Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Bi-Narrative Structure

Marc Davis was one of the most influential Imagineers of all time. Chances are, if you like Disney’s parks, he had something to do with it.

He’s certainly one of my heroes, and--like any worthwhile hero--when he says something I disagree with, it forces me to evaluate my beliefs.

Well, it took three years of research, but I can now say honestly that, in the following quote, Marc Davis pisses me off.

“[Walt] didn’t like the idea of telling stories in this medium. It’s not a story-telling medium. But it does give you experiences. You experience the idea of pirates. You don’t see a story that starts at the beginning and ends with, ‘By golly, they got the dirty dog.’ It wasn’t that way.”

Apparently this was a jab at former CEO Michael Eisner, who filled the parks with narrative structures that were designed for films, but not parks. In that context, I agree with Davis' gist.

What pisses me off is his phrasing. Eisner may have used the word “story” as a slogan to rationalize some tasteless choices, but he didn’t change its definition.

Theme parks are full of stories! It's part of what makes 'em so special. The difference between an amusement park and a theme park is that a theme park is unified by...well...a theme--which is a narrative concept.

What’s more, there are tons of narrative structures that were designed exclusively for the parks. They don't exist anywhere else. If we wanted to tell a Forensic Story, for example, we couldn't do it in a movie or a novel. It would be too oblique. We'd have to tell it in real life, by committing a crime and then toying with the police.

How clever! If only Zodiac had used his skills for Imagineering!
(...although, to be fair, he might have. We don't know.)

Theme parks and narratives have been revolutionizing one another for the better part of a century, and the results have been fascinating. Despite that, their relationship is barely being studied.

Davis certainly isn't encouraging anyone to do so with that quote. To me, that's a shame--but maybe I’m being too harsh. After all, the quote gets one thing right. Most attractions don’t have a story.

They have two.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

To all who come to his happy place: kidnap and ravage and don't give a hoot!

Wanna hear a story from the Happiest Place on Earth?

A man conquers Death, itself, and returns to life! Unfortunately, when he wakes up, he finds himself in a coffin that's been nailed shut. Unless he can muster enough strength to pry off the lid, he’ll be buried alive as quickly as grief will allow.

This sounds gruesome, yet when the Haunted Mansion tells it, it’s not only funny, but it’s also appropriate for all ages. Check it out:

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Forensic Stories

Forget Seinfeld--theme parks are unique in telling a type of story where nothing happens.

They feature neither dialogue nor action. There are no visible protagonists, objectives, or antagonists. The events began, escalated, and resolved long before we arrived.

These stories are forensic. They leave archeological clues that imply what happened, which lets us assemble the pieces together into a narrative.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

GIF Stories

A GIF is an image that can support animation. Nothing too complicated, mind you, just a few actions. Roughly as much as we’d see, passing by an animatronic in a dark ride.

Here, for example, is a GIF of the clock from it’s a small world.

Just wait 'til the hour strikes.
Any minute, now.
...aaaaaany minute, now.

That’s all that clock does, all day, every day, rain or shine. There are classier ways to argue for theme parks as a valid artistic medium, but goddamn if that 8-bit image doesn’t capture what makes that clock as fun as it is in real life.

Some animatronics take their GIF-like movement a step further--by telling stories. There are fewer of these characters, but they enrich their surroundings immeasurably.

A ride populated with living characters who tell small-but-complete stories feels less like a narrative and more like a world. Everyone’s dealing with their own problems, but they’re all related to problems you’d find in the jungle. Or with ghosts, or pirates, et cetera.

Let's discuss the GIF story and some of the components that help it work.

The Definition of "Story"

Hi, kids! Wanna reduce art to a formula, and generalize the entire history of narrative structure with me? Cool!

I believe that every story is comprised of two sets of elements.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Part of Whose World?

Okay, this is an essay about a film on a blog about theme parks. Cut me some slack.

Like, seventeen of my degrees are in Film, Disney runs theme parks, the Little Mermaid has been adapted into oodles of attractions in Disney's theme parks, I completed an essay about the Little Mermaid today, and I haven't completed an essay about theme parks in ages. Plus, I'm giddy about this insight, and I wanna tell someone other than my family and girlfriend.

Care to hear?