Saturday, November 21, 2009

Technology vs. Longevity

An engineer’s analysis

Throughout history Disney has consistently been at the technological forefront of theme park design. From introducing steel roller coasters (Matterhorn) to being the first to implement linear induction motors for urban transportation (the People Mover), Disney has always been a leader in world class technology. However, the more recent technology Disney has been using in their attractions seems to lack a certain wow-factor so prevalent in the parks earlier history.

While newer attractions such as Raytheon’s programmable-animatronic arm and Toy Story Midway Mania are reasonably impressive, they lack the quality, theming, and all encompassing immersion displayed in the Pirates, Mansions and Thunder Mountains of years gone by. Toy Story Midway Mania may very well be an exciting attraction, with smiling guests proclaiming their long wait well worthwhile. But exactly how long will those smiles last?

The main driving force behind Midway Mania isn’t the adorable storytelling, funny characters, incredible view or thunderous thrills; it’s the technology. Midway is unique because it offers riders the first interactive 3D experience in a theme park ride. However, while this technology may be remarkable the implementation is weak.

Current generation video game consoles coupled with next generation’s televisions* are able to perform the same tasks with equal awe. In fact, Disney readily recognized this and released a Toy Story Midway Mania game for the Wii and iPhone. While these versions lack the 3D spectacle that makes Midway Mania so amazing, future renditions will be more than capable of providing this effect. That’s right; you can play Midway Mania from the couch in your living room. You may have to give up the ride’s signature quirky-jerky motions in order to skip the line but the trade off is negligible.

Currently Midway Mania is a significant draw for DCA and DHS- meaning that guests attend those parks with the sole intention of experiencing the attraction. But when you are able to play the game at home and in 3D is the long wait now worth it? It’s safe to say Midway Mania will have an extremely short life span.

After further analysis of the ride, it appears obvious that Disney was not only aware of this, but prepared as well. If you remove the 3D effects and guns from Midway mania what’s left? A grocery store shaped room, tacky cardboard cutouts on the walls and TV screens lining the aisles. The basic empty shell that’s left over screams 'cookie cutter': any object of significant value can easily be re-purposed. Not even the vehicles appear to be long term. The attraction runs off of an HP laptop cleverly housed inside the vehicle shell (which is fading and tearing). While the model that Disney used is currently out of production, the closest model with similar specifications sells for $500 from Best Buy.

The lack of quality that Disney put into the environment and the mechanics speak the same message: quick fix. Toy Story Midway Mania isn’t an attraction that will run for years and years; it’s a number in an accountant’s book—adding a quick boost in the numbers for the short term. WDI bit the bullet here and pulled off a wonderful smoke and mirrors attraction. Midway Mania, despite its cheap roots, is highly prized. Enjoy the ride for the time being because it probably won't be around very long.


Disney even released an accessory to house your Wii-mote in, in order to make the game more authentic.

* 2010 televisions from multiple distributors have been announced being 3D capable at the same price as current generation television.

Contributed by Re-Imagineering reader John Clayton

Note: Those interested in contributing entries to Re-Imagineering should initially forward a comment to any existing entry that includes your e-mail address and your stated interest. The comment will not be published so your e-mail will remain anonymous.


Friday, November 13, 2009

East Meets West

Post removed due to Reader Objections.

For those of you who laughed, thank you.
For the rest, we now return to our regular programming.


Sunday, November 08, 2009

Utopia Now

Tomorrowland has, from its inception, borrowed heavily from the popular imagination of the future. Through the late 1950s and into the ‘60s, culminating in the complete overhaul of Tomorrowland in 1967, WED had a great big beautiful tomorrow that was ensconced in the public’s mind to draw from. It was a future that people already understood and believed in, a future they could connect with. All WED had to do was build that tomorrow, today.

When Disneyland opened in 1955, the Interstate Highway System had not yet been built. Autopia modeled what would one day become our freeways and allowed guests the opportunity to experience this exciting new world. The Monsanto House of the Future was similar in many respects. It gave guests the ability to imagine themselves in the type of home they might have expected to be living in in the not too distant future.

As Tomorrowland continued to develop it drew heavily on the bold vision put forth as part of the space race. Tomorrowland was a place where the public could go and feel like they were a part of America’s greatest endeavor. Guests could make believe that they were the astronauts blasting into space and exploring the heavens. Space Mountain, Flight to the Moon and Mission to Mars have all responded to this formerly popular vision of the future.

Today, however, our vision for the future is not nearly so uniform, or positive. There is a lot of fear, uncertainty and doubt about our future. Today’s popular culture shows a future plagued by robot uprisings, undead armies, global warming and apocalypse. We see it in the movies and television we watch, the books we read, and even throughout our political debates there is an underlying sense of concern for the direction we’re currently heading in. This vision of the future does not mesh well with Tomorrowland’s, or Disney’s, overall outlook (with the possible exception of the forthcoming video game Epic Mickey.)

Because the popular perception of the future has shifted away from the utopian ideal that Tomorrowland was founded upon, it has felt lost, missing its unifying vision for what’s to come. The refurbished Tomorrowland that debuted a decade ago was presented without context; it failed to tell a compelling story that guests could buy into.

WDI has three options when it comes to the future of Tomorrowland: they can continue the current course without direction or destination, ensuring Tomorrowland becomes increasingly less relevant and less of a draw for guests; they can borrow from the popular culture and make Tomorrowland much darker than it is today, giving up its utopian make-believe for a gritty reality; or, WDI can present its own vision that addresses many of the problems we face today and try to return a sense of hope, excitement and optimism to the future. 

As Disneyland's founder built the park on a foundation of optimism, all of us at Re-Imagineering will remain optimistic as well. Here's hoping WDI can deliver a great big beautiful Tomorrowland 4.0.

"We want our Utopia now."

-Sinclair Lewis
Main Street

Contributed by Re-Imagineering reader Grant Henninger

Note: Those interested in contributing entries to Re-Imagineering should initially forward a comment to any existing entry that includes your e-mail address and your stated interest. The comment will not be published so your e-mail will remain anonymous.