Thursday, January 27, 2011

Why Story is King: Steve Alcorn in THEME PARK DESIGN

This is an important idea to Steve Alcorn; important enough that he uses "Why Story Is King" as the first sub-topic in his Chapter 5, titled RIDES, and then as the title of Chapter 9.

With respect to rides, Alcorn talks about his favorite Disney rides: a toss-up beetween "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "The Haunted Mansion". I've seen it echoed time and time again in blog posts and posts on the MiceAge discussion boards, these are the two rides that "real" Disney fans list as their favorites. Alcorn says that he now understands that what made these rides his favorites was their use of story as their "key ingredient".

Would everyone agree with that? I've seen it mentioned a few times that the reason these rides are timeless and so repeatable is the level of detail in the ride. So perhaps it isn't JUST story. Perhaps it's the combination of story and incredible attention to details. I know I'm still finding stuff in the Magic Kingdom's Haunted Mansion that is new to me when I ride it. It's a great experience every time I ride it, and I'm not entirely sure that it's all because of the story.

On the other hand, most of the "dark rides" in Fantasyland ARE almost entirely dependent on the story they tell. I don't see the same level of detail on Snow White or on Pooh that I see on Haunted Mansion and Pirates.

In Chapter 9, Alcorn talks about story as a component of Disney's thrill rides like Tower of Terror and Rock'n'Roller Coaster, He compares them to other thrill rides like Knotts Berry Farm's Parachute Drop, and concludes that the Disney rides are better, but almost always much more costly also. He mentions Universal's Earthquake ride, which I've never been on, and he feels that the reason it is less than "completely fulfilling" is because it does NOT have a satisfying story. The riders aren't given a reason for even being ON the subway train.

It was interesting to me that Alcorn feels that The Lord of the Rings would not make a good ride. He states that "rides with more complicated storylines are often best implemented using simulators". I take it that he feels LOTR is just too complicated to make a good attraction.

(I'm not sure he's completely right on that one. I think it would make an incredible "land" ala The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, what with the richness of detail and settings that the films offered to viewers. And I think that parts of the story would translate well to dark rides. The Mines of Moria, where Gandalf battles the Balrog and is lost to the Fellowship, for example, would make a really cool dark ride, if told with animatronics and with video on the level of Spiderman or The Forbidden Journey of Harry Potter. Other scenes would be probably make excellent dark rides or thrill rides. Just my opinion.)

I've seen it suggested in various places that Disney relies too much on the rule that everything has to have a backstory of some sort. They use it instead of making a higher quality ride, if I'm reading the criticisms correctly. But Alcorn seems to say you NEED both - high quality AND a good story, because "Story is King".



Steve Alcorn said...

I agree, The Lord of the Rings would make a great land. Harry Potter at IOA demonstrates the perfect template for doing this. The challenge would be that, since LOTR doesn't have the following that Harry Potter does, and isn't fresh in the minds of those who only watch movies when they come out, the story of each individual attraction would need to be carefully set up.

The problem with backstory is that it's almost impossible to convey in the limited time, attention span and resources of a themed attraction. Disney learned this the hard way with Pleasure Island, which had an enormous backstory that almost no one ever got.

Scott said...

Thanks for commenting! I enjoyed the book a whole bunch, if you didn't get that from these posts. Looking forward to Building a Better Mouse when I get around to buying it.

If they spent the amount of money and paid attention to detail like they do in the Hogwarts Castle queue of IOA, an attraction's backstory could be set up adequately, I think. I guess, because I am a fan of both HP and LOTR, and *I* prefer the latter, I think of it as being equal. I should know better because my kids much prefer HP at this point. But I think that LOTR is the richer experience, such as it is...