Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Problem With Plot

One of the things I love most about Disney parks is the fact that elaborate stories are always present in one way or another. Almost everything in the parks has a back story, no matter how much visitors know about the source material. However, in the last few years, story has slowly taken a backseat to interesting and cutting-edge effects, as well as keeping the attention of the audience. Where there used to be attractions with fantastic subplots and enough background story to fill multiple attractions, there are now many elements of the parks that have visitors scratching their heads, wondering just what the fuck happened.

Let's take a brief look at the show I always pick on, "Stitch's Great Escape", which I consider to have some of the worst and laziest show writing in the history of Disney parks. The plot to Flight to the Moon/Mission to Mars was simple: You were going from Earth into outer space. The plot to "Alien Encounter" was a little more complex, but still simple: You were viewing a demonstration of XS-Tech's technology in a live, intergalactic demo. Now, let's get to the "Escape". Where, exactly, are we? Are we in space or on Earth? We must STILL be on Earth, since the show doesn't tell you at any point that you've somehow traversed the galaxy by walking into the preshow lobby. Why does Stitch (who calls himself "Stitch", despite the fact that this is a prequel to the film) go to Florida, if that's where we already are? Surely you can't claim that suspension of disbelief is called for, since Disney World plainly exists - Stitch either goes into Cinderella's Castle or on the Astro Orbiter. Also, since we're recruits for the security program, why are we strapped down for the entirety of the show? What kind of prison keeps the guards locked in their seat while the prisoner is in the room with them?


I get tired of talking about that fucking show so much. Let's try another one.

-One of the things that's always confused me about Mission: SPACE is where, exactly, we are. We're on Earth at the beginning, and I'm pretty sure this is a flight-training program, isn't it? So why are we on Mars at the end? Lieutenant Dan very plainly says "welcome to Mars", right? What the hell is going on?

-DINOSAUR has visitors going back in time to save an Iguanadon from extinction, for....what reason? The character of Seeker tells us that the specific Iguanadon we are to save (he marked it with a tracker, which makes you wonder why he couldn't get it himself) holds "the key to understanding these magnificent creatures." ....What? Wait, huh? Why that one, specifically? Also, I assume that the time travel would have been tested before they allow us to ride, so couldn't this have been done several times in the past? Also, why did we go back to the point in time where the asteroids were literally hitting the planet? Despite the fact that I love this attraction, it still makes no sense.

...The list goes on. Many would complain that these plot problems are easily forgivable, considering that these are theme parks. But just as people pay money to see a film with a coherent plot, some people (like me) enjoy getting the same out of these attractions.

There's an infinite amount of story floating around Disney World, and some of it isn't even told. Take this story found on Wikipedia (but paraphrasing a story told in the Hyperion book "Walt Disney Imagineering") about Blizzard Beach, for example:

"The theme of the park is the "Disney legend" of a freak snowstorm in the area, leading to the construction of Florida's first ski resort. Naturally, the snow didn't last long, leaving behind a collection of waterlogged but snow-less ski jumps and chair lifts. The failed resort was in the process of closing for good when an alligator was seen sliding down a flume and splashing into a pool of water, screaming "Yahoo!" Thus the "ski resort" was reborn as a water park, with the alligator (named "Ice Gator") as mascot."

No one really HAS to know that information, but the Imagineers cooked it up, anyway, just in case people were curious about why there's a blizzard-themed water park in central Florida. The same goes for "Big Thunder Mountain" (from the same source, though this excerpt is missing a bit of story told in the book):

"Some time in the late 1800s, gold was discovered on Big Thunder Mountain in the American Southwest. Overnight, the small mining town [of Tumbleweed] became thriving mining towns. Mining was prosperous and an extensive line of mine trains were set up to transport the ore. Unbeknownst to the settlers, the Mountain was a sacred spot to local Native Americans and was cursed. Before long, the settlers' desecration of the mountain caused...a flash flood, which befell the mines and town and they were abandoned. Some time later, the locomotives were found to be racing around the mountain on their own, without engineers or a crew. The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was founded in the old mining camp to allow tourists to take rides on the possessed trains."

There's no big video that tells you this. There isn't a narration, or anything of the sort. It's just backstory created for the purpose of good storytelling.

While some of the attractions made currently have interesting and creative storylines (I've always thought the Laugh Floor Comedy Club did an ok job with the story), attractions today seem to either eschew plot or throw it together as quickly as possible.

Next time, I'll talk about the art of pre-shows and post-shows, and where they are now. Until next time...


Anonymous said...

Its very true. I've always loved the little stories that can populate attractions. And I don't think its that hard, is it? I mean, it doesn't take too much funding to sit in a room and think up a story. For God's sake, people have been doing it for years, and they don't get paid for it.
On a side note, the best justification for DINOSAUR is that they want a dinosaur in the lab they can study, and picking the dino about to be wiped out is a good choice, since he was going to die anyway and would'nt have affected the time stream anymore, a la Sound of Thunder. oh well.

Anonymous said...

Holla. Although, Dinosaur is a really shitty ride. Have you been on Indiana Jones at Disneyland? It's the same ride technology, but 50x better. For one thing, you can see. And there's no douche yelling "definitely NOT our DINO!" in your fucking ear every 5 seconds.

The problem of story in Dinosaur is more about execution than plot, I think. No one is sincere in any of the recent rides. Mrs Cosby is all, you're going back in time (nudge nudge wink wink not really), so lets all pretend. How would POTC feel if they said "lets go look at some pretend pirates?"