Sunday, October 17, 2010

Splash Mountain: A Breakthrough in Literary Experience

I am an English teacher, and therefore, a bit of a geek when it comes to elements of short stories and other literature. One of my recent posts suggested that Disney World focused too much on story sometimes, but I believe that other times, they get it just right.

Such is the case with Splash Mountain. Splash Mountain, however, has an extra special literary secret: you are experiencing a living plot diagram while you are on the ride. Instead of feeling sympathy for the characters of Splash's story (like we do when we read a good story), we feel a new kind of empathy. The ride forces us to connect with the characters by putting us in parallel peril.

A traditional plot diagram for a story has a beginning situation (the set up). This part of the diagram is typically flat, and the corresponding part of the story is not terribly exciting - we are learning about our characters and their setting. Occasionally, the author will leave clues to give the audience a sense of what will happen at the end of the story.

On SM, this is exactly what is happening at the beginning of the ride. We are introduced to the world of the story through setting and some brief character interaction. Everything is calm, but the end of our journey is foreshadowed by our perfect view of the big drop.

In the plot diagram, events occur that gradually lead us to the climax. These revolve around the main conflict of the piece, and can include both the protagonist (main character) and his antagonist (the character giving him difficulty).

This is usually a steady incline moving upward towards the climax, but as on SM, there are sometimes mini-climaxes before the most exciting point. On our ride, these are the times Brer Rabbit dodges the clutches of Brer Fox and Brer Bear, and we get to experience the rush of escape as Brer Rabbit does, when we travel down the smaller drops. They are a combination of suspense (in the dark), excitement, and relief. They are also building our fear for the climax of our journey.

The climax of a story is the point of highest excitement. It is also the turning point; things are different from here on in.

What I love, as a Disney and English nerd, is that you move up the mountain as you would move up the plot diagram. On the diagram, the climax even looks like a mountain top! On the climb up, your excitement and fear should be growing - both on the Mountain and as you read a great story. At the very top, this should be the height of excitement and fear for both the reader and the Mountain guest.

The descent feels exactly as it does when you read a great story. Your fear of the climax has turned into joy, and by the end, you are satisfied by the story's resolution. The Mountain's story tells us that Brer Rabbit has escaped, and we are happy. The attraction combines this, though, with the overall relief that *we* escaped our big drop.

Splash Mountain mixes our ride experience with the experience the characters in the ride are feeling. We are afraid when Brer Rabbit is afraid. We are relieved when he is relieved. It is this parallel sense of empathy that makes Splash Mountain a genius attraction and allows guests to finally feel what it is like to be in a great story.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Make a wish.

Does anyone else love the old Disney TV loop? It is the one that starts off with the Pee Wee's Playhouse style animation (Penny) and has the Tip for Today sections? And that nerdy guy who walks around with the human park hopper? I can't get enough of it!

I don't know what it is, but that TV loop captured something about the parks that the current Stacey loops just can't match. The combination of the narration, music, and visuals leaves me entranced. That loop, to me, is Disney World.

To start with, the video is relaxed. I remember being a kid in Disney and my heart would be pounding out of my chest while i was in the hotel room. I didn't need high energy music or a high energy host to pump my excitement any more. The narrator was calm; he was confident that the visuals would provide enough excitement for the viewer. The Magic Kingdom lead-in was simple and magical, "Make a wish."

There were no top sevens. The top sevens annoyed me (when they existed) because the first one was always Cirque Du Soleil. Imagine being a kid, watching this loop in your hotel, and the first attraction listed is a strange circus that your parents haven't paid for? And it isn't even in the parks! I just think that it was a cheap way of getting parents aware of a way to spend more money.

The organization on the old video was clear; they focused on one park at a time, and they had tips in between the parks to help you on your way. I liked that i could focus on one park at a time. I think families would like it too; they could watch and plan their next day accordingly.

The current Stacey video is a bit of a shock to me. I don't know to whom they are trying to appeal. I think that Disney was looking for a way to recycle and change their video without too much hassle. That's all well and good, but they have taken the heart out of the hotel tv loop. Stacey isn't even our peppy friend anymore, she's a news anchor.

The old video started with a feeling; that was clear. When i watch it, i feel like the way i feel on Main Street: relaxed and excited at the same time. Everything else was built off of that feeling.

Disney needs to refocus with regards to the hotel video. It is one thing that is intrinsically linked to staying at a Disney hotel, and they underestimate how much a video like that can mean to a visiting child. Heck, i still watch the old loop just to recapture that feeling! It's time to remember the magic.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Special Experiences

I am planning a trip to the world come February, and i think i would like to include some unique experiences. I realize that they cost extra, but when you are not paying for the hotel (this one is on the parents) you can afford to splurge a little bit. Here's what i was thinking:

1. Wishes dessert party, Magic Kingdom. I think we will go when there are bigger crowds, so the dessert party will give us a chance to see the fireworks in a more relaxed way. As i get older, i find myself less likely to stand forever in wait of something. This is no lines, no waiting, and you get to have some dessert while enjoying the show.

2. Wild by design, Animal Kingdom. This is a tour of Animal Kingdom. It has been a while since i got to go on a tour, and I think that this is one my parents and i would really enjoy. I haven't read many reviews of this one, but i like that - i will be able to see things from a fresh perspective. This tour, if I read it correctly, will explain the design choices that the imagineers made when creating the park. That sounds like it is right up my alley.

3. Segway tour, Epcot. I love technology, and I would love the chance to see the world showcase open before it is really open. The price tag is scary, but i rode the Segway and loved it at Innoventions, so i think it may be worth the cost.

4. Yeehaw Bob, Port Orleans, Riverside. Finally, a freebie! Since the folks aren't really into staying out too late in the parks, i think this is going to be perfect. We might stay at French Quarter, and i think they will like to walk over at night and see Yeehaw do his thing. We loved Jellyrolls, but I think the crowd has become a bit too rowdy for us. Bob's audience is more our speed.

That's what i was thinking - any suggestions?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

What Disney Could Learn from Universal

Everything in Disney World comes bundled with a story. Sometimes, I think they emphasize too much on "story" and not enough on "ride." Kali River Rapids is a good example of this - where story sometimes gets in the way of the enjoyment of the experience.

The ride is beautiful; this isn't your everyday raft ride. You are touring through amazing environments and get a spectacular view of Expedition Everest on your journey. The message of this ride is supposed to be one about illegal logging and habitat destruction. The irony, of course, is that we only get the amazing view of Everest because there are no trees to block our path.

But it IS a raft ride, no? Aren't we supposed to get wet throughout? It seems as though there is one big spot to get wet in (the drop at the end), while during the rest of it, you get wet if you are lucky. It's not zany enough; it's not wet enough to be considered a real raft ride. But the Imagineers couldn't make it zanier or wetter without compromising the story they had in place. And the story is so subtle, I imagine most guests wouldn't know what it was until they were told.

I got to ride Popeye and Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges at Universal Studios during my recent trip. The thing SOAKS you. There is a simple story in place (Bluto's got Olive), and there are props everywhere that go along with it. Every thing in there is part of the story, but it also shoots water. It's as if the Univeraleers(?) cared more about the guests having fun on this ride than they did the complexity of the message.

Popeye's Barges is only one minute longer than Kali (6 minutes to 5) but it feels a ton longer, and a whole lot more fun. Disney could use some of that "fun first" mentality - especially in Animal Kingdom, where serious messages are at the heart of many of the attractions.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Universally Speaking - the Harry Potter effect

I just got back from a trip to Florida, and boy was it hot. One of the hottest days of my trip was Sunday - when it hit 104 degrees, but I wasn't in Disney World, I was in Universal Studios.

My friend and I wanted to see the new Potterland, and I wanted to get rid of my fears and ride a couple of Universal's coasters. We got there near opening time and headed to TWWOHP, but the line to merely enter the land was about 2 hours long! It extended into Jurassic Park. After asking a couple of uh...cast members (?) we decided to wait to get into the land until later that day.

The Potter effect is wild. We rode the Jurassic Park river ride, the Hulk, Spiderman, the Popeye river ride, both Dr. Seuss rides, the Simpsons ride, E.T., Shrek 4D, and the Revenge of the Mummy all before 3 PM - and we ate lunch and played Whack-a-Mole in there, too. We walked on every one of those attractions even though the park was pretty full. Everyone runs to Potterland.

Go to Universal, but DON'T run to Potter first. If you can handle it, go as late as possible. We went at around 4, and while the land was still crowded, it was at least manageable. We got on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey in about fifteen minutes (using the single rider line) and we walked on the Dueling Dragons (er, Dragon Challenge). The lack of any wait times really made the trip worthwhile and really fun.

My review of Potterland, Universal, and the rides will come in future episodes and blog posts. Yay!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Listen to the Land, Listen to the Innoventions Plaza Loop

One of the things I love most about Walt Disney World is the music from the parks. There are certain background tunes I can't get enough of, and attraction music that I find myself listening to over and over again in order to relive the rides from home. Each night before I go to sleep, I crank up (to a reasonable, nighttime, NYC apartment volume) Mouse World Radio and drift off to sleep while listening to my favorites. Sometimes at work, I slyly listen to my Disney-heavy iPod when no one else is around. Sometimes I do it when people are around, but they inevitably think I'm nuts for humming along to the Innoventions Plaza background music (infidels!). Let's delve into my most-listened-to, shall we? 
The aforementioned Innoventions Plaza background music is one of my favorites. It reminds me of Epcot at night because, for some reason, the music is more apparent when the sun has gone down. It also brings to mind flashes of glowing sidewalks, and the rushing sound of the nearby fountain. It's also the perfect length to listen to while in the shower, if you take really long showers! 
Probably, my most-listened to background music award would have to go to the Adventureland loop. I don't think any other music can put you in a better mood or take you to a better place than Adventureland. This is a relatively long loop that goes through a number of different moods and styles throughout. Those drums, man. Those drums are key. As soon as it starts, I'm on that bridge that enters Adventureland from the hub on my way to the Swiss Family Tree House. 

Seriously folks, there is no better way to start your day than to listen to the Main Street USA music when you first sit down at your desk. This is especially true if you start with the opening medley that you hear before rope drop in the morning. You will, no doubt, have that "ding, ding, ding went the trolly" portion stuck in your head all day but, that's not a bad thing. Doesn't it just make you want to be the mayor of Main Street? I know that's where my future goals are leading me.
Quite possibly the next happiest piece of music is the Inca Dance from Epcot's pre-Illuminations score. It is so up-beat and joyful that it is sure to result in a Disney mood when you are feeling otherwise. It's brief, so don't be afraid to listen more than once in a row. It can also be played right before or after the Flue Battle, which goes hand in hand as far as pre-Illuminations really happy bits of music go.  
As far as attraction music goes, the entire score of Splash Mountain is at the top of my list. Being one of my favorite attractions in any of the parks, I love to visit with B'rer Bear from afar when I'm home. I have no problem listening to this full attraction and will gladly listen from the beginning all the way through to the "ding ding" at the end. It just takes me to my laughing place, what can I say?

Though Spaceship Earth is not "music" per se, the Jeremy Irons version is my second most-listened-to attraction after Splash. It is just so comforting and soothing that I find myself listening on the subway or in the middle of the day at work. Nothing beats the music at the end, either. You know, the part of the ride where you used to recline and stare at three strands of neon? Ah, those were the days.

Certain extra special things, like Wishes for example, are just too sacred to listen to on a regular basis. Not to mention, I would certainly cry during my evening walk if Wishes was pumping through my ears. The music just brings up so many memories that it is really the next best thing to actually being in Disney World. It's a way of living it without actually being there. It's also a great way to remember the attractions that are no longer with us, ahem... Veggie Fruit Fruit. Oh, how I miss you Bonnie Appetite.