Sunday, June 8, 2008

Time, Technology and Toys

Glenn, from Passamaquoddy, was on episode 67 of the WDW Radio Show discussing the new Toy Story Midway Mania attraction with Lou Mongello. When I heard the segment, I thought that Glenn had made some great points about the future of Disney attractions. I asked him to expand on the ideas. He agreed and the following post was born!

When a creative group such as Disney makes changes to one of their properties, we scramble to make sense of it. Why we seek to understand it is something for another discussion. Now, with the addition of TOY STORY MIDWAY MANIA to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, everyone rushes to not only understand and make sense of the thought process, but also to pop as many of Bo Peeps Balloon animals as possible in 30 seconds.

Examining a new attraction solely on its own 4 walls only allows for basic speculation. But with Disney theme parks making an impact on the world for over 53 years, this new attraction is suddenly supported by a long, involved history. For example, back on July 17, 1955 Disneyland opened with many attractions that are long gone. How many of you remember THE ALUMINUM HALL OF FAME?… I’m not making that up.

In 1959, technology and a lot of slide rule math allowed for the creation of the MATTERHORN BOBSELDS. In 1978 The Matterhorn Bobsleds’ saw the introduction of the Yeti. This abominable snowman still remains today to add some “theming” to the thrill attraction. In 2006 across the country in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, EXPEDITION EVEREST opened with another snow covered mountain and a Yeti to spice up the thrills. Over the course of the 47 years between the Matterhorn and Everest attractions, technology made for incredible advances in entertainment that makes the two incomparable. But are there technological ‘steps’ along the way?

When the Disney parks began, it was made up mostly of exotic forms of transport. Visitors would enter Disneyland to ride a train replica, miniature ‘flying’ saucers, keel boats, canoes, and even a mule train. Soon after opening, the Disneyscape was dominated by dark rides done as only Disney animators could imagine them.

Jump forward to 1982 and the grand opening of Epcot Center and we see something different. The 2 minute dark rides have grown into 10-45 minute rides that inform and educate. The technology had changed enough that it felt we were in a new era of attractions, even if they were still “dark rides”. They were larger and often incorporated new advances such as large screen projections. HORIZONS, SAPCESHIP EARTH, WORLD OF MOTION, and JOURNEY INTO IMAGINATION are technologically in a different league then PETER PAN’S FLIGHT, IT’s A SMALL WORLD and SNOW WHITE’S SCARY ADVENTURES…

The parks continued to grow and morph revisiting technologies and trying new things including a strong reliance on interactive films. 3-D technology had been around for decades, but it now allowed for the experience to be much more immersive and it frankly had stronger results. Potentially easier and less expensive to update, the films kicked into full gear with MAGIC JOURNEYS – a surreal experience through a child’s eye view of a frolicking day, mixed with German expressionism… I told you it was surreal. Eventually CAPTAIN EO saved the world from that. Even the Muppets got their feltprints into the act with a more interactive experience.

The next trend seemed to be the ride simulator. A small room built on a rotating gimble timed with a projected film seemed to be safer and much more financially feasible then building a new roller coaster to bring in the crowds. STAR TOURS and BODY WARS began the trend. Attractions like Disneyland’s INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF THE FORBIDDEN EYE or the Animal Kingdom’s COUNTDOWN TO EXTINCTION took the simulator out of the closed theater and placed it on a moving track within a good old dark ride- with all the technological advances it had coming. This seems to have culminated with California Adventure’s SOARIN’, an even more spectacular reimagining of the interactive film and simulator.

So what does the future hold? Of course, we can only speculate. In this day of personal handheld devices and video games that are strong enough to control a medium sized country, imagineers know it is obvious that they must continue to become more interactive, more immersive. Guests will no longer be bowled over by witnessing an experience from the outside. They must now be the story - which brings us to TOY STORY MIDWAY MANIA.

In this new attraction, guests are shrunk down to the size of a toy, challenged to a competition by an interactive Mister Potato head, and thrust into a miniature world filled with addictive video game challenges. The guest is now the story.

We are the story.
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