synergy (syn·er·gy )
- The interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects.
- Cooperative interaction among groups, especially among the acquired subsidiaries or merged parts of a corporation, that creates an enhanced combined effect.
Definition #2 gets used a lot around here. But today, we’re here to talk about definition #1 .
The atmosphere, the beloved Disney characters, the thrills, the live entertainment, the sense of history, and so on…some will prefer certain elements over others, but it’s the artful fusion of these elements that add up to the Disneyland experience. That’s the kind of synergy I’m talking about
Here’s a quote I’ve seen variations on around the forums: “The general public would rather have something fun than well-themed.”
It shouldn’t be either-or, it should be both at once. And, as someone recently said in another thread, Disney used to excel at doing both.
Some claim that the outdoor theming of the lands is arbitrary to the ride-oriented “average guest.” No matter how fast you run from ride to ride – and having recently done a mad two-hour dash, I know – you can’t help but notice the scenery at least a little as you go, and you can’t help but notice that it has some relation to the rides you’re riding in that area. And even if a guest were phenomenally unaware of the history and mythology that Disneyland is referencing in its theming, I think they must grasp the fundamental concepts – hometown, jungle, frontier/old west, fantasy, future.
Then, there are the rides themselves. I’ve seen it said that Splash Mountain is only popular because it has drops that get you wet. That's certainly a big selling point. I know I love those drops. But I refuse to believe that the singing animals and scenery don’t have something to do with it. I find it hard to believe that people totally ignore them, thinking of nothing but “drops! drops! drops!” the whole way...And the drops are integrated into the story – the initial plunge into the critters’ world, the wild bunny-hill type drop into the Laughing Place, and the big suspenseful climb to the climax of the story – Bre’r Rabbit’s escape! Physical and thematic thrills, working together! Synergy, ladies and gentleman!
How about, “the general public would rather have something with familiar characters than ones they don’t know.”
Again, why does it have to be one or the other?
The vast majority of DL attractions prior to Star Tours in 1987 were not directly based on movies, while every attraction from Star Tours on has been movie-based, except Rocket Rods (closed) and Innoventions (Infomercial masquerading as an attraction). 22 years. It seems like Disneyland could handle at least one new original attraction after that many years of film-based ones.
Yes, the Fantasyland dark rides have always been based on Disney films, and recreated scenes from them. But the rides were about capturing the feeling of flying with Peter Pan, careening around the roads with Mr. Toad, fleeing through the forest with Snow White, tumbling down the rabbithole with Alice. And these were things the public fantasized about when reading or hearing the original stories, long before Disney even got ahold of them, making them seem much less divorced from the non-film based attractions, which covered archetypal fantasies like jungle voyages and space travel. Recent dark rides, like Pooh and Monster’s Inc., have some elements of the FL dark ride tradition, but mostly, they seem to be about “Look, it’s Pooh!” “Look, it’s Sully!”
Speaking of Pixar, the film Toy Story is a great example of combining the familiar - toys everyone played with as kids, like Mr. Potato Head and Etch-a-Sketch - with the new – the computer animation medium, characters no-one had ever heard of before (Woody, Buzz, etc.) Today, CGI is considered the “norm” in American animated features, and those original characters are icons.
Pixar is working on recognizable, merchandisable Toy Story 3 and Cars 2. But in a couple weeks, they’ll release Up. It’s a brand new film with brand new characters that no-one has ever seen before. Why doesn’t Disney feel that theme park audiences can handle that same kind of newness every once in a while? Why should the theme park be a second-hand medium? I’d like to see the creatives at Pixar design an original, non-movie based attraction concept from the ground up, the way Walt’s animators did 50 + years ago. (and yes, I mean Pixar Animation Studios, not WDI, though of course I want to see WDI design one, too).
And why are there two Toy Story rides in the DLR, with neither of them fully embracing the universal concept at the core of the films – that toys come to life when we leave the room?
Furthermore, the Fantasyland dark rides were placed into a land specifically designed to synergize with them. (Even moreso following the 1980's refurb, which supposedly is closer to what Walt wanted in the first place). Not so with the poor Pixar rides, placed willy-nilly all over the place.
And just because people love characters doesn’t mean they hate anything that doesn’t involve them. Why is Soarin’ Over California so popular? Tinkerbell’s 10 second cameo? No, that’s just added perk. It’s Because it makes people feel like they’re flying (or at least, that’s the intent, and some people feel it does. Whether or not it succeeds at that is a topic for another thread ) That’s something that just about everyone dreams of experiencing.
Why is the Haunted Mansion so popular? Is it because they hope there are Eddie Murphy AA’s inside, and then they wind up dreadfully disappointed?
Seeing the costumed Disney characters might be the biggest thrill of the day for some kids (and, of course, some adults). But it’s not the only thrill. If Disneyland were nothing but a cement lot where meet and greets were held, it wouldn’t be nearly so popular. In films, the characters typically have a backdrop to work against. Aladdin is in Agrabah. Simba is out on the Savannah. They aren’t just up there on a blank screen all alone. Just like with the characters in Disneyland - part of what makes meeting the characters so magical is meeting them in Disneyland.
“Disneyland shoppers would rather have convenience than unique items.”
Guess what I’m going to say?
Sure, have the top selling merchandise readily available in multiple locations. But what’s wrong with having a few unique items? Not every single guest will buy them, but it’s worth a little shelf space so that Little Jimmy can buy a plushie of his favorite obscure Disney character that he hasn’t been able to find anywhere else. That’s the kind of memory that will make Little Jimmy want to bring his own merchandise-buying family when he grows up.
And it’s worth a little shelf space to uphold the theme of the stores. That way, they’ll seem like much more part of the overall Disneyland experience, instead of corporate-merchandising-‘o-rama. Again, every guest might not buy the items, but to those that do, they will be very special – a piece of that theme that they can take home with them.
When Disneyland opened, Walt gave his guests what they expected. He gave them familiar Disney characters. He gave them rides, including a carousel, a spinner and a teacup ride. But he also gave them a lot more than they were expecting. And that was the magic formula.
Pardon me if this turned out to be a nonsensical late-night rant. Basically, I just wanted to turn the meaning of the odious corporate buzzword “synergy” on its ear .