It’s pointless to worry about what Walt Disney would have thought of today’s theme parks.
I get the concern; truly, I do. Disneyland would never be the thriving, rule-breaking entertainment complex it is today if Walt had not dreamed it up from that green bench in front of the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round. I might even go so far as to say that their biggest competitors — Universal, Six Flags, etc. — might not have pushed the boundaries of their own tech-enhanced attractions had it not been for the revolutionary techniques first pioneered by Disney’s Imagineering department. Can you imagine a dark ride without Audio-Animatronics?* The Wizarding World of Harry Potter without its immersive, sensory-rich theming?
The larger point I’m trying to get to here, though, is that today’s Disney Parks look very different from the original plans Walt laid out for them. And that’s not a bad thing. Roy Disney once said of his brother, “Walt could never tolerate the guy that was self-satisfied with his art. Walt was obsessed with the idea that in life you just continually go to school. You never reach any plateau of perfection. And he practiced that, too, in everything he did.”
It’s a philosophy that rings true in every account of Disneyland’s long, storied history. Walt, if nothing else, was extremely forward-thinking when it came to “plussing” and perfecting the product he was trying to sell. There’s a good chance that he would have been pleased to see the direction the parks have taken in his absence, from the assimilation of über-popular franchises like Star Wars to the increasingly-realistic technology that powers mind-blowing attractions like Animal Kingdom’s Flight of Passage.
With the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge on May 31, Disney will take another step into the realm of movie-based attractions and lands. Batuu, as the ‘alien planet’ has been officially termed, will be unparalleled by anything we’ve seen in theme parks so far (with the possible exception of Universal’s Hogsmeade Village and Diagon Alley, of course). Guests will be able to slurp down blue milk at Oga’s Cantina, fly the Millennium Falcon, and barter with aliens and droids from all corners of the galaxy. It promises to be a paradise-come-true for science fiction nerds, myself included.
It’s nice, then, to reminisce about simpler days in Disneyland’s history — days when the Imagineers were tasked with creating stories and rides from scratch. After all, some of the most well-known and best-loved attractions in the parks are those that haven’t been tied to existing, commercially-successful properties: the Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean (which pre-dated the five-part film series by 36 years), the Matterhorn Bobsleds, even “it’s a small world.”
That’s not *just* nostalgia talking, either. Granted, some classic attractions may read as a little outdated (looking at you, Carousel of Progress), but there’s a poetic simplicity to the foliage-lush, dad joke-riddled Jungle Cruise and a captivating complexity behind Big Thunder Mountain Railroad’s tragic backstory. Others, like Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, provide lasting reminders of the many, many milestones Disney has reached over the years.
Last spring, I wrote about Disney’s talent for crafting original rides. We may not see many more of them in the future, especially with the recent development of Disney California Adventure’s Pixar Pier and Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ Toy Story Land (not to mention the announced ‘Frozen Land’ and ‘Marvel Land’ coming to Hong Kong Disneyland), but they’re worth appreciating for as long as they remain profitable for the company.
“The Disney Parks are best known for their ability to bring beloved animated classics to life, but some of their most innovative and captivating attractions are true Disney originals – never-before-seen story-based attractions that have been concocted by Imagineers over the years. Here are six of the best, weirdest and most imaginative attractions you’ll find in a Disney Park today.”
Check out the rest of the article at Theme Park Tourist here.
*Of course, multiple Disney Parks dark rides exist — flourish, even — without the help of Audio-Animatronics: Peter Pan’s Flight, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, Alice in Wonderland, and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride among them. Far more interesting, however, are those that have been improved by the figures over the years, from Pirates of the Caribbean’s swashbuckling crew to the terrifying Yeti that lurks within Expedition Everest. (Whether those attractions can be classified as proper ‘dark rides’ is a topic for future discussion.)