't have the proper set up for it. Unlike Pirates and Mansion, it is a faster ride, and it is intended to be a thrill ride. To make Indy into a more Mansion / Pirates style ride would mean taking out most of the thrills.

Making a good thrill ride storyline and making a good regular ride through storyline are two completely different things, and they are essentially two completely different products in the Disney line-up. Could Disney use another Pirates? Sure. But is Splash Mountain or Indy a bad ride that doesn't have a story arch? No. Both of these rides have their own complex storylines that work within their settings.

In my mind, favorite attractions (in general) come down to those things that you need to ride over and over to see or experience all of the details, details that you may not get the first time. At this level, all of the named attractions succeed. Indy is random enough to make every ride at least slightly different. Splash Mountain, Pirates and Mansion all have such deep details you can ride multiple times and still not notice everything. Tower of Terror has tons of little details.

Yes, every ride could probably use a little bit of plussing, but to say that rides like Indy and Splash don't hold a candle to Pirates or Mansion for the pure amount of details involved is unfair. I'm also sure that people here would agree that Goofy's Barnstormer or Gadget's Go-Coaster don't hold a candle to the detail in Big Thunder. Of course not. They are two completely different rides, with different goals in mind about what they want to acheive for the guests.

By the way, I bet that if you asked 100 random park visitors in Disneyland to tell you what the storyline arch is for Pirates, Mansion and Indy, the majority would have a better idea about Indy, while the rest would just say that they got to see scenes of Pirates and Ghosts. There is a storyline in all of them, but the storyline in Mansion and Pirates is deeper to the point that it is only referenced throughout the ride, while Indy tells you multiple times why you are there and what is going on. Splash tells you the same stuff from time to time. The story-telling is made to fit the speed of the attraction, and since those are faster... there you have it.

By the way, the problem with Countdown to Extinction vs. Dinosaur, as far as I see it is that Countdown to Extinction helped to tell the Guests exactly what was going on in the ride. Dinosaur immediately gives (or gave, after the movie came out) them a feeling of a connection to the movie of the same name. Although the entire storyline arch talks about what is going on in the same way, calling it Dinosaur makes it very confusion about what the goal is, where CtE made it well known that Extinction was coming, and you had to do something immediately. And I agree strongly that it would make sense to Re-Imagineer Dinosaur, renaming it and completely redoing the inside to make it into an E-ticket that is really loved instead of an average at best ride like it currently is. There was so much wasted potential in this ride, and with Spider-Man next door, it's about time this ride was given a shot to competing with that ride.

Anonymous said...

"Will modern audiences ever see new original attractions that even begin to compare?"

Well, the only thing that I can think of is what even Marc Davis considered to be better than POTC, and that of course is Western River Expedition. This attraction alone would allow Imagineers not not only "plus" an unbuilt attraction of legend, but also regain their crown as innovators and masters of theme park attractions, but to also pay tribute to truly a master.

Anonymous said...

What about some of the C and D ticket rides? Does everything need to be an E-ticket? The Country Bears was a great D attraction. I know that it commanded an E, however it was one of those great places that did not attract attention, it blended. I think we need to bring some of that back as well.

S.T. Lewis said...

Marc Davis' pirate sketches are absolutely beautiful. He got so much character and life out of those things... I feel like the charm and beauty of what he contributed to that ride is impossible to quantify. You can't go wrong letting the animators have a shot at contributing to the development of attractions.

This point about successful rides having successful stories is dead on. And who knows stories better than people who tell them for a living. Let the Imagineers be story tellers, story boarders, and animators, and you're going to come up with some great things... in the Marc Davis way.

Anonymous said...

I think that the story principle can be applied to many of the attractions at Disneyland. But I think what makes Pirates and Haunted Mansion most enjoyable to me is the extent to which they created an immersive environment, and the depth of backstory to make it believable. As well as the imagination that went into making these environments places that I want to escape to.

The story structure serves to lead me into and through the environment, but it's the world that I am being led into that will ultimately prove satisfying to me or not.

I personally feel that Tiki Room is a successful immersive environment even though it probably has the least amount of traditional story content. For some reason I always find myself wanting to go there, as well as to Pirates and Haunted Mansion. It just feels like a place I want to be. It's a great balance of visuals and sound that envelopes me and is very simple yet satisfying.

Pirates and Haunted Mansion succeed to an even greater extent because they've explored their worlds more fully. As I said, it's the backstories that I find most fascinating. By capturing brief, and captivating moments in time you're given a glimpse into what feels like an ongoing story. And the more you see them, the more aware you become of the "reality" of the universe that has been created. It may be semantics, but I differentiate "backstory" from "story." In the greater scheme of things backstory comes under the general umbrella of story, but in this case I see story as being the overt narrative that the audience is "told". Backstory, to me, is covertly engrained in the environment and contributes to what the audience "feels".

(God, when I write stuff like that I feel like a pompous blowhard trying to lecture people who know more than I do about these subjects, but I can't post comments like this without fully and clearly explaining my thoughts.)

I'm not denying that "story" exists in these rides, nor even that they contribute to the success of them. I guess I'm saying that I think the overt story supports the environment rather than the other way around. Because in the end it's how the attraction made me feel that will stay with me.

This was a nicely thought provoking post, Mr. Banks. Thanks

Mr Banks said...

Again Dan, if you think this blog is about 'storylines' or 'pure amounts of detail' then you've completely missed the point. This isn't about guests understanding a storyline in the traditional sense, this is about designers with a background in visual storytelling moving an audience through a series of inter-related events that build on each other and inform the next. For instance, things don't get progressivly worse in Indy. This is one that starts at one level and just continues to move us from one boo-scary moment to the next, none of them more terrifying than the next or related to the previous, no organically quiet moments leading to progressively more manic moments. Fall down a waterfall over and over again and the thrill is gone, but fall down a waterfall after a leisurely quiet float though a moonlit bayou and the thrill is increased ten-fold because of the carefully crafted contrast. Go ahead and enjoy the thrill of Indy; there's a lot to enjoy for sure. But in the end the thrill doesn't resonate in the way the classics do.

Anonymous said...

The best Disney stuff has always been that that tells a story, and this blog post jogged my memory. Disneyland is the one place in the whole world where adults can go, sit down, and be told a story by a real human being. The stories on the rides are great, but the stories by actors I love even more. I love the Aladdin Oasis, and I love the Aladdin musical production. Disney need to do *more* of this, and I wish they could see that. I would happily pay a hundred bucks to be told stories all day long and not get on a ride once. It's innocent, pure fun.

Atrayo said...

Hello Pariartspaul,

If Disney is to recapture it's jaw dropping wonder for children and adult goers alike. They need to take a evolutionary step beyond that of a narrative themed pavalion for park guests to consume their senses upon.

I've spoken of this a couple of times on the IGDA (International Game Developers Assoc.) trade assocation forum. Especially when Eddie Murphy's debut in the Disney "Haunted Mansion" movie came out over a year ago.

This next evolutionary step i propose is nothing more than a convergence of interactive digital entertainment with these narrative themed pavalions. If your a gamer you'll know what MMORPG means. If not it stands for Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. The MMO game industry took its role model to be amsuement theme parks in multiple aspects of their game industry.

Now the pendulumn is about to swing back from the game industry into bricks and mortar amusement parks worldwide. Be it Disney or a resort like that depicted in "West World" with Yul Burner (the movie is being remade) or in a pavalion center of a super mall outlet.

Where a new genre for gamers to pursue their hobby alongside amusement park patrons. Where pavalions like "The Haunted Mansion or The Pirates of the Carribbean" will get the MMO facelift. Where park patrons and home users alike can interact via the Internet in a MMO setting. Where the amusment park setting will have such interactive themed pavalions and home users can leave the amusement park, but it doesn't leave them.

Anonymous said...

Disney attractions were/ are about great story telling. A beginning, middle and end can be found in DL's Fantasyland lesser rides such as Mr.Toad & Snow White. What makes attractions such as POTC & HM popular is the great quality of the show elements, even if the story is a bit blurred and confusing. One element that greatly contributes to these rides is the wonderful voice over work from such great artists as Thurl Ravenscroft ( who my husband and I had the pleasure of working with for many years at the Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach.) & Paul Frees. I know that Thurl is no longer with us is Paul Frees ? If so, hopefully his voice will be used in the Black Pearl Deads Mans Chest POTC. I have to agree with the individual who commented on how poorly HM is being loaded.CM's are concerned with getting as many guests in the rooms as possible with little or no regard to the great story telling / speeches that go along with such areas, as the anti- room "When hinges creek in doorless chambers" During the last holiday season at DL many times I went right into the stretching room and completely by-passed the entire anti-room experience. With great scripts having been conceived it seems a shame to have them go unheard, expecially for the first time day -tripper. I encountered many a confused guest during the HM overlay wondering what was going on with the story. This confusion could have been avoided by allowing guests to experience at attraction as it was intended to be. Which goes back to the story telling aspect "What happens when two holidays collide." HM will always be timeless, and I thank those people who were involved in this wonderful Disney attraction. Hopefully, with the Pixar people joining forces for the common good this level of excellence will continue to thrive and flourish.

pariartspaul said...

Atrayo, I think a type of interactive digital experience definitely can find a place somewhere like in Tomorrowland. I don't see it taking the place of the kind of classic attractions we're talking about here. Just my opinion.

And don't get me wrong, I'm an avid gamer from way back. My gripe with that industry today is the disgusting content they keep coming out with. The medium has such great potential. It's a shame to see what they're doing with it. But I don't want to get us started on that subject, it really belongs in a seperate blog.

Sladed said...

Rumor has it that Pirates of the Carribean is about to be CHANGED! Can you say "Johnny Depp"? It would be a tragedy.

Anonymous said... are my thoughts.

40 years after pirates and HM there are two set pieces - the ballroom scene and the ship/fort scene that leave one saying "WOW". It was a willingness of the IM to put seiours eye candy in the ride and a willingness to invest squarefootage to the show.

Jesse said...

Surprised no one has mentioned Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (the original not the abridged DCA version). To me a HUGE part of what makes that attraction experience work, is first the wonderfully detailed que, and second the mini show in the library. The que area is just so awesome because every single little detail adds to the story.

Wouldnt you say TOT has some of those classic elements of having three acts, and interludes of quiet that make the more shocking elements stand out even more? To me TOT actually very closely follows the same pattern as HM; the detailed que's, the "quiet" introduction (stretching room, and TOT library) heck they even both have the quiet intro end in lightning! Both also have unique ride vehicles that do unexpected things; doombuggies turn around at points, the elevator leaves the shaft in the 5th dimension.

Now I will say that I do wish they had put in more story elements on the actual ride; more "floors" to view things (and it could have been easily done, by having the scenes switch out on the floors as the elevator is shaken up and down). I also wish that the 5th dimension had more wow to it and was more surreal. They could have had the elevator drop onto a overhead rail (like the peter pan boats) once it leaves the shaft so it gave entire car a unsteady swaying feel. It would have been awesome to project more twilight zone things in there too; like the Indy rats effect but projecting the floating eye and rod himself etc in a montage and seeing the people from the 1930's elevator trapped in there too. I was really expecting some more ghostly really wow effects in there, and it just seems kind of wasted until you get to the star field parting door effect. I think there is a lot of potential there to turn this ride into something on par with HM and Pirates and it wouldnt take much.

To me TOT comes closest to being on par with the classic rides. Indy is somewhat close in idea, but needs even more to pull it off than TOT does. Dont get me wrong I love Indy, but I agree its just throwing you into one scare scene after another with no real breaks between. Plus Indy has some truly cheesy moments like the painted flats in the blow dart room; imagine how wonderful that would have been if it had been actually bas reflief carving like in the movie, and had some really dramatic spotlights on it. That could have been a great pause right there; stop the jeep and give you a few seconds to take in the beauty of the entire sculpture before you plunge headlong through it. Plus certain other parts of the ride direly need more detail; such as the giant snake area; to me you should see that snake until you are almost on top of it; maybe some Kali/ India style statues scattered all over to divert attention? And really it would be nice to have the falling ceiling effect back and working proper this time.

I do hope the new Lasseter headed Imagineering crew are able to allocate money to not only make new attractions, but also plus some of the old ones that need it like Indy. I know they are doing it with Pirates and HM, but I hope they dont stop there. However I dont think most of the stories need changing, I think its more the technology that makes those stories more vivid and real that need changing. Pirates could have more realistic fire room for instance; where there's heat there's fire we all know that, so where is the heat? Non-allergic style smoke smells, has to be possible these days. Fiber optic "sparks" coming off the fire. Randomly programmed fires to give a more chaotic feel. Piece of the fiery city falling into the water and creating steam and hiss. More real projected fires mixed in with the traditional types so the eye percieves a variety in the intensity of brightness and adds contrast. Fog type smoke coming off the fire, along with smoke projections on the ceiling.

Well anyways I think you get the drift.

Anonymous said...

I do think that Animators with film backgrounds are good for WDI. But there is more to it than linear cinematic storytelling. Especially if the ride can never live up to the movie.Animators will need to learn the difference in the two mediums.

I disagree on the previous posts that extol the great story work in the classic Attractions. To me, Haunted Mansion and Pirates have practically incomprehensible stories.(I heard that the only reason they had those caves in the beginning is that they were running out of cash and had to get you to the ship battle). Ask the guests what they just rode through and you'll be in for a big surprise.

Haunted Mansion is even worse.The whole bride thing is lost. who even cares? HM is a musical special effects show. Dialog driven attractions are usually lost on the audience. The truth more or less is that people like the world and the situations they are escaping to better than the linear story.

If we are really interested in storytelling then who are we caring about? No one and nothing. The shows are more aspirational than anything else.

I do agree on one point. In the old days there was an appreciation for creating anticipation and building to a climactic scene (except the end of DL Pirates is a total dud, sitting in a boat looking at people in line, the geniuses did that). The staging is better overall and the RESTRAINT in art direction to direct your eye came from a mature film background. What you've seen more recently in the rehabs of those rides is that they see those areas as "dead spots" to be filled with more stuff. Let's hope that the "rests" in the symphony don't get messed up with bad guitar solos.

Anonymous said...

My issues with Indy are that the ride is so dark, fast and loud most of the time, you can't tell what's going on around you. And the motion is so herky-jerky, that it's more uncomfortable than scary.

I have to agree with this one. Indy simply isn't very re-ridable. A couple folks pointed out that Indy was supposed to be a thrill ride. But even in that class, I find myself riding the Matterhorn, Space Mountain, and Thunder Mountain over and over and not paying Indy a second thought.

Anonymous said...

I'm in a virtual state of shock. I'm obviously in the minority regarding my opinions on Indy.

To me, Indy is a masterpiece. A visual and auditory treat that only leaves me wanting more. Beginning with the amazing detail in the queue to the last note in the ride's soundtrack, I'm completely immersed in the mythology.

In Indy, more then most attractions, I feel as though I'm part of the story. The danger is not just happening all around me but is potentially happening to me. This is true for mansion to a lessor degree, but in Pirates I'm mainly just a spectator.

It contains all the pacing it needs, from the slow travel through the Chamber of Destiny, going a bit faster down the steps, to the action around the idol, to the stall before the rats and finally the lull before the boulder.

The scale starts small in the queue and gradually builds. From the 1940's radio to the soft and slow drum beat in the temple entrance. Even the rooms become more detailed as we roll along. And when they worked, the interactive gags added a lot. From bats and spikes to the archaeologist at the bottom of the well, we gradually discover activity within the temple.

The load area is brimming with anticipation and excitement. The amazing ride vehicles were a departure from the generic conveyance systems we see at HM or Pirates.

From the multiple COD rooms to the variable soundtracks there are several "firsts" in this attraction.

I could go on and on. To me, Indy is the best example of "visual storytelling moving an audience through a series of inter-related events that build on each other and inform the next."

As much as I love Pirates and Mansion because I grew up with them, they have their weak points in comparison to Indy.

Goggles Piasano Ritardo said...

Your right about the mansion and pirates. I went to Disney for the first time a few years ago as an adult. Those two rides I enjoyed the most. They were what Disney represents to me. I hope its not to late to recapture the magic and preserve it. This blog is an eye opener. I never realized this was going on behind the scenes. Keep up the good work.

ChristianZ said...

The submarine attraction should be updated to include references to all of Disney's under sea movies, or at least 20,000 Leagues, Little Mermaid, and Finding Nemo. Sure, work in the new stuff, but don't forget the classic, whether they be fifty years old or fifteen years old.

Anonymous said...


They DO have something like that at Disney. They call it DisneyQuest... and it's all about ten years out of date.

Anonymous said...

You are so right about the enduring nature of Haunted Mansion and Pirates. I grew up on Disney and have been to all the Disney Parks except Paris. I was *so* disappointed that Hong Kong Disney didn't have either ride and that the next ride they plan to launch is Autopia!

Anonymous said...

While not an indoor dark ride, I think the closest the modern Imagineers have come to that feeling of storytelling in Haunted Mansion and Pirates would have to be Expedition Everest.

From the moment you can first see the imposing mountain from the parking as you approach it and see signs directing you to Everest (including a miniature temple shaped like the mountain). Then, that quite elaborate queue area (simply the best I've seen in the modern era since my first trip to WDW in 1998) with the supply store, temples dedicated to the Yeti, and even a museum dedicated to the explorers and the Yeti...fabulous. I can't wait to return to the parks simply for THIS RIDE.

Anonymous said...

I think the thing that some posters have missed is that the storytelling doesn't have to get the story across- it just has to create the right feelings throughout a ride.

Very few people are going to be able to give a coherent answer when asked about the story line of Pirates or HM. But that's irrelevant. As an entertainment designer myself (theatrical) I can guarantee that in good art, most of what people enjoy the most is not things they're aware of. Most people who think "wow that looked so cool" when they see a blockbuster lighting effect in Phantom of the Opera or Les Mis don't have any idea what angle the image is lit from or what different colors are used in the lighting to create the effect. That's the same deal with the storyline from well-developed rides.

What is important in having that storyline is that it creates the right feel. Indiana Jones, while one of my favorite rides ever, does indeed have a weakness in the emotional build once you're on the ride. The buildup in the queue is phenomenal, and feels much like the Haunted Mansion prior to the loading belt... It's almost like you slowly blend into the ride and the separation between being on the ride and being in line is not as clear as one might think. Starting outside you're surrounded by Tarzan/Robinson and Jungle Cruise, setting the mood, then slowly get more immersed into the tunnel with the collapsing ceiling, the diamond-marked stones, the coded messages on the walls and the guy in the well. But once you're on the ride, it's simply too short.

It's not just too short because it's a fun ride and I want it to last - it's too short because there's no time for the emotional buildup like on HM & P. Indy is great, don't get me wrong, and I enjoy it just as much as any other ride... but it could have been even better with a little more attention to the build. We're going into a cursed tomb, right? So why don't we get exposed to a creepy feeling of exploring this tomb the way we get creeped out by the first minute or so of P & HM?

Because there's no time spent on the buildup to the excitement. Part of the excitement of a basic roller-coaster is the buildup of tension as you climb higher and higher- BEFORE you go over the hill and accelerate. The same thing applies to the story concept.

If Indy had the real-estate and time to expand the ride portion a good 20%, a little attention to emotional build would probably turn it into the best Disney ride to date. Start out with a normal tour and maybe see a snake slither across the floor or something, and do a slower build up to the eyes-thing. Then add in a break here or there, so you can breathe and look around again before plunging back into the chaos.

And while we're at it, why doesn't the Indy/ Jungle Cruise host a themed restaurant the way Pirates does? As a once-every-other-year Disneyland patron, the Blue Bayou is one of the things I look forward to the most... a small restaurant slipped into the trees in the Adventureland area with a view of some aspects of any of the three rides would be a great way to enhance the feel of immersion into the world of adventure.

Anonymous said...

Well, as long as you're doing a movie studio comparison, you might as well mention along with all those old time animators, cinematographers and writers the guy who paid for it all.... Walt Disney and his brother Roy.

If Walt said do it, it was done. Now the show writers and show producers have to get the OK from corporate leaders who are not Walt. And their demand and viewpoint for certain things to be included or taken out or way it should be done and budget cuts could make the original story a liability.

I don't think we have a problem with writers and storytellers at Imagineering... The culture of the place lets them run amock. Story is king (though this includes original art to help visualize the story), then all the other disciplines get to do their thing.

The ExtraTerrorestrial attraction in Magic Kingdom Tomorrowland was a fine storyline with the queue as first act, seating in the teleport room and 'the meddling' was the second act and escape and finale was the third act. That guided a story and had its slow moments too.

How about the grander scope of storytelling? Disney's Animal Kingdom as a whole tells a more cohesive story than Disneyland. Does that count too?

But your whole point is start slow with anticipation in act 1, build up in act 2 with ups and downs in suspense, then give them an act 3 that wows them and hopefully the unload won't take away from that experience.

Anyway, those animators you were talking about were cel and ink animators, not computer animators. There are people who bemoan the old days of Feature Animation and say that if only there were animators and storytellers who could match what Walt did back in his day.

Perhaps its a generational thing.

Anyway, I did enjoy all that has been said.

- John Paul