Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Magic Door

A central concept in Pixar’s hit “Monsters Inc.” is a magic door through which the workaday spooks of Monstropolis can travel to the human world to collect the screams of children.

These dimensional portals instantly captivate the imagination. What viewer does not come away from the film with a secret wish to step through such a door, to be instantly transported from one exotic location to another? And with a warehouse full of magic doors stored like dry cleaning on a moving/hanging conveyor, the possibilities for a personal journey through a raucous dimension-hopping Disneyland attraction are endless.

Like the plunge into Alice’s Wonderland rabbit hole or the leap from the Darling nursery into flight with Peter Pan, here is a truly visual and experiential story conceit, ready-made for Imagineers to exploit.

When California Adventure’s only dark ride, the shockingly ill-conceived “Superstar Limo” - - a bad acid-trip chase through the Touchstone Hollywood of cheesy B-celebrities (and Cher) - - was retrofitted as a “Monsters Inc.” ride, there was cause for celebration. Even on a limited budget and with a locked track layout, a C or D level dark ride through those magic portals couldn’t help but tickle the wishbone of our fancies. After all, it wasn’t the extravagant budgets of the old Fantasyland rides that made them favorites for 50 years, but their ability to convincingly transport the rider to Never-Never Lands of our imagination.

Yet, when the awkwardly titled “Monster’s Inc: Mike and Scully to the Rescue” attraction opened to the public, it was many things: cute, pleasant, mildly amusing, sure to charm the kiddies, a huge improvement over the prior tenant - - but, well, yet another dark ride disappointment that falls short of its promise.

Though we see magic doors, pass magic doors, even find a warehouse of magic doors, we are never taken THROUGH one single magic door.

During the ride, we are teased with, but never actually given the wish, the desire, the key experience. It’s foreplay without penetration. Monstropolis Interruptus.

(Well, there IS a colorfully painted plywood door on the exterior facade that “transports” us from the sidewalk to the queue, but this is somehow less than magical…).

Rather than traveling through dimensional portals – an experience we are unlikely to have outside of Disneyland – we find ourselves stopping to “interact” with a cranky secretary robot spouting custom insults (already a daily annoyance for most of us in industrialized nations).

Like so many of the Disney dark rides of recent years; “The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh,” “Journey Into Imagination,” “Superstar Limo,” “Roger Rabbit’s Cartoon Spin,” “Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters,” “The Great Movie Ride,” even the neo-classical “Splash Mountain” - - we are carted past stagey, episodic, distant set-pieces like tourists in a Disney Store wax museum.

We become mere passive spectators of a contrived scenario, burdened with more plot than necessary (“Help save Boo from blah, blah, blah…”). We are watching a mini-version of the film, not participating in it.

It’s a marked contrast to the original Fantasyland dark rides in which the guest was plunged into a first-person experience AS Snow White or Mr. Toad - - or the pinnacle 60’s triad of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “The Haunted Mansion” and “Adventure Thru Inner Space,” which took voyagers on extravagant first-person journeys to fantastic other-realms of the historic, supernatural and psychedelic.

Walt wanted “Pirates” to make people feel like they were in the middle of a cocktail party, tuning in and out of the enveloping action. We were not passive-viewers at a modern amusement park, but part of a fantastic story come-to-life! The action is not confined to static sets on the right or left, but surrounds us in every way. We are lead in, on, over, under and through the story, not just past it.

This of-the-moment approach has proved to be far more durable and repeatable than the complex, episodic storylines and overwritten backstories of more recent creations. These elements seem to help the writers more than the riders.

Who cares what the dead bride’s silly maiden name might be - - why Boo is being kidnapped - - or why our vehicle is being hijacked? Talky exposition always hits the Omnimover like a lead balloon. When poorly written or staged, it can all-too-easily remind us that this is an artificial experience.

If the ride is so un-involving that I care to crick my neck trying to see the nostalgic remnants of a former, superior attraction - - or to spot kitschy design trivia - - there is a big problem. Do the storytellers really believe in the illusion at hand? If they don’t, we won’t.

Walt’s original Imagineers had all cut their teeth on that most completely visual of all filmmaking genres, the cartoon, and that experience clearly made a difference in their more elemental approach to theme park story. A simple situation with a visual/thematic progression and climax would suffice, much as it did for a cartoon short or a single sequence in an animated feature.

While cartoonists undoubtedly contributed gags and ideas to “Monsters, “Pooh,” or “Splash Mountain,” the overall product doesn’t feel much like it belongs to them, but more to a committee. Those show designers more experienced in technology, engineering, architecture, real-estate, marketing or theatre lack the same gift for immersion, non-verbal showmanship and elegant simplicity. Their priorities lie elsewhere.

It’s not obtuse theme park logistics and theory that matter to guests, but a transcendent emotional and visceral payoff. Those early Imagineers seemed to know instinctively what part of the story a rider wanted or needed to experience - - whether that concept was derived from a film or an entirely original situation. They could convincingly visualize themselves into the role of protagonist on an epic adventure. And we would follow them gladly.

As one wag put it, “Watch Alice go down the hole… or go down the hole? I just can’t decide.”

The magic for Disneyland guests was always the ability to travel THROUGH dimensional doorways to other worlds.

Disneyland needs more Magic Doors and fewer Hidden Mickeys.


Anonymous said...

On. The. Nose.

I sure hope the right people are reading this blog. Extremely valuable information here....

Anonymous said...

Truly, deeply, profoundly inarguable. Bravo!

Though a dark ride through a manure farm would have been a step up from Super Star Limo, and though Mike and Sully to the Rescue has more than its share of charm, in the end this is another dark ride that seems to be more interested in selling DVD's than in a truly transporting experience. Missed opportunities abound.

Buh RILLIANT article.

Anonymous said...

I love it when posts here open my eyes to things I hadn't been able to see before. I enjoyed the ride when I went this summer, but it was a bit ho-hum (the one thing that did stand out was the warehouse of doors. That did take my breath away). This is precisely what was missing! There's a reason I can go on Alice and Peter Pan zillions of times a visit: you get to step into the story. Even Pooh's ride, which I love, I love because of the vibrant colors, not the transportation into the world of the Hundred Acre Wood. Great point and well said. The one new ride that got this was the Buzz Lightyear ride. It's interactive and you're integrated into the story.

Anonymous said...

That's the single BEST article on this site to date, and I couldn't agree with you more. The Monsters, Inc. ride does have a lot going for it (even if the entire name of the ride is god-awful and needs to be re-thought), and is, indeed a BIG step forward over Superstar Limo, it's one missed opportunity after another.

Now about that HORRIBLE Buzz Lightyear Astroblaster mess...they should just tear it down and start from scratch. I'd love a great Toy Story ride--but that is NOT it.

thepicklebarrel said...

so true!

these rides seem to work best as impressionistic experiences.

if you break that down though, you see where that leaves a lot to the artist (or imagineer) and less to the exec. there's just not enough 'gimmick' to sell in written form so they probably feel a little out of control over the ride development.

imagine selling the Matterhorn to a disney exec today...

i always say, if Walt was alive and working for Disney, he'd be fired quicker than you can say, 'golden parachute'!

i must say, that exterior is tre' pretty though!

Anonymous said...

Star Tours really set the standard for the theme-park attraction as storytelling medium because it was the first to actually fictionalize the audience and incorporate them into a cinematic-style narrative. Additionally, the participation of the guests was impersonal and, therefore, quite natural. Unfortunately, Imagineering really hasn't tried to apply these same techniques to most of its other projects. And, the results speak for themselves.

Anonymous said...

Star Tours set a certain kind of standard, but hardly "THE" standard. The idea is actually quite dated and wanting severely. Immersive 3-D rides, which set THE standard are still what audiences enjoy more. Once you've ridden star tours, there's not much else to see. But riding Pirates of the Carribean again for the 7,254,521,897th time, you'll find something new.

I like star tours OK, but it's time to update or replace it-- it is seriously dated.

Anonymous said...

Terrific article, probably the best one I've read on this blog. It hits the bullseye.

I think another thing you could add to his argument is that in the really great attractions, Tower of Terror in WDW being a good example, the guest actually passes through layers of story before getting to the actual ride portion of the story. Walt wanted depth in animation by creating the multi plane camera, so the viewer would fly past 3 or 4 layers of celluloid (trees, foreground images) before getting to the scene. This would bring the viewer deep into the story. So at the Tower of Terror, the guest first walks OUT of the world of MGM and into garden, they then proceed closer to the hotel and underneath a portion of it, then into the lobby, a library and finally a boiler room, all before even getting on the ride.

My point here is that a ride has to be immersive from the moment of first contact with a guest. Splash Mountain is another great example even though, like you said, it has that "distant set pieces" organization. I still think Splash Mountain is a great attraction, but I understand the point of your argument and I agree therefore.

The entrance to the new Monsters Inc ride is terrible. It would have at least made more sense to fashion it after a street in Monstropolis or after the MI headquarters. The entry facade just looks like the movie's opening titles. With that being said, the orignal plan for Peter Pan was do have the entrance facade look like a London Street. Even the classics could improve!


Anonymous said...

Great post. This reminds me of two other manifestations of the same mentality:

1) Mission Space in EPCOT doesn't actually claim to send you into space, but merely on a "simulation of flight training". Why!? It's obvious that the ride is a "simulation" - that's why we're there. But at least TRY and sell us the conceit that we're actually going into space!

2) This is not about a Disney product, but it illustrates another entertainment company making the same mistake with one of their beloved movie properties: believe it or not, the first Matrix video games didn't allow the player to play as Neo. Everyone complained! The whole point of a Matrix game (indeed, the whole point of the first movie) is to invite the player to step into the shoes of Neo's everyman hacker. It was an opportunity wasted to provide the same kind of transformative experience as stepping through the magic doors of Monster's Inc.

In all three cases, it's almost as though the designers are suffering from pusillanimity or a kind of timidness - they're AFRAID to step through those doors or go down the rabbit hole or blast out of the atmosphere. It's as though they feel unequal to the task of showing you what's on the other side.

Kevin Carter said...

I agree with you on this argument, but for arguments sake I'll point out that Imagineering has done just that, transporting guests into the roles and been panned for it as well. Test Track and Mission Space both do that, but people pan those rides stating that we don't have to be put into the ride as the main character to get it.

Horizons is sorely missed by most people who loved the original Epcot and is often pointed out as being one of the greatest dark ride experiences of all time. What did it do however? It took us by set pieces and never (until the end of the ride when we got to choose our own ending) put us actually in the ride. We were just watching the story unfold around us, and it was wonderful.

So I'll say that it can go both ways. I agree with you on the ones that you mentioned in this article, but just wanted to point out the other side of the equation as well.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely terrific post. I was at Imagineering when Splash Mountain was being designed and always felt the storyboards should have been required reading for all that ride the ride.
Yes, Imagineers have become so wrapped up in "story" that they think "story" drives the ride. No, it is the basis for the ride, and the ride should be experiences.
Too bad none of the current Imagineers remember how important those experiences are.

Anonymous said...

When I rode Monsters, Inc., I was extremely disappointed in one thing above all else: All the characters, except for Roz, speak but do not move their mouths. The fact that Roz does points out this flaw even more.

Maybe it's just me, but I thought that dark rides may actually IMPROVE with time. I can understand why the characters in Snow White's Scary Adventures and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride don't have articulate mouths (something I know they can upgrade), but even the modern dark rides have this problem as well. I know these rides are supposed to be impressionistic, but can't we spend just a little bit more money so that the AAs don't look like rejects from an anime cartoon?

Anonymous said...

While I do agree that the Monsters Inc. attraction is flawed (everyoe who I saw the movie with couldn't wait for a magic door attraction to appear at Disneyland), I don't quite get the argument about immersion.

Is Snow White's Scary Adventures or Pinocchio's Daring Journey more immersive than Winne the Pooh or Monsters? All seem to be casual rides past dioramas. I'd agree that the earlier ones are done better, but I don't feel like I'm part of the Snow White or Pinocchio stories when I ride them. I'm a spectator, but that doesn't stop me from loving those attractions. I'm entertained by the tone, execution and design. Pooh and Monsters leave me cold and uninterested. Maybe it has to do with the source material, but I think it has more to do with givnig guests what they want.

We want to travel through magic doors like the characters did in Monsters Inc. We want to be transported to The Hundred Acre Woods, not driven past cardboard cut outs.

Mr Banks said...

I have to disagree with kcnole on several points.

1. As eiki said better than I could, Mission Space loudly proclaims in its preshow that this is a simulation and as such immediately steals the magic away from guests. Imagine being told right before you hop on Peter Pan's Flight that this is a simulated flight over London and that Peter Pan is only a fantasy character. You can fly indeed.

2. Yes, we are cast as Crash Test Dummies in Mission Space and this is a start. But the problems with that attraction go well beyond casting. Here it's giving guests an experience that, on a base level, is little different from the drive they took to get from the office to home every day. No magical portal here!

3. Horizons was absolutely a magical portal, no ifs ands or buts. Guests were transported into the future and were very much a part of the land, the sea and outer space environments of tomorrow. The intimacy of the sets was spectacular. Remember going from the outer space sets right into the space habitat? Smelling oranges as we travelled into a desert farm? Peeking into an underwater space colony from the point of view of a fish?

Horizons: A magic portal that is very much missed.

Anonymous said...

I think that one of the bigger problems with Monsters Inc is, I'm I the only person that thinks its OUTRAGEOUS that by re-using almost everything from an existing ride, it still cost Imagineering somewhere between $80 and 100 MILLION dollars to build?!?!!
No wonder Disney builds everything on the cheap! To build sub-par attractions it still costs millions of dollars!! Disney execs probably say to themselves, "for imagineering to build a big, better Pirates, it will bankrupt the company and we can't afford that!"
My case in point is DCA. I believe it cost $1 billion dollars to build. Nuf said!

Capt. Tomorrow said...

Excellent article Mr. Jones. And to prove your point, all one has to do is watch the The Little Mermaid virtual ride segment on the platinum edition DVD. The Little Mermaid dark ride would have been a triumph for WDI; instead we get mediocrity with Monsters Inc. If only Mike and Sully could rescue WDI from the accountants.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Banks - Intimacy is a key word in this argument, and it doesn't just mean putting sets close to the guest, it also means involvement of the guest IN an experience. Horizons definitely DID achieve this.

Capt. Tomorrow - There really should be a serperate article written on this blog just for the propsed-but-never-built Little Mermaid attraction, it would have been outstanding!

Bruce - This is a good point and the strange fine line that I can't quite define here. Some rides like Snow White are successful yet you just get driven by tiny scenes...I personally love Winnie the Pooh, but I have a feeling that the Tokyo version is more in line with what this article/post demands out of a Disney ride.

I think that not all stories can be told the same way in a theme park attraction (ie, driving people through a set piece). The Little Mermaid ride on the DVD looks much more immersive and effective than the show in MGM. At the same time, A Bug's Life 3D in Animal Kingdom is more effective then the land at California Adventure (although the tall clovers are great!).


Mr Banks said...

Ig- Yes, I definitely understand that ride intimacy doesn't mean putting the sets close to the rider. Still, I believe the base argument here is whether a ride is a drive by or a drive through. Are we particpants or voyeurs?

Horizons at first may seem like merely a drive-by but on a base level it succeeds by allowing guests through its own magic door to the future.

judi said...

Mr. Banks eloquently stated:

Still, I believe the base argument here is whether a ride is a drive by or a drive through. Are we particpants or voyeurs?

THAT is the question indeed! And ironically, the origin of my moniker, BlueSkyDriveBy.

BSDB is what I feel Imagineering has come to represent developmentally: driving by imagination, immersion, and innovation. Not driving through them. It's almost as if the voyeurism is ingrained, to be exploited throughout the design and build process, intentional or not.

My favorite theme park attraction still, since its opening in 1999, is Spider-Man at Islands of Adventure. From the first moment I enter the queue, until I disembark from the ride vehicle, I am immersed. I am a participant, not some casual observer. Voyeurism doesn't have a prayer.

Riders are NOT vicariously living through Spider-Man's experiences as we do in the movie theatre. We are part of the action, we are on the front lines with the bad guys, getting shot at and tossed around as Spider-Man does. We're not simply watching Spider-Man; we get to become him, our vehicles hurling across the Manhattan skyline, facing perilous predicaments.

The ride drives through the action, not by it. And this level of immersion should be Imagineering's holy grail of design, if not their very foundation.

Using the "blue sky drive by" argument by Imagineers or accountaneers to justify crappy budgets should be seen for what it truly is: an excuse for being creatively lazy.

Anonymous said...

What about the Tower of Terror or Expedition Everest? I think these very recent WDI projects are both creative and immersive, even Rock N Roller coaster which grew on me very fast and has since become a classic in my mind. It's a simple idea to put a roller coaster in the dark, but the story is simple and it works. You are part of the action.

Tower of Terror has to be the greatest attraction of all time in my opinion, sure it could be longer, etc but it immerses you in a place, then takes you out of that place into "another dimension" then brings you back, then takes you back into the park setting. It's almost spiritual being in the drop shaft. Great story and you become the main characters.

There are WDI projects that can be put on both sides of the argument.


Anonymous said...

Even though I haven't experienced it, yet, The Star Trek Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton is another non-Disney attraction that has a script, which very much involves the audience.

The conventions of traditional theatre keep the audience separated from the characters with an invisible fourth wall, but, at Disneyland, the audience is invited to step onto the stage and interact with the characters in a theatre-in-the-round. Many of Imagineering's attractions(as well as the Entertainment departments' events, for that matter) do not write the guests into the scripts, unfortunately, and that missed opportunity is the essential problem.

Eric Scales said...

I'm a little confused about what everyone finds so "profound"(?) about this particular post. For one, I wholeheartedly disagree with the theory that Monsters Inc doesn't immerse you. For a dark ride, they crammed just about as much detail as possible into the available space. The environments are appealing, well designed, and diverse. And no, you are not an established character from the film, but it's already been established that that's not a requirement for immersion.

The complaint that you never actually enter a "Magic door" is pretty lame considering those doors lead back to the normal human world. Monstropolis is the more exciting place to be. Where would you want to go? Nothing shown through any of the doors in the film would have improved the attraction. Perhaps the actual transition would have been an interesting effect, but this attraction is not lacking in "how'd they do that?" moments.

I've also heard the complaint before that the figures mouths don't move. Yeah, well I guess that would be cool. On the other hand, I've learned to live with static faced figures in Peter pan and Alice. I agree that advancements should be made whenever possible, but realistically, that sort of fine motor action must increase maintenance issues exponentially.

I was so blown away with how well Monsters was done (and I didn't even care for the film that much) that my kudos far outway my complaints. If it wasn't that it fits no theme, I'd place it alongside any Classic darkride at Disneyland.

Mr Banks said...


Though I completely respect your jubilation for this attraction (and there is much to admire in this recent dark ride) your comment about "learning to live with it" is very alarming. For cost cutting accountaneers this complacent guest attitude is like mana from heaven. If they can scrimp on the quality details and be assured that guests will "live with it" then a precendent will be set and the guest experience will degrade immeasurably.

And for the last 20 years it has.

It's JUST this dangerous "live with it" attitude that convinced Eisner and his minions to cut back on quality year after year after year, figuring the guests were idiot sheep who didn't truly care about the finer quality details; the very stuff that set the Disney parks apart from all other amusement parks on the planet.

It's time to stop "living with it".

Eric Scales said...

Oh I'm absolutely with you on that point Mr Banks. Nothing has bugged me in the past 10 years than taking family to the Park or a Disney Animated film, and getting a polite "that was nice" afterwards. Not because they didn't like it, but because they were complacent about their disappointment. They figured they'd take what they were given and move on. Of course we know that in Disney parks, sometimes a complacent, unimpressed guest, really does move on, and may not return.

But there are some attractions where so much is right that the flaws are negligable, and some attractions where the whole thing is simply "just good enough". There's always room for improvement. If you say Pirates is the quintissential attraction, I could complaint that the village buildings in the bg are clearly just black silhouettes, and that what Caribbean town has canals running through it's middle, and that even after 40 years and multiple upgrades you can still see the strings on the fireflies.

I get that the point of this blog is to be a discussion of what could be done better, and not just say "everything is dandy in Disneyland". And I agree with the basic premise of this post. However like your article on the lack of benches in DCA, your main example seems ill chosen. I can name half a dozen attractions (most have been mentioned by other posters)which would be better focuses for an article on "lack of immersion"

Eric Scales said...

Mr Banks said: "It's JUST this dangerous "live with it" attitude that convinced Eisner and his minions to cut back on quality year after year after year, figuring the guests were idiot sheep who didn't truly care about the finer quality details; the very stuff that set the Disney parks apart from all other amusement parks on the planet.

It's time to stop "living with it"."

But if you are constantly ignoring the good and picking out minor imperfections, you can quickly get yourself labeled "difficult" and "closeminded". The labels may be unfair, but people quickly stop trying to please someone who is impossible to please. Unfortunately, I think Disneyland has a bit of this condition with it's annual passholders, where due to thier high standards, some of which DO border on the impossible, Disneyland managment dismisses them as impossible to please.

Keep critiquing, but don't lose the ear of those you want to hear you.

Kevin Carter said...

"But if you are constantly ignoring the good and picking out minor imperfections, you can quickly get yourself labeled "difficult" and "closeminded". The labels may be unfair, but people quickly stop trying to please someone who is impossible to please."

I couldn't agree with this more. I am a very vocal critic of many things going on in the parks but some of us online get so involved in pointing out everything that's wrong with the parks, even every little nit picky little thing, that we completely ignore the amazing things that still go on there. I understand the desire for perfection that so many people clamor for with Disney, I'm one of them, but let us not get so caught up in striving for perfection that we completely miss the wonderful things that are around us this very minute. Those of us who are striving for that perfection will never find it in the park as there is something else that can always be better. But we can find many things done very, very well. From time to time let us not forget to focus on what has been done right and not ignore it completely to help make our point that something else is not.

Merlin Jones said...

>>I can name half a dozen attractions (most have been mentioned by other posters) which would be better focuses for an article on "lack of immersion"<<

But none which had, as it's central story conceit, a magic doorway between the real world and a fantasy world - - that wasn't used in the ride! It's the elephant in the room.

For that reason alone it's the perfect example. That anyone could resonably argue that the magic door is an unneccessary part of the rider experience (...but following Boo's boring plot is somehow important...) shows how just far off-track Imagineering has become with insular theme park psychobabble and politics.

Dumbo flies, Alice goes down a rabbit hole, the crew of the Enterprise uses a transporter, Spider Man swigs via web from a building, Peter Pan flies to Neverland... so does the happy guest.

Monsters go through magic doors, we don't. Why?

Even within the limitations of the plotty scenario that was chosen, we - the riders - could have picked up and/or dropped off Boo in her bedroom THROUGH magic doors with the requisite effects and satisfaction of experience.

...OR those exterior doors leading to the queue should have featured a convincing effect that transported us from the sidewalk of DCA to an enclosed and otherworldly Monstropolis cityscape. A nontheatrical stroll through a plywood arch to a soundstage exterior where you can still see the surrounding area just doesn't do it.

Merlin Jones said...

>>But if you are constantly ignoring the good and picking out minor imperfections, you can quickly get yourself labeled "difficult" and "closeminded".<<

Minor Imperfection or Conceptual Flaw?

''Whenever I go on a ride, I'm always thinking of what's wrong with the thing and how it can be improved." - - Walt Disney

How can the caretakers of his legacy do any less?

Anonymous said...

>>Dumbo flies, Alice goes down a rabbit hole, the crew of the Enterprise uses a transporter, Spider Man swigs via web from a building, Peter Pan flies to Neverland... so does the happy guest.

Monsters go through magic doors, we don't. Why?<<

Exactly. The whole ride doesn't have to be about going through a million doors, but the concept is so dominant in the movi and so obviously made for a theme park attraction that it is hard to believe that they designed the ride around a storyline that could be based on any movie. Boo getting lost could be anything - it could be Dumbo getting lost, or it could be Mickey getting lost - the storyline is not at the heart of what makes Monsters Inc so good, the Boo getting lost plot line is merely a device to move the story along.

I think that the MI attraction had better concepts behind it, I find it hard to believe that not one single Imagineer would have thought of going through doors as a ride concept. Money must have been an issue with this attraction, and space.

Medallionhome: For example, MI would be more immersive if Monstropolis was a Land, then a ride within that land was a personalized factory tour that takes us to the door hangar. Instead, we pass by storyline and scenes, which is voyeuristic. The article simply points this out and therein lies it's simple brilliance. Monsters inc may surround you, but it doesn't immerse you. There is a fine line, like i've stated before. It's not like MI is the worst attraction ever, I just think it's interesting to note the subtle difference between an amazing attraction and a good one.


Anonymous said...

For those of you who were talking about how amazing the Little Mermaid Ride would have been (and, by the way, I fully agree), here's the clip of the ride for those of you who don't ahve the DVD:

Eric Scales said...

I guess then I'll have to agree to disagree. Yes, I guess something neat about the film was that they had magic doorways. However there was nothing interesting about going through the door. It was the Monsters job and it took them into our world. The real appeal in the film was their world and how it mirrored our own. That was the world you should have wanted to be in. The attraction puts you into that world. I disagree that it merely surrounds you. I think the immersion is possible if you, the audience lets it happen. Nevertheless you are in that cool world that the filmmakers portrayed and you are complaining that they didn't use the doorway effectively to get you there? Like I said, agree to disagree...

"''Whenever I go on a ride, I'm always thinking of what's wrong with the thing and how it can be improved." - - Walt Disney"

Of course and I'm sorry if I seem like I'm trying to stop creative discourse about these things. I actually love these articles and generally think the same way myself. I guess I'm just trying to refocus the whole thing, which obviously is not my job, nor the job of anyone else but the blog owner. Like most of us I'm just thinking out loud and thought that Monsters was getting a bad rap. I think I got it out of my system now. Carry on.

Merlin Jones said...


Wow - I hadn't seen that Mermaid ride video - - they should start building that tommorrow. The way they surprise you by dipping "under the sea" and back up again could be marvelous! ... and literally "immersive" if you enjoy an obvious pun.

Put it where the abandoned Motor Boat Cruise is.

Ghost Relations Dept. said...

Re-Imagineering Bloggers,

I read every blog post that you give, and I agree wholeheartedly on the issues you present. Generally I don't meddle in affairs not Mansion related, however, I slightly disagree with this weeks posting.

While I had never gotten the chance to ride Superstar Limo, the reviews and videos I have seen show me that I didn't miss much. However, I did get to ride Monsters Inc and I feel it is very much on-par with what the other Fantasyland Dark Rides are, just in a new land.

To compare Monsters Inc with Pirates, Mansion, Splash, Adventures Thru Inner Space is not quite fair. Its like pitting Ghandi against Mike Tyson. I feel they are different versions of the classic Dark Ride.

Pirates, Haunted Mansion, Splash, Etc are meant to immerse you in an experience using thousands of tricks of the trade, make you feel like you are fully enveloped in something VERY real. In some cases they use very realistic AA figures (Pirates), Sureal AA figures (Mansion) or Cartoony AA figures (Splash) and all for a good purpose. The advent of the AA figure added realism to the attractions like none before.

As for the Fantasyland dark rides, they did a great job because, to the young, and the young at heart, you got to experience something you already know, movies which they were based upon. Families went to the park and then they got to live what they had seen. With Pirates, Mansion, Splash (splash is an exception here), they had never seen a movie based upon it before, it was where Disney could start with a blank page.

With Monsters Inc, again, families see the film, own the DVD, and most likely the kids have a plush of one of the characters before the attraction was even built. Disney capitilized on something they knew was popular, a pixar film.

What I fail to agree with in your original post is that, Monsters Inc, is very much on par with a Disney standard compared to movies being turned into attractions. They haven't really broken much of their own cannon, there is a movie, they make a short, 3 to 4 minute attraction (if that), you visit the world from the safety of your own vehicle, you see many scenes from the movies, in the end, everything lives happily ever after.

Sure, maybe some people want to go through a magic door to go to another world. However, that part of the movie, was only a small fraction of the overall story. If you made an attraction where you just go through various doors, there isn't much of a story there.

I think better use of this thread would be more of where they miss-stepped on this attraction, the queue area.

Going through an attraction (which is not unlike those in Fantasyland), getting the cliff notes story, seeing limited animation of the figures, etc. is no where near as shocking as walking through this big Rolly Crump/Mary Blair style facade wall and into a desolate queue area, then into an old set of opening supermarket style doors and into what appears to be an office building.

That is far more of a (you're really in a theme park, its all fake) reality check than not going through a door.

Digital Jedi said...

It's not that the door is more important then the story. It's that the door is an important part of the story. Part of the process of immersive storytelling is taking you layer by layer into the story and farther and farther away from the real world.

As was pointed out, Tower of Terror takes you away from the real world little by little, layer by layer. The tower itself draws you in from a distance, then the overgrown garden and creepy backdrop give you a varying sense of unease. Now imagine Tower of Terror if they had decided to skip designing a lobby, a broken down elevator and a boiler room and just took you straight from the front door into a series of queue lines and then the ride.

Sure, it would be the same "ride". Falling from those heights is just as thrilling as any ride like that. But Tower of Terror doesn't just take you to the world in one or two steps. It takes you scene by scene into the world and gradually makes you feel like you're a part of it. Now you’re not just in a falling elevator, you’re in a haunted elevator in the Twilight Zone. And for the briefest and mot strenuous of moments, you believe it.

It's a subtle thing, but it is also a very important part of storytelling. Writers, such as myself, whether amateur or professional, cannot afford to ignore even small elements of a story just because they do not seem important. The smallest element, though seemingly inconsequential to a reader, can be the difference between a handful of people liking your story and a #1 bestselling novel.

This particular blog's point, I believe, was to point out that minor story elements are being too readily dismissed. Subconsciously, taking you into the Monsters, Inc world through an easily identifiable plot device would have a deeper impact on you then just going there without it. It’s a tier, a part of the progression from one world into the other, and, even a mediocre writer, would not have overlooked it. I'm genuinely surprised to hear that they didn't incorporate it.

Now, of course, someone will point out that not all great rides use this device, but that will be unerringly false. All great rides do incorporate this sensory device, they simply do so in a different manner and in varying degrees.

Horizons, for example, is very much tiered the experience. But it did it within the ride itself. Horizons wasn't a tale, it was an exploration of something. A journey into a concept, rather a journey with a plot line. The host and hostess spoke to you and each other as is they were passengers in your car, and started you off with familiar images of what humans have perceived as their future over the course of the centuries. It did so chronologically and scene by scene. It then took you into what we now think the future might be and gradually moved you into concepts of the earth, then space and then the sea. It was immersive because it explored an area of man’s dreams and expectations, dream by dream and expectation by expectation.

Each great attraction has taken advantage of the immersion principle to varying or lesser degrees. But each one doesn’t do so in the exact same manner. A ride with a clear basis in an existing storyline will need to take you into that world utilizing the trappings of that world that most people would recognize. If it fails to utilize one of these plot devises, then people are going to notice, whether consciously (where were the doors?) or unconsciously (the ride was okay I guess).

Mr Banks said...

People! People! You're getting too caught up in the word, "story" here. The classic Disney dark rides never tried to tell the Story of Snow White, Mr. Toad, Alice or Peter Pan. They merely tried to wrap you up in the world and cast you as the central character. Imagineers knew that if you wanted the story you'd watch the movie or read the book.

Yet Monsters Inc; the ride comes off (as one person close to the project admitted) like a book report. Disney park guests deserve better. They deserve a visceral all encompassing journey to the worlds within worlds of Monsters Inc. Truly going into that movie means going into that magic door, narrative be damned.

Guests don't want a book report, they want a personal experience.

judi said...

WDW's Tower of Terror = personal experience

DCA's Tower of Terror = book report written from Cliffs Notes

Anonymous said...

One thing too is the speed in which a vehicle travels through a space. The speed must match both the intended mood of the story/environment and the pace in which the story happens. The Haunted Mansion strikes a beautiful balance as the mood and tone match the slow speed of the doombuggies.

Classic dark rides like Snow White simply move too quickly and rigidly. Winnie the Pooh strikes a better balance as does TOT. I've noticed more than once that Splash Mountain in Disneyland seems to travel much faster than the one in Disney World.

Anonymous said...

The door to Monsteropolis will open January 2007 in the Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland.

See you on the other side!

Anonymous said...

I used to hang out on alt.disney.disneyland.

I JUST discovered this blog through Boing Boing.

I laughed until I cried with SuperStar Limo. Other guests in the vehicle thought I was insane. I wasn't laughing with the attraction. I laughed at it.

What was Eisner thinking? I don't blame the Imagineers. I blamed Eisner.

My observation was that the ride COULD have worked if it wasn't in a Disney park and specifically Hollywood Backlot of Calififorna Adventure.

In essense the park had people coming to experience some of the magic of Hollywood and the ride gave them a cynical look at the silliness of celebrity.

On a very basic level it was making fun of, and not in a good way, of the people the ride meant to entertain. What was Eisner thinking?

A stranger can make mildly insult a kid and it can be funny. When a parent insults their own kid it's always cruel. And guests picked up on the cruelty of the attraction.

I brought up the alt.disney.disneyland thing because I noticed something in most of the various flamewars that occurred. People have an astounding memory for rides that were. But they almost always ignore that they were kids, their experience as children was limited and there's an entirely different context that kids approach rides with.

In my opinion, a GOOD ride entertains both kids and adults. And a problem with a lot of the new rides in the park is that it's not that entertaining for adults. We spot the Disney agenda.

Give the guest just enough show, and then direct them through a gift shop. Kids generally love the stuff. Adults tolerate it because their kids love it.

I've been on the Monster's Inc attraction twice. I thought it was entertaining but nothing spectacular. I thought the effect were well done. My overall impression was that the pacing was off. My background is actually television and film so I'm sensitive to that.

I think everyone did a great job in putting the attraction into that ride space. I'm not a fan of that in general. I think retrofits are a VERY bad idea. I think the best shows were created when they design the space to the ride rather than the ride to the space. But I can say that because it's not my money.



Anonymous said...

Everyone is ignoring my post that is the reason the ride isn't what it should be.
It cost $80 million dollars to do a poor retrofit!!
I could have built a better ride from the ground up for less than that!!!
If that is how Imagineering WASTES money, than no wonder Disney management wants to spend as little money as possible!
Speaking of the Spiderman ride at IOA, I heard it cost them a little over $100 million to make a FAR superior ride.

judi said...

Perhaps the reason folks are ignoring your comments, Ted, is because they're simply not true.

The Monsters, Inc attraction cost in the neighborhood of $30 million, possibly $35 million. Not $80 million, definitely not $100 million.

And it was my understanding that Spider-Man cost Uni about $90 million. But that's Florida; California is far more expensive for construction and installation of attractions.

Anonymous said...

I've enjoyed the discussion here, but I just wanted to put in a good word for the Buzz Lightyear ride, which I was very pleasantly surprised with. I honestly don't see how you can accuse this ride as being more voyeuristic than participatory. You're cast as someone helping out the little green men, buzz gives you a training session, and off you go as a part of the mission, zapping everything in sight. Furthermore, it's not just retelling the movie, but giving you a completely new story, and it's the return of the Omnimovers!

Anonymous said...

My god. Is there anything you guys like?! It seems that all you do is complain about how the glory days are gone...how this sucks and that sucks..."In my day, we didn't have these newfangled cars, we walked to work with bale of hay on our backs..." I agree that there are less than stellar attractions now at both Disneyland and CaAdv, but Monster's Inc. isn't one of them. Winnie the Pooh? Yes. Heimlich's Train? Yes. But Monsters Inc. is charming, a welcome addition to the park...

My goodness...get thee to a proctologist to get take out what ever is stuck up there.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting my comment. I didn't think that you were going to release it to be published, considering my tone. But thanks for doing so.

In any case (along with all the grammatical errors I now see on my post), I forgot to put in my final point:

Not everything that is old is good. Conversely, not everything that is new is bad.

Merlin Jones said...

>>Not everything that is old is good. Conversely, not everything that is new is bad.<<

Right - - but new or old we should be going through Magic Doors. If not... who cares what age it is?

Anonymous said...

what's with the hate-on for the winnie the pooh ride? This ride is amazing! both at DL and in WDW. the DL version is great with the way the queue is designed. Is there jealousy over the tokyo version or something?

Anonymous said...

You're wrong about Splash Mountain being one of the "film in three dimensions" rides considering you actually do plummet into the Briar Patch and characters do acknowledge your existence as new visitors to Chickapin Hill with Brer Frog telling you about how Brer Rabbit's going to find himself in trouble one day, the start of the How Do You Do sequence one can assume the geese are welcoming you, and finally, the roadrunner asks the passing boats if he can tag along as he wants to see the laughing place.

Anonymous said...

Splash Mountain is one of the most beautiful rides at Disneyland. It's also one of the most boring and uninvolving. It's as if the story of the "Laughing Place" was a complete afterthought, while the splash into the briar patch is staged in a way that makes it unmemorable. There are very long stretches where all there is to see is blank rock. Waste of time and space, really.

WOKcreative said...

Some comments about story not being what it is all about aren't completely accurate. It has always been about story - with an emphasis on immersion. Walt knew from the start that he wanted to embrace this new medium of storytelling, by putting us into the story. The three-dimension aspect instead of just watching on a screen was an exciting thing. It definitely should be experienced from the start (queue) to finish.
Many comments have also missed the main point - going through a door could lead to unending, unimaginable possibilities - whether that was the main point of the movie story, or not. That is where we should be taken. The doors that are projected, with changes each time you go through, start to hint at what could have been done.
It's not too late to add to the queue, and (at least) block out the sound stages all around you, once you pass under the first billboard. Theatrical set construction is all that would be needed, and wouldn't have to cost that much.

Anonymous said...

I wholeheartily agree with the message of the original post. I would like to add that I have recently watched a documentary called "disney's Imagineers" (Yes, they did not capitalize Disney.) and guess what everyone said in the doc? They talked about "story" being the most important in the ride. While some rides like Mission to the Moon had a linear storyline, there was no need to convince the visitors on why they were entering any of the rides like they do today. The imagineers in the documentray also said that Pirates of the Carribean had the most story, which anyone who has ridden the ride can agree that there is no reason "why" you are going on this ride, and not to mention why the chracters are doing what they are doing. The absence of the story line allows you to enter a more realisticly escapist world. Just like the film technique used in Star Wars created by Akira Kurosawa called an "immaculate reality", you are exposed to a world that isn't explained because it actually exists, allowing the visitor to be thrust into a world to explore the Carribean along with rambunctious pirates. Fantastically escapist ride with no storyline.. something we really need in the disney parks.

Captain Schnemo said...

cupanudles makes a vital point here...there need be no explanation for why we're all about to have a good time. Too often in these new and cynical attractions, the pre-show feels as much of an excuse than anything else.

As has been mentioned elsewhere here, the concept of the "simulation" is particularly galling. "We're going to pretend to pretend to send you into space or test a vehicle..." ...it's as if they are afraid to ask you to take their work seriously.

There's a difference between setting a tone with a kickass queue (eg, WDW's Pirates) and showing you a video with a bunch of unnecessary exposition.

And the last thing we need is another cynical attraction based on the failure of technology such as Alien Encounter or HISTA.

Anonymous said...

BSDB said:
Using the "blue sky drive by" argument by Imagineers or accountaneers to justify crappy budgets should be seen for what it truly is: an excuse for being creatively lazy.

Ted said:
I'm I the only person that thinks its OUTRAGEOUS that by re-using almost everything from an existing ride, it still cost Imagineering somewhere between $80 and 100 MILLION dollars to build?!?!!
No wonder Disney builds everything on the cheap! To build sub-par attractions it still costs millions of dollars!! Disney execs probably say to themselves, "for imagineering to build a big, better Pirates, it will bankrupt the company and we can't afford that!"

It looks like "creatively lazy" isn't the only problem. Add design/engineering to the mix.

Mr Banks said...

One must ask if there something objectionable about fornication.

Either way, if the metaphor works I say use it.

And God bless foreplay WITH penetration. Without it there would be no Walt Disney.

Anonymous said...

"We become mere passive spectators of a contrived scenario, burdened with more plot than necessary (“Help save Boo from blah, blah, blah…”). We are watching a mini-version of the film, not participating in it."

Spot on.

Many of the classic attractions--Jungle Cruise, Matterhorn, Pirates, Haunted Mansion, Space Mtn, Big Thunder--didn't rely on complicated storylines. This notion that Disney attractions are defined by their stories is a myth (at least historically). It's not the story that defines classic Disney so much as it is immersive atmosphere, an atmosphere where the guests are free to use their imaginations to engage with the creative space.