The main attractions at Walt Disney World are the attractions, which is the dumbest thing i’ve ever written. These “attractions” have evolved over the years from animatronics-infested “dark rides” and fairground fair to a higher concentration of thrill rides and stage shows.
The Devolution of Storytelling
Walt Disney World has been around since the 60’s. The thing that struck me about the newer rides as opposed to the older rides is that the older rides strove to be, in and of themselves, entertaining. Pirates of the Caribbean aims to tell the story of a small Caribbean town (filled inexplicably with white people) being besieged by a band of pirates, and the fallout from the attack. (The arc is muddled somewhat by the fairly recent inclusion of Cap’n Jack Sparrow, which i hated a lot less than i thought i would.) What’s great about Pirates of the Caribbean is that it formed a complete entertainment experience. It defined pirates for millions of people who didn’t know what to think pirates were all about, much in the same way that Coke helped solidify the modern image of Santa Claus with its Rockwellian illustration on the side of the can.
Likewise, the Haunted Mansion ride defined for many people what spooky fun looks like, and its influence is loud and clear in movies like Ghostbusters.
The very worst dark rides were the ones that summarized Disney movies. The most egregious offender was Peter Pan’s flight, in which you’re stranded in an inexplicable 75-minute lineup before being taken on a two-and-a-half minute conveyor belt ride through badly-designed black light dioramas and largely motionless robotic mannequins.
Flash forward to today, though, and the execution of many of the new rides is even worse. The absolute bottom of the barrel was The Seas with Nemo & Friends. A dark ride repurposed from the Living Seas attraction after the former sponsor pulled out, The Seas is a journey through the movie Finding Nemo told in about a dozen five-second bursts of looping video on LCD screens surrounded by fibreglass coral. i shit you negative. This, essentially, is the script for the ride:
i’ve lost my son!
Hi, i’m Dori.
Do you speak whale?
i have to find my dad!
Just keep swimming.
Hi i’m Bruce!
Nemo! My son!
♪ Something about the ocean ♫
i’m not exaggerating here. It’s that bad. If you’d never seen Finding Nemo, you wouldn’t know what the hell was going on. If you HAD seen Finding Nemo, you’d wonder why you were on this ride instead of watching Finding Nemo. There was maybe one animatronic display to speak of (or that i remembered). It was honestly the most pathetic theme park experience i’ve ever had. And i’ve seen Captain EO.
If you don’t believe me, here’s a POV video of the ride itself, apparently filmed by someone with the wherewithal not to vomit on the camera lens:
The problem with so many of the rides — and especially the new rides — at Walt Disney World, is that they don’t strive to be entertaining in and of themselves; they only strive to remind you of your favourite parts of more entertaining experiences. There’s far more entertainment value in watching a coherently-edited trailer for Finding Nemo than there is in sitting through the inept Seas ride at Epcot.
We’ve all seen Beauty and the Beast. Why sit through a retelling of it by an actress dressed as Belle? We’ve seen The Little Mermaid. What’s the point in subjecting ourselves to a three-minute recap of it told by unemotive mannequins while sitting in a glorified golf cart?
All Kids Love Log™
The best blend of storytelling and moving your body in an exciting way was Splash Mountain, which i was too afraid to ride in the 90’s because i didn’t enjoy sharp drops. How your attitude changes when you spend [a horrid but undisclosed amount of money] on a trip and are determined to squeeze every possible ounce of joy from it.
Splash Mountain probably succeeds because very few people have actually seen Song of the South (thanks for nothing, black people), so the storytelling is a little more fresh and interesting. The drop at the end of the flume ride is steep and exciting. The music is catchy, the ride feels long enough to justify an agonizing lineup, they spare the well-known Zip-a-Dee Doo Da until the very end instead of looping it through the entire experience, and the ride is actually really playful, teasing you with a handful of smaller drops before going full pants-shitting at the end. There’s also a really nice denouement with a bunch of singing animals on a riverboat, which you can see from the train that circles the park. It’s great.
I Know These Aren’t the Droids You’re Looking For, But What Am I?
As much as i like Paul Reubens, i was very glad to see him dumped from the Star Tours ride in favour of Anthony Daniels, which actually makes an iota of goddamned sense. i remember being disgusted in the 90’s (this was pre-prequels, so i didn’t know what i was in for) when i rode Star Tours, and the ride looked like it was built by someone whose knowledge of Star Wars was based on those “when you hear this tone, turn the page” books on cassette. i got the obvious Paul Reubens/Flight of the Navigator connection, but at the time, i thought the Star Tours narrator was imitating the Navigator, who was in turn imitating Pee Wee Herman. i had NO IDEA until The Internet that Reubens legitimately voiced all three characters. Star Tours was fun enough that we rode it twice, because i heard that the ride was random. Despite an appearance by Jar-Jar, the version that ended on Naboo was more entertaining than the tour that included Coruscant. It was also really cool to see they’d hired John Boyega to appear in the ride.
Despite having visited Disney parks 5 other times, i had never once ridden Space Mountain, because i had always supposed it was too scary for me (at least, that’s what my mom had always told me). Riding it for the first time in middle age, i decided it was too jarring for me. Lots of loops and turns on a rattly old track in the dark that left me feeling more annoyed than thrilled. For my money, the Rockin Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios was a far better, smoother dark indoor thrill ride, although i can’t help but wonder what they’ll do with their introductory Aerosmith-from-20-years-ago video footage once one of the members of the band dies. Like, do they have a backup video of Nickelback ready to queue up the moment Steve Tyler’s body is discovered (presumably) in a hotel bathroom? Contingency, people.
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was a GREAT ride. Much more exciting and smoother/gentler than i thought it would be, and i was proud of myself for having primed the girls with a bunch of classic Twilight Zone episodes years earlier so they’d have an appreciation of the theme. The floating window illusion in the hallway of the Hollywood Tower Hotel is a lot more exciting after you’ve seen it a bunch of times in the show’s iconic opening sequence.
The Great Movie Ride was, next to The Seas with Nemo & Friends, an abysmal experience. Sponsored by Turner Broadcasting something-something, and opened with a video greeting by some fat old executive from that company, the attractions relies on the strength of the performances by the ride operators, and our guys were really dialing it in. A slow-moving tour through a film noir gangster-themed set ended with a noisy shootout, followed by a tour through a Western film set that ended with a … noisy shootout. i leaned over and said to my wife “i hope the Wizard of Oz section ends with a noisy shootout.” There was a section themed like Alien with a mannequin that looked entirely unlike Sigourney Weaver (problems landing those personality rights?), and a pop-out xenomorph scare that was only visible from the middle of the train and back. It was the epitome of what i disliked about all of the other modern rides: it wasn’t entertaining in and of itself; it was only trying to remind me of other things that were actually entertaining.
SPEND MOAR MUNNY KBAI
It was the same story with the Frozen Singalong. We didn’t watch Frozen, but we sang karaoke to the songs in Frozen. Remember Frozen? You should go watch Frozen. i would have loved to have taken my eldest daughter to watch the mini-biopic of Walt Disney, but it had been replaced by, no kidding, a trailer for the upcoming Disney movie Zootopia. Are you here right now, paying a lot of money to be entertained? Because instead of being entertained, you should probably go buy your tickets for what’s likely to be a far more entertaining experience a few months from now.
Test Track Sponsored by Chevrolet Go Buy Chevrolet Cars Now was enjoyable, but the Nintendo 64-era graphics of the car design software that opened the ride shocked me. The new Eric Idle-starring Journey Into Imagination with Figment ride made absolutely no sense, and made me wish that Figment had stayed buried. The character was not fun or endearing — just grating. The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is a good replacement for the Peter Pan’s Flight-like Snow White dark ride, but it was a surprising addition given Big Thunder Mountain. i’m not sure how many mountain-themed roller coasters one theme park needs, but if they can only keep one, Mine Train is the stronger offering.
It was fun to ride It’s a Small World to hear the Jewish couples behind us complaining that the Jewish dolls were dancing right next to the Arab dolls. Other than that, the ride was as horrible as i remembered it. i subjected my kids to it so that they would get the cultural references. (The best thing about the ride is the hidden cuckoo clock that sprung to action as we were passing directly beneath it. i had no idea it was even there … check it out on the hour if you’re ever at Walt Disney World.)
The digital puppetry on display in Turtle Talk with Crush and the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor was impressive. Laugh Floor was the more entertaining experience in my opinion.
Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom was the most thrilling thrill ride in the whole of Walt Disney World, and the only one i didn’t want to re-ride because it made me pee my pants. Dinosaur made me want to pee my pants only because it tried to violently shake the urine out of me.
“This ride needs to be 45% more exciting!”
“Ok … let’s just make it so that every three seconds, we attempt to give the riders whiplash.”
At the end of the ride, i summed it up as “unnecessarily turbulent.”
There were lots of other attractions at the parks of course, but these were the high- and low-lights. i remember getting back into my car and commuting to my job in Toronto and thinking that the motion of the vehicle and the visual interest out the windows were, in many ways, much more engaging than a lot of the rides at the Disney parks. To compare, that ride cost me a few bucks in gas with no lineup.
I’m Gonna Show Her My Roller Coaster Face
This is the face i made on the various rides that take your picture. You can use this as a helpful guide to scientifically determine which Walt Disney World rides are the most enjoyable or scary. i am going to send this image to Mister Walt Disney himself to suggest he use it in his promotional materials.
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