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  1. #1

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    Mortality in Disneyland: A Discussion of Skeletons and Subtext

    And just so we are clear at the outset, this thread is not referencing the tragic actual deaths of any sort in the Park's history...just to avoid confusion.

    Instead, what I find fascinating, is the kind of offhand references to death, in particularly nasty ways often, to be found in many signature park attractions It may sound obvious, but I find it interesting to think of the many instances of rather gruesome hints of the demise of humans in a kingdom devoted to fantasy and families having a good time together. Now, humor me....just think for a minute of the large chamber just after the snake attack room, in Indiana Jones Adventure. What comes to mind? Massive piles of human skulls. Let me repeat: Massive. Piles. Of. Human. Skulls.

    As a visual shorthand, I totally understand it..this temple is dangerous! Mara destroys unwary visitors! But looking at it objectively...that's a lot of skulls. Did the adherents to Mara's cult kill all those people? It may be morbid to think of, certainly...but Disneyland/the ride designers consciously included that detailing. And yes, it is fantasy...but in a master planned theme park attraction such as Disney makes, every detail is viewed and planned for, presumably.

    Also in Adventureland, the Jungle Cruise is brimming with little grisly in-jokes, notably the canoe full of skulls (my old crew!), and Trader Sam's wares of shrunken heads, but nothing out of character for the old adventure/jungle films that inspired the attraction.

    Another example, now gone on to Yesterland....the old caverns on Tom Sawyer Island, where one could read of the grisly fate of Injun Joe, supposedly falling down a deep crevice and dying, his restless spirit roaming the dark caverns and the wind seeming to mimic his ghostly cries. Brrrrrrrr! Pretty intense thing even to hint at for a family based theme park, even though Joe's fate is certainly present in the original Mark Twain novel.

    Of course, the Haunted Mansion would be nowhere without the shades of the departed, but a few grisly little details stand out, particularly the fate of our narrator, the Ghost Host. Presumably, in his "corruptible mortal state", he was locked into the same extending, haunted room we enter, and having no way out, as he says...took "my way", which was seemingly suicide. You can't see it clearly from below, but his swaying corpse is dangling from above the ceiling in a noose. Further on in the Corridor of Doors area, a portrait depicts him in a rather more fleshy, albeit decaying state, clutching a axe, the cut noose about his neck, grinning rather sinisterly. A new addition of course to the Mansion is Constance, the attic bride, with her seeming penchant for beheading her new husbands. All gore is implied, of course, only, but still adds in to the more "serious" death count in the Mansion which is primarily filled with happy haunts.

    As for Pirates, the skeletons there are rather more tame than in Mansion, with a few exceptions....the beach vignette seems to warn of the perils of piracy and betrayal, followed by the eerie lightning-lit cove where the remanents of a ship's captain steers his wrecked vessel endlessly, perhaps doomed to do so. Apart from that idea, though, the skeletons from there on out seem to be having a good time and are a little more lively.

    All these mentioned examples are, you will note, from the West side of the park, where things are slghtly rougher...exotic jungles, haunted waterfront cities, and the rougher nature of the old west. There is one notable exception, and it's one of my favorites in the park for it's placement smack dab in the middle of Fantasyland.

    In the dungeon sequence of Snow White, there's a very twisted little visual gag of a decayed set of bones reaching from behind a iron grate towards a carved, hoglike beast head fountain that is dripping a greenish liquid (via fiber optics) into a pool at the base. It works very well in the attraction and certainly fits the overall visual scheme of that area, and is rather easily seen and then promptly forgotten...but how many stop to think of the implications? The evil witch, seen previously as very determined to get at Snow White, literally chained up a prisoner scant inches from water and let them stay there till they literally presumably died of starvation/dehydration. Have fun kids, it's Disneyland!

    Now, do I think these details all add up to some morbid bent on the part of the Imagineers or Walt Disney Co.? Not at all. I just find it personally interesting how much rather seemingly simple material (skulls look cool, let's add more!) has darker and more gruesome implications underneath, that most people overlook. But then, that's how my mind works...and kids aren't going to read into these things the way I, or others might...the park is for children of all ages, after all.

    Your thoughts?

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    Re: Mortality in Disneyland: A Discussion of Skeletons and Subtext

    I suddenly know why I'm so weird.....

    Darn you Disneyland!*shakes fist!*


    but in all honesty, I did notice this focus on death around the parks and just chalked it up to playing to everyone's morbid curiosity. Use what sells, right? Example, would we have Saw 5 if people weren't interested? While yes it is more gruesome, it is essentially torture murder that you mentioned was present in the Snow White ride. And how many films are there about murdering wives? Last week on The Tudors they beheaded a guy and took 5 whacks to do it, and that is a well watched show.

    Anyway, I guess what I'm getting to is people are interested and Disney knows. Just about everyone gawks when they drive by a funeral or car accident. People find those stories on Yahoo about murders and can't help but read it. And even if they aren't a little bit curious, most people like being a little bit scared.


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    Re: Mortality in Disneyland: A Discussion of Skeletons and Subtext

    The Snow White Skeletons are fresh out of the movie. It was Walt first who decided to include that gruesome detail in his movie. WDI probably just added that to make it more like following the movie, like you are walking with the Queen as she goes to take the potion. That's just going along the line of the following in the character's footsteps mentality that surrounds the Fantasyland Dark Rides.
    Friend walks into line of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh-
    "Come on, Let's go see Country Bear- .......Oh."
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    Re: Mortality in Disneyland: A Discussion of Skeletons and Subtext

    Yeah but look at all the original Disney movies. There was a lot of killing, and gruesomeness in the movies, but it just adds onto the atmosphere that they created. I think that i would hate Disneyland if it was just a bunch of kiddy rides painted with sparkles and hearts.

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    Re: Mortality in Disneyland: A Discussion of Skeletons and Subtext

    Quote Originally Posted by Lukey114 View Post
    I think that i would hate Disneyland if it was just a bunch of kiddy rides painted with sparkles and hearts.
    Thank you for replying simply for that quote. Awesome. LOL.

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    Re: Mortality in Disneyland: A Discussion of Skeletons and Subtext

    Quote Originally Posted by Walt Jr. View Post
    The Snow White Skeletons are fresh out of the movie. It was Walt first who decided to include that gruesome detail in his movie. WDI probably just added that to make it more like following the movie, like you are walking with the Queen as she goes to take the potion. That's just going along the line of the following in the character's footsteps mentality that surrounds the Fantasyland Dark Rides.
    That's a fair answer, yes, Snow White did feature equally as much dark stuff as the ride...very good point. I suppose one could make that argument for Indy as well, in this case...part of the visual language of the films. Still leaves the Mansion and Pirates examples..though certainly HM is a descendant of the classic spook rides, and that sort of thing is par for the course. I just find it interesting Disneyland includes such details almost without thinking, like they know the "on-top" reasons....(skulls look cool, atmosphere of danger) without thinking of the "underneath" reasons (painful and gruesome death!)

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    Re: Mortality in Disneyland: A Discussion of Skeletons and Subtext

    Quote Originally Posted by darkfairycthulu View Post
    I just find it interesting Disneyland includes such details almost without thinking, like they know the "on-top" reasons....(skulls look cool, atmosphere of danger) without thinking of the "underneath" reasons (painful and gruesome death!)
    Something to think about... the Jungle used to be a little more bloody when the Lion was actually eating a piece of Zebra...

    I think Disney has become more sensitive to the serious undertones of various attractions. Trader Sam lost his mask, and gained a baby elephant in an attempt to soften his image.
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    Re: Mortality in Disneyland: A Discussion of Skeletons and Subtext

    Too bad I thought that the mask made him look much friendlier. And Better!
    Friend walks into line of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh-
    "Come on, Let's go see Country Bear- .......Oh."
    -August 1st 2010

    And this elevator traverls directly to The Twilight Zone The Gift Shop!
    -August 2nd 2010

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    Re: Mortality in Disneyland: A Discussion of Skeletons and Subtext

    Quote Originally Posted by darkfairycthulu View Post
    I just find it personally interesting how much rather seemingly simple material (skulls look cool, let's add more!) has darker and more gruesome implications underneath, that most people overlook. But then, that's how my mind works...and kids aren't going to read into these things the way I, or others might...the park is for children of all ages, after all.

    Your thoughts?
    Excellent thread! To me it's about maximizing the emotional dynamic range of the attraction: icons of fear contrasted against the security of being in Disneyland. Scares relieved by laughter and followed by a happy ending.

    Classic Disneyland attractions had more of it (e.g. the burning settler's cabin), while today's penchant for not scaring the kiddies or offending anyone guarantees us less.

    Quote Originally Posted by techskip View Post
    Something to think about... the Jungle used to be a little more bloody when the Lion was actually eating a piece of Zebra...

    I think Disney has become more sensitive to the serious undertones of various attractions. Trader Sam lost his mask, and gained a baby elephant in an attempt to soften his image.
    Bingo.


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    Re: Mortality in Disneyland: A Discussion of Skeletons and Subtext

    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Wiggins View Post
    Excellent thread! To me it's about maximizing the emotional dynamic range of the attraction: icons of fear contrasted against the security of being in Disneyland. Scares relieved by laughter and followed by a happy ending.

    Classic Disneyland attractions had more of it (e.g. the burning settler's cabin), while today's penchant for not scaring the kiddies or offending anyone guarantees us less.
    As you would say...bingo. Fill up the park with nothing but schmaltz, and the place feels overly saccharine. Fill it up with nothing but death, and the place feels overly depressing. Disneyland needs a tasteful mix of lightheartedness and peril. And I daresay Disney has lost some of its boldness in this front, contributing to the place being perceived as uncool by some folks who are no longer kids.


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    Re: Mortality in Disneyland: A Discussion of Skeletons and Subtext

    I've never really thought about it like that before. But now that you bring it up...I am OUTRAGED!!!

    Why are there no dead people in Tomorrowland?! What will we do with our dead in the future? Unless...Soilent Green! It's PEOPLE!!!!

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    Re: Mortality in Disneyland: A Discussion of Skeletons and Subtext

    Quote Originally Posted by timbabbcomedian View Post
    I've never really thought about it like that before. But now that you bring it up...I am OUTRAGED!!!

    Why are there no dead people in Tomorrowland?! What will we do with our dead in the future? Unless...Soilent Green! It's PEOPLE!!!!
    More like Tomorrowland Terrace burgers are people, in this case...... I guess the future has like, fancy holo teleporter incinerators or something.....get rid of all those pesky skeletons lying about.
    Last edited by RegionsBeyond; 05-30-2009 at 12:31 PM.

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    Re: Mortality in Disneyland: A Discussion of Skeletons and Subtext

    Great thread. As long as I can remember I have loved books and disneyland! I am interested in Walts storytelling choices from literature.
    Injun' Joes cave on TS Island really scared me as a kid, yet I had to go brave a visit each time to hear him call. I loved the book so much as a child and I loved coming to Disneyland to "play" out the story bringing my favorite books to life. 20000 leagues, swiss family robinson etc... This was more fun than watching the movies!

    What childhood memory sticks with me the most is the anthropororphism and archetypes of the fantasyland attractions.
    Snow White- already covered
    Alice in wonderland-Big mushrooms, smoking caterpiller etc.
    Mr Toadswild ride- crashing your car, going to hell for being bad
    Pinocchio- Pleasure Island, transformed to an donkey
    Peter Pan- Lost boys in an afterlifeLand also with skulls.
    Sleeping beauty- Basically dead for 100 years.

    Why did he pick these childrens stories to make into movies then to attractions? Why does it move deep psyches both magical and scary ?


    Pink floyd, Jefferson Airplane & Grateful Dead lyrics and songs reference these fairy tales too. Maybe it was just from growing up in the late 60s. During a recent visit my friend and I were discussing some similar stuff in Splash Mountian and Winnie the Pooh ride.
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    Re: Mortality in Disneyland: A Discussion of Skeletons and Subtext

    Quote Originally Posted by MouselyGrateful View Post

    Why did he pick these childrens stories to make into movies then to attractions? Why does it move deep psyches both magical and scary ?


    Pink floyd, Jefferson Airplane & Grateful Dead lyrics and songs reference these fairy tales too. Maybe it was just from growing up in the late 60s. During a recent visit my friend and I were discussing some similar stuff in Splash Mountian and Winnie the Pooh ride.
    Interesting note, but I don't think necessarily the sixties influence has much to do with the darkness aspect....the most classic tie in which sixties pop culture latched onto was certainly Alice, but those themes and motifs are present in the original book....Disney's animated version was made in 1951, well before the psychedelic explosion in pop culture and music. Certainly one can say all fairy tales have a touch of darkness to them, and some more than others....but the Disney animated tales toned down the death and torture aspects the Brothers Grimm among others included, and they never touched the most infamous children-in-peril tale, Hansel and Gretel. Good and interesting post, and thank your for your insights. Literary inspiration is certainly a certian point for the darker aspects coming to the park (i.e. Injun Joe's Cave), but the inclusion of such elements parkwide in earlier years is a seperate discussion, to my way of thinking.

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    Re: Mortality in Disneyland: A Discussion of Skeletons and Subtext

    Quote Originally Posted by techskip View Post
    Something to think about... the Jungle used to be a little more bloody when the Lion was actually eating a piece of Zebra...

    I think Disney has become more sensitive to the serious undertones of various attractions. Trader Sam lost his mask, and gained a baby elephant in an attempt to soften his image.
    Agreed...today's Disney kind of soft-pedals things and gears everything more towards children. The addition of Constance to HM is the exception rather than rule, and I am glad for that bit of black humor making it past corporate at least. Other than that, we have recently only Alien Encounter, a truly innovative but very ominous in tone attraction that was neutered and slapped with a popular character and burp jokes. But that's another issue...I doubt the Disney of today would make Pirates of the Caribbean or HM as they currently exist from scratch, with the level of darker gags or morbid touches.

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