Monday, December 4, 2017

Flipping the Script: Up Until This Point

They haven't been talking about it much, but from what I can tell, the Jungle Cruise movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” “Maui” Johnson is still going to be a thing. And that's pretty cool. There have been what, half a dozen Disney theme park attraction IPs adapted into movies at this point, of which only one has been financially successful (and boy howdy has it ever), yet they're still willing to tap this well for inspiration. That's actually...a bit heartening. It means the decision-makers actually recognize that a ride or attraction doesn't have to be based on a movie to be worthwhile in its own right. Here's hoping the Jungle Cruise flick is good enough to be enjoyable, but not so successful that they install a bunch of Dwayne Johnson animatronics in the actual Jungle.
But that gets me thinking...where to next for the ultimate trend in flipping the theme park script? What other attractions have decent film potential? Hence this new post category: Flipping the Script,* wherein I explore the possibilities! For this first installment, however, I'm going to briefly review the existing “theme park movies” and see if I can tease out a) Disney's methodology for producing them and b) patterns of success and failure in said methodology. How do ride concepts map onto things like film genre and themes? How much does the existing structure of a ride constrain its film adaptation? How much should it constrain it? And so on.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

After-Action Report: Disabled at Disneyland

Yes, the blog is still on hiatus due to Yours Truly's knee injury, but this topic intimately concerns said injury, so I figured I'd throw you a bone. (All, what, three of you?) I may do this from time to time until I'm properly back in the saddle and can commit to a weekly schedule again. The point is, a torn ACL, etc. is no excuse to cancel previously existing theme park plans, so the other day I got to undergo the Disneyland Wheelchair Experience.
My challenge was in fact twofold: 1) a complete inability to put weight on my left leg, and 2) this big honking immobilizing brace they're having me wear until further notice, additionally preventing me from bending said leg...unless I take it off, which is technically an option, but one I want to avoid as much as possible. I mention this because it serves as a contrast with my previous secondhand glimpses of the Disneyland Wheelchair Experience, with a party member who could walk, just not for hours at a time. No ride or attraction need be off-limits to such an individual. I knew from the outset that my situation was going to be a bit more dire than that.
So how did it work out? Here are some of the highlights. And lowlights.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Armchair Imagineering: Halloween Music Loops

As the Halloween season gets into gear, I naturally start thinking about how Disneyland could improve their Halloween offerings. If you've been following me for a while, you might remember this post. Or perhaps not. Either way, this week I've decided to focus on an element of seasonal theme parkery* that I only touched on back then: music loops.
The great majority of themed areas in the Disneyland Resort include some sort of background music loop that can be heard throughout all or part of the area. During the winter holiday seasom, AKA “Christmas,” several areas play a special seasonal loop in lieu of the normal one. So with Halloween becoming as big a deal as Christmas in terms of decorations, live entertainment, etc....why not shore it up with music?
Part of the problem, of course—maybe the biggest part—is that there isn't a lot of immediately recognizable “Halloween music” out there. Sure, there are a few hits that all the radio stations play in October—“Monster Mash” by Bobby Pickett, “Thriller” by Michael Jackson, and “Dead Man's Party” by Oingo Boingo being some of the most noteworthy—but nothing like the dozens of standard Christmas hymns and carols, which get covered and re-arranged into every conceivable musical genre so that no theme park music designer could fail to find what they're looking for.
So is this a fruitless project, then? Of course not. I would hardly have taken it far enough to post if it were. While the “canon” of Halloween music is very slim indeed and might seem too contemporary for the various historical and fantastical realms present in Disneyland, a little research turns up dozens of songs about ghosts and goblins, witches and vampires, and assorted things that go bump in the night, going right back to the Jazz Age and even earlier.
So here, in (relative) brief, are some ideas for music that could be used to enhance Disneyland's Halloween seasonal flair!

Monday, September 25, 2017

Unauthorized Fun – Kingdom Hearts Tour

A funny thing happened about five minutes after I submitted last week's post. I suddenly remembered that when Kingdom Hearts was new—well, newer than it is today*—I actually had a silly idea for a “Kingdom Hearts tour,” where you would visit attractions in the same order as you visit the corresponding “worlds” in the game.
And...why not? I'm distracted this week, it's been a while since I offered up any Unauthorized Fun, and we're just entering the time of year where you can actually experience this ride plan to its fullest extent. So here it is: The Disneyland Resort Kingdom Hearts Tour!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Beyond Blue Sky: Disney Parks and Kingdom Hearts

You know what I haven't talked about in a good while? Video games.
I like video games. I want to say I love them, but in all honesty? If I truly loved them I'd probably play more of them. Keeping on top of the medium takes a serious investment of time and money that I'm just not willing to put in. It would too greatly hamper my ability to pursue everything else I do...including this blog. I'm usually vaguely aware of the latest developments in the industry, but the most advanced console in my personal possession is...a PlayStation 2.
But that's okay. You know what I can play on a PS2? Kingdom Hearts.
I've mentioned before that there are many similarities between playing a video game, especially one with a “sandbox” structure, and visiting a theme park. The games in the Kingdom Hearts series are not very sandbox-y, but they are especially comparable to a Disneyland visit, and not just because of the whole Disney mega-crossover thing. Game progression in this series revolves around traveling to a succession of “worlds,” like miniature planets, each a unique setting with its own theme and quirks. In the first game alone (the one I own and the only one I am especially familiar with—see above), the playable worlds include a tropical island, a gorilla-inhabited jungle, an underwater realm, a spooooooky haunted realm, a pseudo-futuristic/steampunk/magepunk palace, Wonderland, Neverland, and the 100-Acre Wood. Kingdom Hearts II adds a fairy tale castle, a pirate cove, a world of classic cartoons, and a virtual reality computer world, among others. I can't keep track of all the prequels and interquels and whatnot cluttering up the franchise, but the third proper installment is due to be released next year, and...guys?
There's theme park in it.
One of the game's special features will have the hero summon ride vehicles—actual ride vehicles, ranging in type from a Big Thunder Mountain train to a pair of spinning Teacups—and ride in them to gain advantages during battle sequences. As a charming bonus, the vehicles show up outlined in little colored lights, à la Electrical Parade floats:

Disney's most ambitious and unique concept has finally been included in what is probably its most successful video game franchise. I'm surprised the park fans aren't talking about it more.* But it's not really fully integrated, is it? The “summons” in these games are fun, but they're basically cameos. They're not part of the story. The stuff that matters in these games is bound up in the various worlds you travel to and the native characters you meet there.
You can probably tell where I'm going with this. Just for fun, here's some completely speculative fanwank on my part about how certain Disneyland attractions might fit into the Kingdom Hearts series as actual worlds. Naturally, there's more to consider than just “Is this cool?” Ideally, a world for this game franchise should combine:
  • A striking setting
  • Potential unique gameplay elements
  • Potential thematic enemy types/bosses
  • Characters who can be your allies

Even of the existing worlds, not all of them hit all four points, but most of them hit at least three, and the exceptions are typically uniquely positioned within the plot—for instance, in the first game, “End of the World” contains no allies, but that's because it's the last dang stage in the game, described as a conglomeration of destroyed worlds—what friendly character could reasonably be expected to show up there?
So here's what I've come up with.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Beyond Blue Sky: A Princess For Every Land

Let's be perfectly clear: Most animated Disney movies are not “Princess movies.” Run the numbers, and you’ll find that a protagonist in the Disney Animated Canon is much more likely to be some kind of non-human animal than a young lady of royal disposition.

If not both...

But the Princesses are probably the most collectively visible characters under the Disney banner, and not just because they have a merchandise brand. And there are quite a few of them, especially when you expand beyond the fairly restrictive boundaries* of said brand. They are perhaps the quintessential Fantasyland characters, but are so popular for meet-and-greets that Fantasyland alone cannot contain them. Not only do Princesses pop up in other parts of Disneyland and even across the way in California Adventure, but Fantasyland itself annexed a chunk of Main Street in order to host the Princesses in Fantasy Faire.
So here's an idea that's kinda fun and silly: Can we assign each land in the Disneyland Resort its very own, focus-tested, thematically or at least situationally appropriate Princess? And by we, I of course mean I. I have too much respect for you to ever accuse you of finding enjoyment in something this self-referentially nerdy.
It should go without saying, but I am not restricting this project to the “official” Disney Princesses, or even the official Princesses plus the few characters that everyone assumes will become official sooner or later. That wouldn't be enough, in terms of raw numbers or variety of character types. Instead, I am taking into consideration official Princesses, presumed future official Princesses, and characters from theatrical releases who are referred to as princesses and/or presumed to be princesses in-universe. Basically, if fans are prone to wondering why a character isn't included in the brand, we can give her an honorarium for the purposes of this post.
Got it? Good.

Monday, September 4, 2017

After-Action Report: The Frontier Re-Opens!

...a sound broke out over the gently rippling water. In fact it was a sound that they had heard several times since entering Frontierland without thinking anything of it…because never during fifty years of their experience, except for comparatively brief stretches involving maintenance, had Frontierland been without it. It was almost background noise, a sound they took for granted. Its absence would have been a deafening clamor.

It was the low, mellow blast of the steam whistle on a paddlewheel-driven riverboat.”

Crowns of the Kingdom Chapter 6, “Weirdness in the Wild West”

It may be the height of arrogance to quote one's own writing, but while planning this post and trying to come up with the best way to explain what it has been like to be without the Mark Twain—and the Columbia and the Disneyland Railroad and the rest—since January of 2016, I realized that...I already had. Their absence has been a deafening clamor. Disneyland isn't quite itself without these 100% classic attractions...particularly the steamboat and steam train, Opening Day originals.
It's been especially disconcerting because we've known the whole time that when they re-opened, these rides would be drastically—and permanently—altered. New construction around the edges of the park has affected the Disneyland Railroad before, of course, but never quite on this scale. We've been hearing a lot about how the train now turns left for the first! time! ever! as if that were something genuinely exciting. Me? I wasn't sure anything could make up for the fact that Tom Sawyer Island and the Rivers of America themselves have been truncated in order to free up land for Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.
So now that I've seen it is it? So glad you asked...