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  1. #1

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    Is "Theme" even necessary today?

    The question is pretty straightforward: How much value do you place on theme?

    Over the years here, we’ve have long discussion regarding the erosion of theme at Disneyland: The inclusion of incongruous cartoon characters in lands and attractions; the elimination of themed shops and restaurants; the dumbing down of attractions; the hemorrhaging of pirates from the depths of time and New Orleans Square, out into the bright daylight of reality.

    Many out there harbor no reservations whatsoever about these developments. Indeed, they believe that whatever Disneyland does is fine, nay, absolutely wonderful! Their arguments are supported by a single Walt Disney quote; something about Disneyland never being finished…

    Others, such as myself, believe theme should be the overriding consideration when developing new experiences, but with a realistic appreciation that occasionally compromises must be made, if they cannot be avoided.

    But is the elimination of theme a bad idea or a good one? What would be lost if theme were discarded? Or perhaps gained if theme didn’t have to be rigidly followed? The roller coasters and the rides would still be the same. Is environmental theming even necessary?

    So much of Disneyland is themed to eras that--we are often lectured by the “Disneyland will never be finished” crowd--are “irrelevant” to today’s audience. Nineteenth century thoroughfares? Even today’s grandparents don’t recall the period. Why would today’s audience have any such nostalgia for the trappings of the Victorian era?

    Frontierland? The American frontier officially closed in 1890. Westerns in the cinema had their swan song in the 1950s/1960s. How can the epic battles to win the frontier possibly resonate with today’s audience, where the biggest challenge facing most of us is choosing between going to the beach or the mall on Saturday, not defending the fort to the death against rampaging Indians or a determined Santa Ana?

    Even the fairy tales depicted in Fantasyland aren’t as “relevant” to today’s child, who is far more familiar with Dora the Explorer or Spongebob than Pinocchio or the Mad Hatter.

    So, is theme worth preserving? Or are some of us fighting a losing battle against foes who believe “relevance” should trump all?

  2. #2

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    Re: Is "Theme" even necessary today?

    I for one will continue to fight for theme. I don't think it is as much of an uphill battle as it once was. More of the creative crows have a much bigger say these days and I think this really helps out.

    Relevance is another of those corporate new-speak words that really doesn't mean anything. It belongs in Dilbert cartoons and not in a Theme Park.

    A lot of the problem, I think, stems from how our entertainment in general is done these days. Corporate study and focus groups decide that x is what everyone wants, so they give us x. Since that is all that is available, x appears to be popular so they make more of x and variations on x. Again, since that's all that is available, x and all its variations appear to be popular. As a public, we just sit idly by and watch whatever we're given. Kind of like that slobs on the Starship Axiom when you think about it. Not quite that extreme, but definitely tending in that direction.

    Our revels now are ended. These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits and Are melted into air, into thin air: And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself, Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life Is rounded with a sleep. mycroft16 on Twitter

  3. #3

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    Re: Is "Theme" even necessary today?

    WD thought thematic harmony was vital--at least enough to risk financial ruin in order to acheive it in his Park.

    Whether theming is important to you personally or not; whether one does or doesn't consciously appreciate the attention to detail, both historical and thematic-- it IS what sets DL apart from other amusement parks. If not THAT, then what DOES set it apart?

  4. #4

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    Re: Is "Theme" even necessary today?

    Couldn't agree more, theme makes DL! Maybe Walt did say DL would never be finished, but he also had concerns when CM's from different lands would be seen in the wrong areas, they were out of place, out of theme... Wasn't that a factor in the design of DW, underground access to different areas for CM's?

  5. #5

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    Re: Is "Theme" even necessary today?

    Well if Theme is not neccessary then we will be looking at the end of steam trains at DL replaced with a Truck engine pulling some cars (ala Knotts on slow winter days, engine)

    Lets hope DL continues to preserve the themes it still holds on to.

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    Re: Is "Theme" even necessary today?

    Quote Originally Posted by CAspace View Post
    Well if Theme is not neccessary then we will be looking at the end of steam trains at DL replaced with a Truck engine pulling some cars (ala Knotts on slow winter days, engine)

    Lets hope DL continues to preserve the themes it still holds on to.
    Well, why is that a problem? If most people are using it for transportation anyway, or to view the dioramas (BTW, that Knott's "truck engine" has one of the most interesting and intruiging histories of just about any piece of railroad equipment in existence today--and it fits the Knott's theme beautifully once you know that history).
    Last edited by Steve DeGaetano; 08-07-2008 at 08:52 AM.

  7. #7

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    Re: Is "Theme" even necessary today?

    As you've mentioned - Disneyland will never be finished. I agree with this, but this doesn't mean I like some of the new additions and the failed theme attempts lately.

    As technology improves, themes should improve. A great example of this is the bride in the HM. It helps the theme of the ride and fits, yet it shows off some amazing new tech.

    Would many people be upset if they went into POTC and redid the animatronics for all the characters making them look the same but with smoother/newer movements? Probably not too many. The same goes for Star Tours... How many people are going to be upset when there's a new place to fly to - with a more realistic presentation?

    If they brought back some action above in Tomorrowland and added some movement of maybe not people movers but a newer tranportation system then they would help out the theme without losing the theme.

    I guess what I'm getting at is this: Themes are just a direction and will change a lot for places like tomorrowland. If Disneyland makes a change that fits the theme it works and is a wonderful thing. If they go against a theme things don't work out too well... Rockin' Space Mountain is an example of falling out of theme.

  8. #8

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    Re: Is "Theme" even necessary today?

    To me, theme is not what sets Disneyland apart from other theme parks. It is imagination. The ability to take what is in your mind and make them realities is something that no other "amusement park" does. Themes at Disneyland are, in my opinion, put there to make sure the imagination doesn't stop. It keeps you in nice and tight.

    Sure, kids today don't really know who Davy Crockett is or even care that the West was won, but some still love to play cowboys and indians (ya ya not pc). Every once-in-a-while you may even get the occasional parent or grandparent remembering the movies from the Disneyland tv show.

  9. #9

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    Re: Is "Theme" even necessary today?

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve DeGaetano View Post
    The question is pretty straightforward: How much value do you place on theme?
    110% of my admission price.
    "Here You Leave the World of California Today and Enter the World of, um, er, California Today."

  10. #10

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    Re: Is "Theme" even necessary today?

    Theme is a must in a THEME park.

    The end.

  11. #11

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    Re: Is "Theme" even necessary today?

    I agree with swab...theme is what, in the past at least, has set DL apart from other parks. If DL completely abandoned that approach, instead of visiting it 3-4 times a year I would go maybe once every 3-4 years and just go to a closer park such as six flags marine world or great america more often since I would be getting the same experience.

    Theme matters.

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    Re: Is "Theme" even necessary today?

    You may not believe me, Steve, but it matters to me a great deal.


  13. #13

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    Re: Is "Theme" even necessary today?

    To put in my quick thoughts...necessary is a relative term. When they redid the Jungle Cruise queue to be a two story boat house, technically, they didn't need to add the old photos, illustrations, schematics, props, audio-animatronic bird, or newsreel and music sound system. But they did, because Disney is in the habit usually of hyper theming things with small details. So it is necessary to them, most times, or why would they keep doing it with projects like this? Whether or not people appreciate it all the time is different, or see the layers they build into things. Sure, you can argue some things have come out less themed than others...I'd agree. But theming is necessary overall because Disney did it, and does it so well...they made it necessary, by doing it in the past and setting a standard.

  14. #14

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    Re: Is "Theme" even necessary today?

    Going off of darkfairycthulu's post, hyper-themeing provides the mind with such a density of details and layers of history that it can't help but catch on. Getting into the theme of things at Disneyland is often a very subconscious sort of thing.

    It was in a Travel Channel program, but they were talking to an Imagineer about the pavilions at Epcot and she said, "we put in such a huge number of really tiny details so that you are caught up by the theme without knowing it. Then when we throw something really fantastic at you on a ride, you're willing to buy into it."

    I am always glad when they hyper theme something as it makes it so much easier for people to get caught up in it. It is a practice that needs to continue.

    Our revels now are ended. These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits and Are melted into air, into thin air: And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself, Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life Is rounded with a sleep. mycroft16 on Twitter

  15. #15

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    Re: Is "Theme" even necessary today?

    Theme is incredibly important. As everyone has pretty much already stated, it is what sets Disneyland apart from the rest of the rabble. I came to be immersed, and removed from reality. It detracts from the experience to see things that don't belong in a certain land.

    It's always been an integral part of the experience for me to be sucked into the attraction; feeling like I'm really joining Indiana Jones in a true expedition to a new archeological find, or going from broad daylight to what feels like a real Louisiana bayou at night. I believe these are the things that give these attractions such an impact with a Guest.

    Everything in Disneyland tells a story, that we know. When elements are not just right, or if something occurs that doesn't fit into the setting, that is the only thing you can think of, and the rest of the story is lost. Ever tried watching a movie while reading a book? Same thing.

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