The internet is all a ‘twitter, so to speak.
News Flash: After what has been done to my favorite MK dark ride, I am going to change my blog's focus to be solely about the Golf Resort—
Michael Crawford (@ProgressCityUSA) April 05, 2011
The creative minds at Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) are among the best storytellers in the world. They have the time, talent and resources to create truly immersive experiences unlike anything else and they do it on a global scale. As the Disney parks age, so too do the attractions within, and WDI is tasked with the immense challenge of staying ahead of the pack.
The comment posted above references updates to the Haunted Mansion at Magic Kingdom in Florida’s Walt Disney World, a classic that always manages to rank near the top on “greatest Disney attractions” lists. Whenever Disney fiddles with a “classic,” outrage is sure to ensue. Sometimes warranted, sometimes not, but it brings up an interesting story consideration: where is the line between enhancement and distraction?
Every time we try to create a new experience for our customers, an audience or just a friend or two, we want to pull out all the stops and give them something memorable and entirely new. Technology grows daily, and storytellers salivate over the chance to add new toys to their box.
Disney pioneered the concept of the pre- and post-show, a way to ease a person into the story they are about to experience, and a way to ease them back out again into the themed environment of the parks. The queue is the natural pre-show for the story Disney is about to tell, with a chance for backstory, detail and immersion, and is integral to telling a story in its entirety. However, the primary complaint about any amusement park always has to do with the long lines. People come to a park to do, not to wait, so WDI has countered this by adding interactive elements, often in the form of games people can play while they wait, to help make the pill a little less bitter.
A brilliant revelation—captive audience getting grumpy…give them something to do. Hard to argue with the logic, but does the inclusion of such elements add to the story or just distract us from the time spent waiting? Story consideration is important, but does it really matter that much? In a blog post entitled A word on queues, the boys at WEDWay Radio, when talking about the queue for Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland, had this to say:
I love how the arched brick pillars are reminiscent of a fortress. The wrought iron railing that separates you from the returning boats is not too ornate, but fits the theming, and all-the-while you get a sense that is in fact a “real” place. The lighting is low with some natural light seeping in through the open doorway but you can clearly see everything ahead of you. As you get closer to the loading area you can make out the Blue Bayou restaurant. This is where New Orleans comes together with pirates and from there you are on your way through the greatest imagined attraction of all time.
What’s great about this is that the theming doesn’t grab at your shirt collar as you walk by. Its look is inviting, and it allows you to appreciate what you are experiencing whether you are right in front of a painting or leaning against a rail. In a word, it is classic.
All the details agree, it doesn’t tug at your shirt, and everything is a story element.
Compare the experience at a Six Flags park with that of a Disney park. You will have to wait in line at both, but story is the key element that lifts Disney above the ranks of simple amusement. New features to ease the pain of spending an expensive vacation in long lines are welcome additions. What, however, are the tradeoffs? Guest one: “Why can’t we just wind our way through dark passageways and be done with it?” Guest two: “Cool, a game!”
Computers process information faster, as do our brains, so perhaps we get out ahead of the old methods of storytelling and become bored, needing new stimuli. Disney fans miss the old attractions from Epcot’s early days, however the old technology would be utterly laughable by today’s standards, amounting to an entirely different distraction. Utilizing the latest and the greatest is not bad, but rather is essential for a company that prides itself on providing the greatest experiences on the planet. Change must come. Always.
If they have to mess with the classics, can’t Disney do a better job of using the technology? Yes, of course. However it is important to remember that using technology that races ahead exponentially to combine interactive technology, social media and theme parks is still very new and even the experts haven’t a clue how to reign it in.
Walt Disney was the master of keeping a foot planted in the past while reaching out with both hands for the excitement of the future, but Walt Disney is gone, and we are not likely to see another like him. Demanding WDI infuse his genius into everything they do is, unfortunately, unreasonable. There are no answers, and even storytelling masters have to take things on a case by case basis, and often only after the fact. Inserting technology haphazardly, like inserting any unnecessary element into your story, runs the risk of muddling the message and taking away from the main attraction, however insisting things stay the same ignores all that we’ve learned and achieved.
Practice makes perfect, and the Imagineers will only get better at their delicate balancing act. Don’t you agree?