Sunday, June 22, 2014

Any volunteers?

The Haunted Mansion: an attraction so evocative that guests have been deducing its fictional history since it opened in 1969.

Who owns the house? Is it the Ghost Host, or Master Gracey, or--hey, are they the same person? Does the Bride push us off of the balcony, or is it a coincidence that we enter the graveyard on our backs? Why are the maids and butlers loitering in the Stretching Room when there's a mansion's worth of cobwebs that need dusting?

It’s a ride full of open-ended questions, and its fandom has been trying to answer them for decades. Most of the resultant fanfic is convoluted, much of it is harmless, and some of it has even been canonized.

On the other side of the fence, a poorly phrased quote from Imagineer Marc Davis has incited a backlash. It is now fashionable to claim that the ride doesn’t tell a story, at all.

This belief is nonsense, but it's a dangerous breed of nonsense: the kind that prevents progress. If we hope to see more attractions like the Mansion, it's crucial to understand what its story is, why it’s easy to miss, and why the ride is still fun if we miss it.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Go on and...!!

Here's an ineffective GIF Story from the Little Mermaid dark ride.

Ariel wants Eric to kiss her, but he won't do it because...of...reasons.

I mean, c'mon, just look at Eric’s face! You could get thrown out of a brothel with an expression like that! He’s ready to kiss her, and nothing's stopping him, so why won't he do it?

The only explanation I can find is, "Because then the ride would end too soon."

This GIF Story is even less effective in person. Every so often, Eric and Ariel lean forward to kiss, then decide not to, then try it again, and so on.

Maybe Ariel has halitosis, and Eric has short-term amnesia...?

Snark aside, this GIF Story has a lot going for it. Boiling an iconic scene from a movie down to a single, seamless, repeatable action is impressive. Yet without a reason to repeat this action, it simply fails to satisfy.

What's frustrating is that the movie offers a solution which is funny, effective, and would only require adding one animatronic to the scene. Place Scuttle in a tree, "singing" along with the music, like this...

...except here in the ride, he's perched right by Eric's ear. Then, whenever Eric and Ariel lean in to kiss, Scuttle squawks and kills the mood, forcing the lovers to begin the cycle anew.

This is just one of the ways that an understanding of theme park narratology can elevate a well-constructed scene, like the "Kiss the Girl" room, into a satisfying experience.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Time to be turnin' around...if only you could!

Theme parks often tell us two stories at once: an Observable Story (which uses a third-person perspective) and an Experiential Story (which uses a second-person perspective).

Few attractions flaunt this structure as clearly as Splash Mountain does. While its two stories are obvious enough by themselves, the ride connects them in a way that builds an unsettling degree of tension.

To understand how, let's chart out...