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?