Friday, January 2, 2009

On rehabs and refurbishments, Part 2

Before I get started, let me wish a happy 2009 to all of you, and may your days be merry and your trips to WDW be filled with the most delicious confection to grace this Earth, the Aloha Isle Dole Whip, and its big brother, the Dole Whip float.

Mmmmm. Whippy.

So, aside from talking about Dole Whips, I know I was posting here for a reason. I...I can't remember. Perhaps a haiku will help?

Oh, delicious whip
Chocolate, vanilla, a blend?
Pineapple, of course!

Ah, yes. The "rehabs" story. Last time, I bitched about attractions that desperately need (or, in "Primeval Whirl"'s case, don't need) them. Attractions that are either dying of old age, like "Snow White's Scary Adventures", or new attractions that are suffering bouts of debilitating issues at young ages. Attractions like Expedition Everest, which has frequent blackouts and hallucinations at the tender age of 3.
You ask, "Hallucinations?"
I reply, "Yes."
The attraction has frequent periods in which lighting and animatronics are adjusted so movement is evident where there is, in fact, no movement at all. The park spent maybe a metric shitload on this enormous yeti animatronic, but the sonofabitch keeps breaking down all the time. It's no surprise, since such ambition went into creating it. Legend tells that the AA has as much force as a 747 turbine, and was able to break through it's restraint during testing. Then, it murdered thousands of tourists after some asshole pushed him while in line for "Midway Mania".

Ok, I made the "Midway Mania" part up. Maybe.

The point is, this is the most complex monster to ever live inside of a Disney World attraction, and he just...sits there. Some strobe lights go off, maybe. He used to swipe at you, didn't he? Roar? Now, he just hangs around. The train goes by so fast, he may even be holding a cup of tea, offering you a place to chill. And SURE, a bunch of people may take that "fast train" deal as a reason NOT to bitch, but it's not necessarily about the experience as much as it's about the fact that Disney pissed away so much on something that will REFUSE to work.

It's like "Test Track".

Almost literally EVERY time I've gotten on Test Track, it's broken down halfway through. These attractions have line waits of up to 70 minutes! Shouldn't we compensate for that with a kickass ride, and not a kickass ride that falls asleep all the time?

BAH....Anyway. I wanted to also talk about the rehabs from recent times that have actually been enjoyable. And the first will certainly stir up a wee bit of controversy with some.

I actually loved the "Spaceship Earth" rehab. It was brilliant. First off, it could have been better. OF COURSE. But consider this: Remember those rumors of a "TimeChasers" ride sponsored by Microsoft that was to come out in the "Project Gemini" era? The one that was going to be such a mega-indoor coaster, that Disney would have to gut Spaceship Earth just to fit it in there? you do.

This rehab is a great step toward that pure "EPCOT" feeling. Jesus, it even has a logo!
That tiny little buddy right above the attraction title there. Just like the old days, right? When every pavilion had an insignia - for more than coolness, but also to fit in with the motif of the park. Simple, elegant, and straightforward. And also, bad-fucking-ass.
Anyway, the attraction itself has been overhauled with some new scenes and effects. Most of these are the same general idea that was behind the original versions, just...spiffier. Take the moving hieroglyphics in the "caveman" scene. I've never noticed that before! Seeing that made me feel almost like a child again, wondering just how in the hell it looks so sweet. There are totally new scenes, as well, such as the "70's retro lab" scene, which I absolutely loved. Many people hated it, saying it was useless, and no scientist would wear leg warmers in a lab coat. But I thought it worked well. It was a nice, subtle jab at the (I'll admit) occasionally ridiculous 80's motif that riddled the park's music and walk-around characters when the park was getting started.

And then there's the "Horizons"-esque "Decide Your Future" finale. It works out well, giving the attraction a new insight into the future, and it's also a nice homage to the amazing past we may remember. I do have my nitpicks, as always. Judi Dench isn't really feeling her lines, it seems. And she says some stupid shit ("The first world wide web"? What?). The music isn't as memorable as it once was. The entire last 3rd of the ride is essentially a blank canvas, save for some Christmas lights (and I know, the rider's focus is on the screen in front of them - which seems ironic to me - but it's still disheartening to see all that empty space in such a big dome). And yea, the attraction becomes more about the future itself towards the end than communication, as if the show writers just switched gears completely halfway through an all-nighter. But these are small, petty issues. I love this incarnation of "Spaceship Earth", especially considering the butchering it could have EASILY gotten.

I also was able to see the newest version of "The Haunted Mansion" and was pleasantly surprised to see this was more of an overhaul combined with a rehab. An entirely new 1st act is essentially in place, even tossing in that little M.C. Escher reference that was originally supposed to go into the 1999 "Journey Into Imagination" rehab (also known as "The Doomsday of Rehabs"). Also, I was amazed when I read about the incredibly simple methods taken to achieve those weird (in a good sense) new effects. There are articles around the web that go in depth. Check it out. Google that bitch.

It's easy for Disney to learn from the successful rehabs, from bigger ones ("SSE", "Haunted Mansion") to the smaller ones ("it's a small world", for example, didn't compromise any of the original artistic merits it had for its rehab - yet...). As long as Disney can maintain the original theme and concepts housed in the idea - be it the future and our connections to it, or the amount of tension and spookiness a few well-placed light boxes on sticks can create - then keep the rehabs coming. It's not about state of the art technology, but about preserving the magic we all felt the first time we rode these attractions. If necessary, use that technology to keep it alive, but at least go the distance to never make it look stale. Because once it goes stale physically, then it goes stale in our memories.

In Part 3 (AKA "The Conclusion", or "Revolutions") I'll talk about future rehabs and what the hell Disney was thinking with that debacle at the Imagination Pavilion. Cheers!