Monday, May 20, 2019

After-Action Report: The Fantasyland Dark Rides

Wow, how long has it been since I did an After-Action Report post? According to my records, it's been...oh. About three months. It seems longer. You know, when I first began this blog, right after the Bronze Age Collapse, I assumed the bulk of it would be me yammering on about existing attractions and other features, what I like and don't like about them and so forth. Funny, that.
This one has been a long time coming, I think. For some reason, theme park bloggers don't talk much about the Fantasyland dark rides as much as we probably should, considering they are in many ways the bread and butter of Disneyland's branding. The quintessential Disney theme park ride is one based on an animated movie, and these are the classic examples. Even I usually just bring them up in passing rather than applying any sort of analysis; on the rare occasions when I do devote an entire post to just one of them, it tends to be a shorter-than-usual example of its type. These rides just are not big enough to spark many deep and rambling thoughts.
And that's fine. They're bite-sized morsels of delight. So for this post, I'm not going to exhaustively list their individual features or even do much comparing and contrasting between them. I'm just going to highlight a few unique points of each—believe it or not, although they justifiably vary quite a bit in popularity, each of the five Fantasyland dark rides can claim to be the best at something.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Is Star Wars Even “Disney” Enough?

Sorry about the clickbait-y title up there. What with the opening of Galaxy's Edge mere weeks away and May the Fourth having just been with us recently, I've been thinking about Star Wars a little more than usual. I've never made any secret of my misgivings about the union of the Lucasfilm franchise and Disneyland, but only recently have I started to put my finger on the cause(s) of them.
I just don't think Star Wars is very “Disney.” Not that the company hasn't done right by the franchise—for the most part, the new films are quite good—but it doesn't sit well alongside what you might call Disney's more traditional fare.* The Platonic ideal of “a Disney movie” is an animated fairy tale, or maybe an adventure story with animal characters. Obviously there are plenty of exceptions, but that's the baseline most people think of.
And that is not Star Wars. It may be a fantasy, but it's no fairy tale. The main difference is one of size. Disney fairy tales (and fairy tales in general) tend to be pretty small. The stakes are low, with the protagonists trying to save themselves, or their families, or at most a small kingdom (and not necessarily from something as dire as literal destruction). Their actions have little to no effect on the larger world and the larger world does not intrude upon their stories. Moreover, for most of them, the main plot takes place within a relatively small area and/or a compressed timeframe. And finally, they are self-contained stories. You start the movie, and 90 minutes or so later, they all live happily ever after, The End. What happened next is left to the realm of justly loathed direct-to-video sequels. Or fanfiction.**
None of this describes the Star Wars saga, a claim which can be handily proved by the fact that you aren't questioning my use of the word saga. The scale of it is huge—it's a story that spans generations and star systems, that's been being told for over forty years, via ten theatrical movies (and counting!), several TV series, and an inestimable number of novels, comic books, video games, and other supplemental media.
I mean, that is nuts. Do you have any idea how nuts that is?
My point is that Star Wars is vast. They could give it its own entire Epcot-sized theme park, and still only have room to explore a fraction of what makes it so compelling to audiences of all ages. And they decided the best thing to do with it is stick it on the back end of Frontierland? I'm sure Galaxy's Edge is going to be monstrously popular and remain so for the foreseeable future. I am also sure that it represents missed opportunities. A remote corner of Disneyland Park, Anaheim, CA is not the optimal location for this sort of concept.
From the point of view of the park as a whole, Galaxy's Edge represents a major departure from the kinds of themes that have historically been assigned to lands. (Note here that I am talking about lands, not individual attractions. Nor am I talking about any other parks.) Better bloggers than I have spent hours and pages trying to pin down the overall theme of Disneyland Park, but however you choose to phrase it, there has always been a sense that no matter how wacky and wonderful the environment was, you can get there from here. This is our history, our future, our shared imagination, our world.
Star Wars is decidedly not our world. Does it take place a long time ago from where we sit, or from the perspective of someone even farther in the future? The answer is that it doesn't matter, because it takes place in a galaxy far, far away. We, ourselves, are entirely out of the picture. Earth might not even exist in the Star Wars setting, and the “human” characters might actually be aliens that look indistinguishable from humans à la Superman.
Is it just me, or is there something inherently...askew about this? Disneyland has always been about the best aspects of the world we know. The tropics are full of adventure! The Wild West was a time of heroes! Fairy tales can come true, and so can cartoons! The future is bright! Spinning Star Wars into its own land kind of feels up. Like saying “Actually, the world sucks and always has. Our history is full of irredeemable villains, our mythology is pointless, and it's only going to get worse from here no matter what we do. Our only possible comfort is in the prospect of running away to another universe entirely.”
And isn't that uncharacteristically bleak for the company that gave us “it's a small world”, the Carousel of Progress, and all those Happily Ever Afters?
Just some things to think about.

* The same is true of the MCU, for similar reasons. This is not meant as a knock against either film franchise in and of itself.
** This is why I feel that even though the trailer looks okay, Frozen 2 may be a mistake.

Monday, May 6, 2019

It Came From the Fandom: Disney Park Blueprints

As a rule, my ICFTF posts are, well, fun. “Here,” I say, tossing out my links in much the same manner that I skate a catnip mouse across the kitchen floor for the amusement of my cat, “this should entertain you for a while.” This one's a little different—still fun, immensely so, but also useful. We're talking bona-fide STEM content.
The Disney Park Blueprints website is an absolute treasure trove of dozens of images showing how individual attractions at the parks are laid out. Although aerial photos and fan-made images far outnumber actual blueprints/plans, the whole archive is still invaluable if you've ever wanted to recreate your favorite ride as part of a creative hobby, or just get a better feel for how a winding track fits into its show building. It can be difficult to perceive a track layout while you're riding and immersed in the scenery, but these images lay it all out for you.
Go, browse, enjoy!

Monday, April 29, 2019

Bragging Rights

I have literally been a regular Disneyland visitor as long as I can remember. In fact, one of my very earliest memories is of visiting Disneyland! With as many visits as I've racked up over the years—it must be in the hundreds by now—I've also picked up, well, some stories. Anyone with the money can walk in the front gate, ride some rides, and leave. That's a typical Disneyland experience. I've managed to have some fairly atypical experiences there—incidents that were enviable, or especially memorable, or just plain silly.
Here, in no particular order, are some of the Unusual Things I've Done At Disneyland:

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Second Sense: The Music of Tomorrowland

Quick! What's the first thing you think of in association with the phrase “Disneyland music”?
If you're like most people...uh...probably nothing, actually. Most people are not familiar enough with Disneyland to have an automatic response to that phrase. But if you're in the minority that are, then you probably instantly thought of “Yo Ho” or “It's a Small World (After All)” or “Grim Grinning Ghosts.” Or “In the Tiki Tiki Tiki Room.” Maybe “Baroque Hoedown,” which wasn't composed for Disneyland but is almost exclusively known as the Main Street Electrical Parade theme.
In any case, it probably won't be something from Tomorrowland that pops into your head. It's not that the area has no music to call its own—on the contrary, it has lots, both now and in the past. It's more that Tomorrowland's unique melodies have been progressively downplayed over the years as more IP has moved in, bringing its own accompanying soundtracks. It's been nearly fifteen years since any new compositions were created for Tomorrowland, but fortunately, there's a lot of good stuff to hear if you know where to listen!
(And a lot more to be found on Disneyland retrospective albums and in niche collections!)

Monday, April 15, 2019

Disneyland By Decades

Well, folks, we are looking straight up the barrel of the biggest event to hit the Disneyland Resort in over fifteen years by my estimation—the opening of a whole new themed land! The last thing to happen on this scale was the debut of Cars Land, and, well...the Cars franchise is a profitmaker, but that's about all it is. It doesn't have much in the way of cross-demographic appeal. It hasn't spawned a giant mythos requiring five coffee table books and a community-edited website to keep track of. It's not even within a direct flight of being a cultural phenomenon.
It's no Star Wars, in other words.
But then, very little is.
If anyone expects the premiere of Galaxy's Edge to go smoothly, I have two questions for them: 1) What are you huffing? and 2) Did you bring enough for everyone? There's no way this is not going to be a crowd control nightmare, at least intermittently and in the vicinity of the new land's entrance. Disney is expecting a horde—for at least a month after opening, merely setting foot inside will require a reservation. You can bet your sweet bippy* that this particular fact will escape the notice of some percentage of hardcore Star Wars fans, and I fully expect the disappointment to engender fistfights. I hope the park nurses are trained to recognize and treat lightsaber-inflicted concussions.
It's enough to make a dedicated Disneylander ask yet another question: How did we get here? What sequence of events brought us to the point where the world's first, most famous, and (dare I say it) best theme park a) can and b) has decided to, intimately tie its legacy to that of an outside franchise?
To figure that out, it might be helpful to look at the whole history and evolution of Disneyland through the decades, to see which trends have defined its development from those misty days of 1955 to the present. Or it might not. But either way, it'll be fun, in a geeky sort of way. This is a fun blog.
So let's do this!

Monday, April 8, 2019

Movie Screens

Pretty short one this time. I've had this idea knocking around for a while and I want to try putting it into words to see if it holds up when stated plainly.
There are two Imagineering trends that we hardcore Disney theme park fans tend to criticize: 1) the abandonment of original ideas in favor of attractions that lean on film IP for their ideas, and 2) the over-reliance on screens and projections at the expense of three-dimensional sets and complex animatronic figures. The object of both is, naturally, maximizing revenue (luring in guests with already-popular films and characters) while cutting costs (screens take up less space and are easier to construct, maintain, and adjust than three-dimensional infrastructure).
But I'm starting to think the two trends are connected in another way. A way that speaks volumes about the company's artistic philosophy in this day and age.
First, let's backtrack a few decades. I think I'm just old enough to remember when Disney theme parks openly lauded their technology as technology...not just to the theme park buffs but to mainstream audiences. “Come see this cool thing we built,” advertisements would say.* They freely admitted that they were creating sophisticated illusions and invited people to be impressed by the ingenuity on display. Disneyland took on the role of a stage magician, wearing top hat and tails and wowing audiences with sleight-of-hand tricks that had us all wondering “How did they do that?” but never for a moment doubting that it was a trick.
I'm not sure when that started changing, but the transition is certainly complete by now. The goal these days appears to be total suspension of disbelief. Disney doesn't want guests to be awed by how lifelike the animatronics are...because they don't want people thinking about them being animatronics. They want them to be bowled over by the prospect of being in the presence of the characters, in a kind of imposed celebrity worship. I don't know why they went in this direction—surely they don't expect anyone over the age of about six to actually be fooled, and surely popular characters have the same draw whether we're mutually pretending they're real or not, but it is what it is. The magician has traded their tuxedo for a purple robe sprinkled with stars and a pointy hat, and insists we play along with the notion that the otherworldly spirit in the summoning circle is real, and evince awe that the wizard can call up that spirit, as opposed to the less fashionable spirits at the command of other wizards.
The upshot is that the more Disney de-emphasizes the craft on display in their parks, the less reason there is to put a lot of effort into that craft. Imagineers used to advance their tech for its own sake as well as for the entertainment value, but now, with the sole benchmark being “How well does this convince the kiddies that they are meeting their heroes?”, all that matters is that it looks right. Building an animatronic that really looks and moves like a beloved character is hard. Creating a movie that really looks and moves like the character is...well, it's automatic, since these characters came from movies to begin with.
TL;DR: The increased use of screens on rides isn't just for economic reasons; it's also because Disney has become so fixated on getting people to play along with the delusion that the characters are real that the company has forgotten how to be proud of invention for its own sake.
I dunno. Just a thought I had.

* Not in those exact words.