Taxonomy of theme park narrative gimmicks

Foxxfur has published "The Theme Park Trope List," a first approximation attempt to summarize the narrative gimmicks used in theme park attractions to move the action along, for example, "the book report ride," which "shows exactly the same events which occurred in the source film in the same order." Read the rest

Musical time-machine to Walt Disney World in the late 1970s

The amazing Foxxfur has spent 3.5 years assembling a new installment in her "Musical Souvenir of Walt Disney World" series, pulling together audio rarities from WDW in the late 1970s to create a six-hour soundscape that faithfully recreates the incidental music, cast member spiels, and ride narration from one of the golden ages of Disney themeparks. Read the rest

What "the worst ride in Disney World" teaches us about media strategy

Foxxfurr's latest article on Disney theme park history is yet another amazing and insightful read that uses the tenth anniversary of Stitch's Great Escape ("the worst ride in Disney World") as a jumping-off point to show how the history of theme-parks, animation, the elusive 5-12 year old boy market, and the entertainment business all influenced one another. Read the rest

Where the Jungle Cruise queue audio-loop came from

On Passport to Dreams Old and New, the world's greatest Disney themepark critic Foxxfur traces the history of the Jungle Boat Cruise queue-loop, makes some shrewd guesses about where the Imagineers found their material, and (most importantly), what the addition of the music did to the overall design story of an iconic ride.

The WDI-created loop is widely available and runs 47:30. In order to create the loop, WDI had to get very creative in editing the music. Certain songs had slow sections which had to be removed, while others had their vocal sections entirely omitted. The Cole Porter song "I Get A Kick Out Of You" had an entire verse dropped to exclude a reference to cocaine. As a result, the entire AWOL loop as it appears in park, with narration and breaks in the music for announcements every few minutes, has a shorter run time than all of the selected pieces of music played together. Certain songs were compressed, others extended. It's a very elaborate effort.

Since the "final WDI edit" is widely available, here are the songs as they appeared on the original 78 disc releases, unrestored. The "WDI mix" versions of these songs often includes a bit of ambient reverb, which changes the sound of the some of the songs considerably, and made identifying the Dick Powell track particularly challenging.

The Jungle Cruise and AWOL Airwaves Read the rest

This Day in Blogging History: Disneyland's "awkward transitions"; Woman's house threatened because of sex she had as a teenager; How to change phone carriers

One year ago today What Disneyland's "awkward transitions" teach us about signaling changes with physical cues: FoxxFur continues her unbroken record for highlighting insightful, deep design truths by examining the minutae of the design and evolution of the Disney theme parks.

Five years ago today Women may lose house for sex while she was a high school student 12 years ago: Twelve years ago, when Wendy Whitaker was barely 17, she performed oral sex on a high school classmate who was about to turn 16. The state of Georgia convicted her of a sex crime and she was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Ten years ago today How to change phone-carriers: As of today, you can take you phone number with you when you change mobile carriers. Read the rest

The REAL reason the Florida Haunted Mansion's elevators go up

On the always-amazing Passport to Dreams Old and New, a fantastic piece of detective work about the evolution of the Walt Disney World Haunted Mansion. FoxxFur starts with the observation that the traditional story about the Florida stretch rooms going up (unlike the California Mansion, whose stretch rooms descend) is that the water table was too high to permit a descent, but quickly demolishes that. From there, she undertakes some remarkable detective work in exploring the inspiration and thinking that went into the Florida Mansion's design. Read the rest

What Disneyland's "awkward transitions" teach us about signaling changes with physical cues

On Passport to Dreams Old and New, FoxxFur continues her unbroken record for highlighting insightful, deep design truths by examining the minutae of the design and evolution of the Disney theme parks. In the current post, "The Awkward Transitions of Disneyland!", she looks at the way that the designers of Disneyland managed their space-constraints when butting up one themed area against another (comparing this with the much more spacious, and relaxed, transitions in Walt Disney World). By reconstructing the history of these transitions, she's able to reconstruct the history of the theory and practice of using physical cues to signal mood-transitions in built environments.

I seriously can't wait for FoxxFur to write a book about this stuff some day.

Disneyland built things where it could, and so very often buildings are dropped down perfunctorily, only very rarely placed to achieve any specific pictorial effect. Depending on where you are, there can be three levels of themed design occurring around you on different registers. This makes Disneyland visually dense while retaining a somewhat prosaic thematic effect. This is what people mean when they say Disneyland is charming: it's a massive pile of ideas slammed down, one atop the other, with very little room to spare. This means that it's very common to find areas where one kind of texture or surface treatment just ends because it collides with another. This is what I mean when I say Disneyland is naive....

...What you're seeing here more closely resembles a movie set than a theme park - which makes perfect sense since this is the first theme park and it was built by Hollywood craftsmen.

Read the rest

Snow White rides, secret pockets of theme-park horror

The always, always, always fantastic Passport to Dreams Old and New blog traces the history of the Snow White rides at the Disney parks around the world, with an emphasis on the horror motifs in the original film and how they made their way into the rides, only to be removed (and re-added) at various times throughout the years. The Snow White ride in Florida's Magic Kingdom was just shut down, and is due to be replaced by a roller-coaster. As Passport's Foxxfur notes, rollercoasters are nice, "...but will it satisfy on the level of the scary old dark ride?"

One remarkable aspect of Snow White's Adventures is how well it used very simple animation and motion gags to enormous effect: by concentrating on heavy atmosphere in place of constant character vignettes, nothing ever seemed crude or like it moved less than it should have. Many of the Witch's sudden appearances resulted entirely from the perspective of riders moving through the scenes; the figures themselves were often static props. Several, such as the crocodile logs which "chased" the cars in the Forest, could only ever be seen by a small number of riders. Additionally, even more than most "ghost train" style rides, the track layout here created a lot of the character of the ride; as seen above, it's obvious how the bus bar was laid in such a way to force cars to "leap" out of the way of each new threat, especially in the last third of the ride as the pursuit is really on.

Read the rest

Print your own MAPO stickers, declare your goods to be of bespoke Disney manufacture

FoxxFur at Passport to Dreams Old and New has created a PDF template for printing out your own MAPO stickers. MAPO (MAry POppins) is the Disney division responsible for fabricating many of the limited and one-off mechanisms and infrastructural gubbins that make up the Disney Parks' underpinnings, and each of their products ships with a MAPO sticker proclaiming its origin. These stickers are highly sought-after souvenirs, especially among cast-members (employees) at the parks. FoxxFur's template can be used to produce your own stickers and add them to things that need a little exotic back-story.

MAPO manufactured basically everything that ended up in Disneyland or Walt Disney World between 1964 and 1990 - they must have printed these things out by a thousands because they're stuck to props, motors, figures, power junction boxes, chain lifts and practically everything else you can think of in the World's Fair attractions, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain, Horizons, and dozens of others.

As you can imagine, MAPO stickers are prized possessions amongst cast members, who are apt to peel the nearest one off the first available prop. The backstages of Mansion and Pirates are full of tiny rectangles of less-aged areas where MAPO stickers have absconded the premises. Here's mine. It's direct off the actuator frame for Herbert Hoover, which was being thrown away:

The problem is that as time goes by and the gap between the shuttering of MAPO and our own age widens, these stickers are becoming increasingly uncommon and most of the good ones have already been thrown out - attached to props in, say, Mr.

Read the rest

Deep design analysis of Walt Disney World's lighting fixtures

FoxxFur, the brilliant, pseudonymous design critic and scholar of Disney themeparks, is back again, with the first post in a series of long analyses of the use of lighting fixtures in the design of Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom park. FoxxFur matches the attention-to-detail of the original Imagineers, unearthing a design sensibility that is incredibly subtle, and making a strong case that this subtlety isn't wasted -- rather, it all contributes to an overall sense of consistency and immersion that is the secret of the Disney park success.

One of the best light poles in the entire park, these tall lamps manage to represent Main Street, Adventureland and the Hub all at once. They span the bridge leading from the Crystal Palace to the gateway to Adventureland.

The Hub features much more utilitarian lamps overall, very similar to those seen outside the train station amidst the turnstiles. I think these were selected to create a garden-like atmosphere throughout the Hub, which benefits in Florida greatly from her meandering waterways, sloping lawns, and expansive flowerbeds, recalling the European gardens which inspired Disneyland. Their frosted globes link the entry area, Main Street, and the Hub in a single unified organically flowing movement.

Our tall lamps, above, are unique and occur only at the Crystal Palace bridge. While their tall shape mimics the castle and their frosted globes remind us of Main Street, notice the details of leaves, fronds, and lion heads - hinting at what will be seen nearby in Adventureland.

All the Lights of the Kingdom: Part One Read the rest

Claude Coats, the background artist who made the Haunted Mansion feel infinite

Long Forgotten, the world-beatingly insightful blog on the history and design of the Haunted Mansion rides at Disneyland, Walt Disney World and other parks, has a new lavishly illustrated post up, this one on the contribution of background artist Claude Coats. HBG2, the site's author, makes a compelling case for Coats' draftsmanship and sense of depth and detail being the clinching element of the Mansion's design, the thing that makes it seem so much bigger and realer than it has any right to be. I once read FoxxFur, the blogger at the equally awesome Passport2Dreams Old and New describe the Mansion as a series of scenes in a giant, empty box (contrasting with the Pirates of the Caribbean, which is really a series of towns and scenes that fill the whole ride-space -- but the Mansion feels like it goes on and on, like you could jump out of your vehicle and get lost in its depths.

Coats was one of the artists Walt pulled out of the studio to work on Disneyland as it neared completion. He had studied architecture as well as painting, and he seemed a natural pick for designing the interiors of dark rides, starting with Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Among other things, Coats had a knack for squeezing an amazing amount of ride into a ridiculously small space. He and Ken Anderson must be given the lion's share of credit for Toad. The precise extent of Coats's contributions to the other two 1955 originals, Snow White and Peter Pan, is less clear, but there seems to be little doubt that he participated.

Read the rest

Tiki Room resurgent

FoxxFurr, my favorite design writer and the Disney parks' most insightful critic welcomes back the restored Tiki Room at Walt Disney World, and puts it into its larger context: "It's snappy with a fighting weight and it's appropriate for a show that can lag deadly for modern audiences. I saw it four times today and not once with a variety of audiences did someone walk out. What I did see was looks of wonder and awe..." Read the rest

Theory and practice of queue design

Passport to Dreams's FoxxFur continues to write the most fascinating, erudite, insightful material about dark ride and theme-park design I've ever read; her latest post is about the new queue area for the Pooh ride at Walt Disney World, used as a jumping-off point for a fascinating essay on the theory and practice of queue design:
Disney's main innovation and departure in 1955 was to replace the traditional "back wall" with, in fact, no wall and a beautifully designed manufactured landscape. Trompe l'oeil becomes terrain, the "scenic switchback". The earliest example of this may be the Jungle Cruise, but I think the most beautiful one is the Matterhorn Bobsleds, which is an exciting, fascinating wait in line by virtue of... yodeling music and manufactered rocks.

But for all that, honestly, we don't think of Disney's best queues as being plain switchbacks, even if they secretly are. If we cut the roof off the Florida Pirates of the Caribbean queue and look in, we'll see that the switchbacks are unpredictable because they wrap behind walls and around scenes, they're actually pretty much just like what still graces the front of Snow White's Scary Adventures (see below). Even the beautifully linear Space Mountain and Indiana Jones Adventure queues eventually reach switchback areas, just not immediately or obviously. These queues, the "secret switchbacks", are a later innovation on the part of Disney and are what is generally thought of as the "themed queue", atmospheric treks which set up some component of place or atmosphere, indicators of an advanced state of themed design.

Read the rest

Gate guarded McMansion suburb in Walt Disney World

Disney is building a bunch of multi-million-dollar McMansions in a gate-guarded suburb on the grounds of Walt Disney World. It's the latest in a series of urbanist experiments stretching back to the original vision Walt had for the Florida property -- the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, or EPCOT.

For absolutely the best-ever writing on the subject of urbanism and Disney, see FoxxFur's brilliant The Lake Buena Vista Story: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four

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