Update: Disneyland Still Fun

splashterror.jpgFrom the “posting just to say I’m still alive” department:

Last weekend I tagged along with some friends to Disneyland and it was, despite United Airlines’ best efforts, a great big ton o’ fun. One of the many things I like about Disney parks is that you can go hundreds of times, covering every inch of the park and even poking around back stage, and still manage to see something new each time you go.

Most of the time, the combination of familiar classics + a little bit of novelty + Dole Whips is enough to remind you why Disney does an outstanding job with the parks, but occasionally you’ll see something amazing. This trip I saw three:

  • Remodeled Sleeping Beauty Castle Tour: This has been closed off for years, rumored to be the blame of post-9/11 hypersensitivity. Even before then, it wasn’t a must-see; it’s always neat to go inside, but the Barbie doll figures re-enacting the dullest scenes weren’t exactly a big draw. Now, they’ve installed some amazing effects installations that combine 2D and 3D animation with flats and what seems to be rear projection and fancy particle systems and even an interactive section (like the brass apple at the entrance to the Snow White ride). I still have no idea how they did some of those effects.
  • The Toy Story Zoetrope in the Animation pavilion at DCA: I’d seen video of this in action, and apparently I’ve even been to the park since it was installed, but I never saw it working before. It’s absolutely incredible. I watched about five or six cycles of it and would’ve stayed longer if I’d been at the park for an extra day. There’s a “making of” display that explains the process and gives credit to the original zoetrope at the Studio Ghibli museum. So now I have to go to the Studio Ghibli museum.
  • Toy Story Midway Mania at DCA: This was open the last time I went to Disneyland, but we didn’t feel like waiting in a 50-minute line. As it turns out, that may have been a huge mistake. The idea of taking the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters ride, converting it to carnival games, and adding 3D glasses just didn’t sound that compelling. I’ve talked to people who’d been on it, but never heard a review more enthusiastic than “It’s fun.” All this is either a sign that I’m completely out of the loop in things Disney-related (possible), or this is one of the most under-sold attractions in Disney history (also possible), because it’s fantastic. The effects are perfect, the controls are responsive, and the whole thing feels just seamless — it’s not just a dark ride that gives you a score at the end, but a real game that makes you want to come back and play again. And unlike any Disney attraction I’ve seen in recent memory, it doesn’t feel as if any concessions have been made. All the money was put into exactly the right places.

Sometimes I’m amazed at how creativity can survive under all the constraints that Disney is under: not just the usual constraints of budget, but the fact that you’ve got to make something that appeals to millions of people but still isn’t watered down for the lowest common denominator. And as the technology gets more sophisticated, it gets even harder: how can you deliver something with that “wow factor” and a five-year production cycle, when tech that’s cutting-edge today will be available in a Best Buy one year from now? (I can still remember when the touch screens at Epcot were an amazing thing). They seem to be taking the right approach here: make sure that the technology isn’t the focus; the characters and personality and fun are.