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.


Anonymous said...

As far as your criticisms go:

•There's no problem using a runaway mine train, yeti, or mounatain even if it has been used before- because each of these have been greatly improved upon for Everest in extreme ways.

•As far as saying "the remaining technology within Expedition Everest doesn’t appear to have been pushed to levels heretofore unseen" and "the actual ride system doesn’t break any new ground", you're wrong. Disney went into great detail with the ride system. This is the first roller coaster that doesn't make that "tick tick tick" noise when going up the lift hill. Imagineering realized that a mine train/steam locomotion wouldn't make this noise when ascending and they invented a device that would prevent any clanking for a smooth quiet lift.

•Lastly, having the backside of the mountain completely visable to guests is unacceptable. I am very surprised that they wouldn't go to lengths to hide this obvious "bad show".

Anonymous said...

It's good to see an optimistic tone once in awhile. Sometimes they do get it right! Maybe this is the dawn of the new "Golden Age"? Hope springs eternal!

Anonymous said...

Great article. All the great Disney attractions were NOT based on an existing property (Pirates, Mansion, Space Mountain, Etc.).

I wish somebody would write an article about what's wrong with roller coasters that are themed as roller coasters, (California Screaming, Primeval Whirl, Mulholland Madness, etc.).

We should never see an "exposed steel" coaster in a Disney park.

Anonymous said...

Ive seen a lot about Everest, I had read the reviews, watched the TV special about Joe going through so many different areas to get the right feel for the attraction and even saw the pics of the yeti before I rode it.

I think the ride was quite well done, and while many people think the encounter with the Yeti at the end is too short, after seeing him (or her?) for myself, I can say that it was IMO the perfect climax to the ride. Seeing the pics is one thing, but then when you're right in front of the massive thing, it's quite another. The Yeti is MUCH larger than I had expected it to be and scary too!

The back side of the mountain I've seen as well and there's really no excuse for's way too visible.

The only other minor complaint would be about the hovering eagle before you go backwords...I have no clue why it's there and why it just hovers in mid air

Joe A said...

Great article! Its nice to see some positivity on here. I can't wait to ride Expedition Everest this August, I've been hearing a ton of good reviews. :)

Digital Jedi said...

I haven't had a chance to experience Expedition Everest, but I've only heard good things about it. Animal Kingdom is not my most favorite Disney Theme Park, but it certainly has impressed my with its consistent themeing. The Disney characters are there, but not in an obnoxious way. The Tree of Life is a work of art (imagine the horror if they put a big giant wand over it. Maybe a giant Mickey arm holding pruning sheers!) The safari is hit or miss, but when it hits, it hits hard and memorably. And I have a soft spot in my heart for the Dinosaur ride (though I could do without the state fair theme in Dinoland U.S.A).

Overall, though Animal Kingdom has hit the mark in sticking to its theme and keeping that classic tempered balance that, until it was gone in the other Theme Parks, we never noticed before. You really shouldn't have to think about the theme to know what it is. It should be evident. Animal Kingdom does it with flying colours.

Little by little, as my favorite theme (Science Fiction/Futurism) losses it's luster over at Epcot Center, Animal Kingdom and it's strange celebration of nature will become my new favorite. I'm not a nature person, per se. Not fond of zoos that much. Animals aren't as fascinating to me as to some people. But Animal Kingdom makes it interesting. It reminds me that it always was something to marvel at. With good reason the designers should be offended when it is refred to as a zoo.

As far as the rock facades go. I have to defend them to a degree. True, you don't want to overuse the look. But when your entire theme park is based around natural environments and exotic locations, then, well, your going to have to recreate rock environments. It's almost unavoidable. Go under the seas, and you've got rocks. Go under the ground and your in a big rock. Go to the mountains and well, more rocks. The trick isn't to worry about the rock facades to much. The trick is to make sure that isn't all we see.

I've never equated the facades of the Canadian Pavilion with the facades around Thunder Mountain. Nor did I feel like I was in a Rock Theme Park when I say the various natural locations recreated around World Showcase and in Disney World. Remember, if your going to stick to a theme and recreate a given environ as accurately a possible, you cannot ignore the elements that make that environ authentic, no matter how repetitive it may be. Every country has people too, but you can't ignore them can you?

But like you said, it's just a quibble. I'm just rambling in response. ;) Somewhere in here their is a point.

Ah, yes. The point is, that Everest proves that their is nothing wrong with the "wrong" things of Disney in of themselves. Nothing wrong with synergy, in its place. Nothing wrong with reusing an old theme, as long as you make it fresh this time around. Nothing wrong with flying around at high speeds around another big fake mountain, as long as your not onstantly reminding me of the old one. None if it's wrong, when it's done right. I guess Walt just made it look easy. But nine times out of ten, he always seemed to do it right. I guess that's the difference between passion and penny pinching.

Oh, one more thing. As always, you should always give credit where credit is due. But don't let the naysayers who fell that criticizing a specific ride is not the route to go and stop you from continuing with the constructive criticism. A doctor doesnt cure a disease by saying "yup, he's sick" and and that's it. He investigates his patients lifestyle, allergies, past medical history and even examines the illness on the microscopic level, dissecting every cell and exhausting every resource. Keep focusing in constructivly on those little flaws, and let the patient know where he needs to improve on his lifestyle. If the right people are listening, then hopefully smart choices and creative decision like Everest will continue to be made and the mistakes will be easier to avoid.

Klark Kent 007 said...

Walt would be proud of Joe and his team for this, but he would have pushed for more. Striving for excellence is no flaw, ignoring it is!


On the subject of "attention being paid", may I add a "yippee!!" to Baxter for taking up the Figment restoration project. I have been waiting for that to be done nearly a decade- literally. That had to be the single most alluring attraction to me as a child. Watching it take a nose dive due to neglect and poor decision changes crushed me.

And another "attention to be paid"- and this is a big one: changing the WDI back to WED-- a well $40 mil. spent. I would have paid $140. It's a message that needs to be sent--to everyone! This is Walt's company, not a board of directors playground.

And the billboards on the Cars marketing is impressive!

Things are definately looking better!!!!

Anonymous said...

Great thrill ride. Short on story, though--the biggest problem with most new Disney rides. The exposed architecture is very disturbing, and it's integration to the park overall is a bit forced. And while it's a shame so many thrill rides are being dumped into the Disney Parks, it's nice to see one as well done as this one. Another nice forward looking post by Re-Imagineering.
Keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

First of all, GREAT BLOG! I had a couple of comments to add. Someone mentioned that this was the first coaster to use a silent lift hill. Actually, companies like Bolliger and Mabillard have been using nearly silent lift hills for a couple of years on some of their coasters. But personally, I wouldn’t have minded the clickety-clack on this ride because don’t those old mountain-side cog-wheel railways make a sound when they climb? I could be wrong about that...I’ve only seen pictures of them. I read about another quibble some have with Expedition Everest too...I have read that inside the enclosed backwards helix after the first reverse point that it is just a big open room with steel structure that can be seen fairly clearly in the "dark". Personally I think they could have added rock-work tunnels there too. But...I haven’t ridden the ride yet...only read comments from others and looked at pictures and video. I do love the way this attraction was designed and I think WDI is definitely on the right track (pun intended) and that hopefully this is the beginning of a wonderful trend of immersive attraction design. If I had designed it I would have had a more elaborate ending though…instead of seeing the Yeti and then immediately gliding into the station. I would have added a drop in the dark right after seeing the Yeti or something more intense.

Anonymous said...

The real test for Everest will be if it does the job, increase the gate attendance at Animal Kingdom. If it does, then the "suits" will greenlight bigger, better attractions, if it doesn't then....
DCA stinks mostly because Team Disney was gun shy after the fiasco that was Euro Disney. If this doesn't do the trick than we won't see anything as good for a long time.
As far as it doesn't push the envelope enough, most amusement/theme parks that try and push the envelope too hard, wish they hadn't. Every coaster that was "cutting edge" also had "cutting edge" problems and "cutting edge" delays.

Anonymous said...

My visit to Animal Kingdom was in the evening hours shortly after the grand opening, and as such, did not see first hand the exposed portion steel of the attraction.
I can say that that the que provided an excellant pre show. The 20-minute wait that I experienced provided jsut enough time to take in the detail that was put into this attraction. My wife is not a coaster enthusiast and sat out the first time, but after I wnet throough she went through the que just to experience the surroundings. The hanging chimes were a nice touch. I'm headign back to Disney in August with my twenty somthing kids, and Everest will be a must see for them.

ZeeMan said...

My visit to Animal Kingdom was in the evening hours shortly after the grand opening, and as such, did not see first hand the exposed portion of steel on the attraction.
I can say that that the que provided an excellant pre show. The 20-minute wait that I experienced provided just enough time to take in the detail that was put into this attraction to build the story. My wife is not a coaster enthusiast and sat out the first time I rode, but after I went through the first time, she went through the que just to experience the surroundings and jetisoned through the chicken door. The hanging chimes were a nice touch and very popular in que. I'm heading back to Disney in August with my twenty-somthing kids, and Everest will be a must see for them.

Jennifer Lynn said...

"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."

Hear hear! WDI has no doubt lost many great ideas to the corporate chopping block. But I'm grateful Joe and his team were given the chance to bring this story and attraction to life. Criticisms aside (I know, they're there and they are valid), this has to be one of the most immersive environments wrapped around a modern thrill ride that I've ever seen. I'm also very impressed with the attention to detail, something WDI couldn't have done as well without visiting the home base of their legendary central character.

Somebody up there deserves kudos for getting this ok'd to begin with, and a kick to the pants to allow attractions and unique storylines like Everest to continue eeking through blue sky and into realization.

Karl Elvis said...

It's great to hear you guys saying something positive. While I agree with all of the negative stuff - it's all dead on - this blog is getting a little grim; it's making me wonder if the Disney I love is gone forever.

Hearing an upside - a ride done (more or less) right in the classic disney tradition - helps me maintain hope that there's still some Walt in Disney.

Anonymous said...

In all my trips to Animal Kingdom, I don't recall seeing that exposed backside from the parking lot. So I'm either too distracted or it's not that obvious.

But I agree, guests should never see anything that is considered backstage.

Roger Alford said...

Can't wait to ride EE this November on our return trip. Joe and his team clearly get it.

Now I hope that they'll fix the rest of the park. The theming is great and AK is one beautiful park, but it sure could use some more C and D ticket attractions. But the biggest thing that bothers me is that, EE aside, every attraction is about death. Kilamanjaro Safari, Kali River Rapids, Dinosaur, et al -- they're all about making you feel guilty for things that are beyond your control. I'd love for Kali River Rapids to be completely redone and themed to the wonders and mystery of the deep Asian jungle, rather than about trees being burned down. Of course, I'm not crazy that this is an off-the-shelf ride to begin with.

AK needs a lot more attractions, and I've love for them to build something that doesn't jostle you around. That's one of the things I really miss about the Discovery River boats -- it was the only relaxing attraction AK had.

On a similar note, I'd also love for them to build a boat ride that takes guests to AK Lodge. That would be ideal.

Will Robison said...

I know this doesn't help the discussion but I just have to say that I'm eager to ride EE this September, and that is the best news I think Disney could hope for.

Just as an aside, I'm not eager to ride Mission: Space, which opened since my last visit. Something about killing people really makes me nervous.

Anonymous said...

Great post! Rohde does get it and it shows.

That yeti really is a sight to behold. So large, but with very fluid and natural movement. I think I actually ducked when he took a swipe.

PS- Will Rob. M:S never killed anyone. That's old news. IMHO the ride is way over rated.

pariartspaul said...

Well I have to chime in here... I've always been a big fan of Joe R. He's an amazing creative talent. I'd wish they'd let him expand beyond Animal Kingdom one of these days. Really I'd like to see him come up with something new and original for Disneyland or DCA. He'd be great.

Scott said...

I haven't had the chance to experience Everest for myself yet, but I've heard all sorts of praise for it. Disney needs to consider more of these truly immersive environments, rather then doing things on the cheap (Stitch's Great Escape immediately comes to mind: take Alien Encounter, a fairly thrilling attaction, remove nasty Aliens-like alien, add Stitch, add attempted cuteness. The moral of the story is that poor ideas, no matter how well executed, turn out fair at best.

I didn't know about the exposed backside of Everest, but someone should have really done something about that. Splash Mountain's backside is exposed, but no one can see it unless you're backstage as far as I know.

Anonymous said...

In response to the first comment, this isn't the first coaster to do away with the anti rollback "click" on the lifthill. Intamin AG has used it on several of their chain lifts (Superman Ride of Steel, etc).

Anonymous said...

Chris wrote:
"The only other minor complaint would be about the hovering eagle before you go backwords...I have no clue why it's there and why it just hovers in mid air."

It's because it's not an's a vulture. As you're going through the queue, there's a photo of the mountain vulture. It appears and hovers there's expecting a meal. Shortly. As in you. Bwah-ha-ha-ha!

Anonymous said...

Another quibble I have, which I can't believe hasn't been mentioned, is the light "pollution" in the backwards section of the ride.

During that section you can easily see down below you and the interior walls of a big steel building.

You would think this could be easily fixed. Why spend so much money to create a mountain and then ruin it in that section?

Anonymous said...

Great posting! I found the Yeti museum in the queue area to be breathtaking and, in its own way, as impressive as the mountain itself. The attention to detail within the queue actually makes the mountain seem somewhat stark by comparison. Even some cold fog would have been welcome and thematically appropriate.

Anonymous said...

Another comment on the ride system breaking ground. Off the top off my head I can't give all the details, but if you check out and search for expedition everest, you'll see it's the first ride track of its type, and it is revolutionary. Even if not reckognized by the standard guest, it's a big deal in the coaster world.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and as far as seeing the back stage elements from the parking lot, I agre and that REALLY bothers me. However, I believe they're going to fix this, as they've already added a little more detail to the facade. Namely the beyond image of Everest (a great example of something they don't need but it's there).

I think building this mountain is a process with a long-term plan we're yet to see. At least I hope that's the case.

M. Alice said...

Hadn't been to the parks in ages and I this ride blew my friggin socks off when I rode it this past December!

I hadn't seen the behind-the-scenes show, didn't what the big "twist" was, so I was totally taken when our car revealed the "broken tracks". I don't even get surprises like that in MOVIES anymore!

Brilliant, brilliant show. Exciting stuff. Glad you make reference to Universal's Mummy Ride, because it's well done and the Universal park has several attractions that rival Disney's Imagineering efforts (i.e., that incomparable Spider-Man ride).

Anonymous said...

On the "Hovering Eagle" (or Vulture, whatever) - that's actually a trick used over in Frontierland in WDW's MK and elsewhere.

From the "Keys to the Kingdom" backstage tour (this will be one of only a few secrets I'll reveal from that tour online), it's the equiv of a scarecrow. It's not meant to scare humans; it's there to scare the native florida birds away from the ride, lest they set up nests and dirty the thing up with bird crap or go flying straight into the ride's passengers at 45 mph (fast enough to take out an eye or worse, certainly). In Frontierland they have them in places to deter them from Big Thunder Mountain and the back entrance where the parade floats pass through.

Anonymous said...

The eagle is a vulture... there were more of them and they were going to be animated, but the budget was going to kill the project and they were value engineered into what you see today.

Anonymous said...

I wish they would do something about the exposed back to get it covered, you could clearly see it from the Contemporary Resort, in fact, you could see the entire backside, hardly anything other than that except the highest peak. But the ride is fantastic, the effects are very good, and overall I give it 9 out of 10