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  1. #1

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    Theming - What Can We Agree Upon?

    As I'm sure you all have noticed - and almost certainly have very strong opinions about - theming is a contentious point among us all. It's unavoidable, in my view: something that is so integral to both the way Walt separated himself from the 'amusement park' crowd, and to how the company moves forward with increasingly well-themed competitors. It's very natural to have a strong opinion about what essentially is the heart and soul of the parks.

    Of course, sometimes we feel that things aren't going as they should.

    I suppose what I mean is that often we feel the ideals of 'theme' are not being followed. And this can be at many levels of the parks - from small installations of parade lights to the situation of entire lands with their neighbors. Perhaps some recent examples (although certainly not the only ones):

    -The aforementioned parade lighting situation (still in progress) on BVS.
    -The addition of 'a bugs land' in a California-themed park.
    -The placement of the British Victorian 'Jolly Holiday Bakery' to the end of Main Street.
    -And many others that I'm certain we could all debate about until Sleeping Beauty Castle crumbles away into dust.

    However, these are only examples. I'm not interested in particular points of contention - what I'm more interested in is the rationalization behind the different sides in these debates. We have different views on 'theme', what it means, and what it should be, and when it is broken.

    What I want to know is: Can we all agree on some basic 'rules' of theme with which to facilitate discourse?

    And it's not like these should be iron laws, or anything. But simply a set of basic ideals that we, the members of this and other boards, can agree upon. A framework with which we can say 'This is breaking theme'. Because there seems to be a whole lot of differing opinions that we all have regarding what that means.

    I would like us all to work together to create this framework. I think we could fairly easily come up with oodles of rules and things, but I think we should limit it to 5 - 10 ideals or rules of theme.

    What are yours? I will update this first post with the most readily agreed upon rules. Hopefully, by the end of the thread we can reach a better understanding of what exactly constitutes 'breaking theme'.

    Thank you for your time.

    UPDATE

    The following represents ideals or points that have a reached a fairly large level of consensus, and are thus presented here for your consideration:

    Firstly, the following can help define the sides of this topic for future debates - There are two essentially irreconcilable camps in this debate: those that believe in the areas and lands as 'actual places' - and those that believe in the areas as a framework for similarly-themed attractions to exist in for a pleasing aesthetic.

    And now, on to the 'rules' or 'ideals':

    1) If something convincingly envelops you, the rider, in a fantasy or 'historical' environment (a haunted house, a ransacked Caribbean town overtaken by pirates, a lost temple in India circa 1930, etc) then it is well-themed.

    2) Theming is important on many levels - from 'overall atmosphere' to 'smallest detail'. If one of the levels is missing, it may not break the theming of the attraction or land, but it will be noticeable. An attraction or area that is missing one of the levels is noticeably less themed than one that has attention applied all the way through.
    Last edited by 0ranos; 10-23-2011 at 12:23 PM.
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  2. #2

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    Re: Theming - What Can We Agree Upon?

    Quote Originally Posted by 0ranos View Post
    What I want to know is: Can we all agree on some basic 'rules' of theme with which to facilitate discourse?
    No, and I'll tell you why. It comes down to the fact that Walt broke theming whenever it suited him, but the theme-worhippers here continually ignore that fact.

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    Re: Theming - What Can We Agree Upon?

    I'm open to minor theme breaking that works within reason but I'm not without my gripes. This is not a DLR example but I went nuts during that thankfully temporary time when the Caribbean Beach Resort had "Finding Nemo" themed rooms. Seriously, "Finding Nemo" clearly takes place in the Pacific and clown fish don't even exist in the Caribbean. That drove me crazy until the new Animation hotel was planned and thankfully the "Finding Nemo" rooms started pulling out.

    Now Carsland I know has become a bit of debate. But since it doesn't make it painfully obvious that Radiator Springs is not located in California (it's still up for debate), it could still work as a land in California Adventure due to its car and Route 66 culture. A Bug's Land seems less significant to a California themed park than it was when it was associated with Bountiful Valley Farm.
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    Re: Theming - What Can We Agree Upon?

    A good thread and a well written OP! IMO one of the "rules of theme" should be to disallow the "but officer, everyone else was speeding" defense: the frequently claimed justification for the Eisger Regime's misuse of theme that other mis-theming was done in the past (especially by Walt). A specious argument at best, and in any case irrelevant to the here and now.
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  5. #5

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    Re: Theming - What Can We Agree Upon?

    A general rule: if something convincingly envelops you, the rider, in a fantasy or 'historical' environment (a haunted house, a ransacked Caribbean town overtaken by pirates, a lost temple in India circa 1930, etc) then it is well-themed, regardless of larger location (though matching the larger location also makes such stronger).

  6. #6

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    Re: Theming - What Can We Agree Upon?

    Quote Originally Posted by RegionsBeyond View Post
    A general rule: if something convincingly envelops you, the rider, in a fantasy or 'historical' environment (a haunted house, a ransacked Caribbean town overtaken by pirates, a lost temple in India circa 1930, etc) then it is well-themed, regardless of larger location (though matching the larger location also makes such stronger).
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  7. #7

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    Re: Theming - What Can We Agree Upon?

    Quote Originally Posted by RiversOfAmerica View Post
    No, and I'll tell you why. It comes down to the fact that Walt broke theming whenever it suited him, but the theme-worhippers here continually ignore that fact.
    That's because Walt broke theme in such an impressive way it really didn't matter much......the current powers that be break theme too often, too bluntly, and in a style that can only be described as -lame-
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    Re: Theming - What Can We Agree Upon?

    Quote Originally Posted by sleepyjeff View Post
    That's because Walt broke theme in such an impressive way it really didn't matter much......the current powers that be break theme too often, too bluntly, and in a style that can only be described as -lame-
    That's true. Sometimes it's worth it to break a little bit of theme, other times it's just lazy.
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  9. #9

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    Re: Theming - What Can We Agree Upon?

    As for when breaking theme is not okay, when it has gone to far, and when the theme is gone and dissolved and we are "breaking theme"....I think there is only one rule, to quote the infamous Justice Stewart on Pornography, "I know it when I see it..."

  10. #10

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    Re: Theming - What Can We Agree Upon?

    I feel kids birthday parties are the most well themed events ever because parents really care about it and want to take the pains to please the main person. It's about caring that something planned is important and no corners are cut. The building of such is that every detail is important. If there are problems, every effort is conducted to smooth out the problem and maybe improved. Then the party arrives and it seemed as if the planning by the parents was effortless. Everything went smoothly.
    Up to about the mid 90s, that was Disneyland. Theming returned around '05.

  11. #11

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    Re: Theming - What Can We Agree Upon?

    I think we can agree that execution is what matters. This rests on the shoulders of the designer(s). A great designer can take disparate locales and properties and create a compelling wider themed environment: Adventurelands in Paris & Anaheim are good examples of this.

    A really skilled designer can take an out-of-theme property and make it work in the wider environment's context, such as Turtle Talk in DisneySea's American Waterfront.

    But we've seen many (far too many) times when the wider environment has been ignored (e.g. Buzz Lightyear in Paris' Discoveryland) to the detriment of the overall compelling nature of the land, and by extension, the park, regardless of the ride's individual popularity.

    Thematic coherency in parks follows the "rivets in an airplane" analogy. You can lose a few rivets (break theme) and the plane remains airborne, but keep losing them and eventually it falls from the sky... a theme park becomes an amusement park.

    ---------- Post added 10-22-2011 at 09:32 PM ----------

    Quote Originally Posted by RiversOfAmerica View Post
    No, and I'll tell you why. It comes down to the fact that Walt broke theming whenever it suited him, but the theme-worhippers here continually ignore that fact.
    I feel like the art of theme park design has continued to improve and be refined since Walt's death (the art of theme park operations (e.g. Merchandise, dining, entertainment) is another story). I don't think breaking theme via design, entertainment or merchandise - whether by Walt, Rasulo, or anyone else - is the way to create the most compelling experience.
    Last edited by RandySavage; 10-22-2011 at 09:42 PM.

  12. #12

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    Re: Theming - What Can We Agree Upon?

    Disneyland was never built to have rules.....yes yes don't have Spacemen in Frontierland we get that.........but many times have the parks (for the better) changed the theme of lands...such as Small World (not even close to the same thing as the other rides in the land) along with Matterhorn....Adventureland changed what time period it was in when Indy was built....Bear Country became Critter Country.....and stuff like the Princess Fair moving to where it used to be Main Street at some point...and Mary Poppins Bakery are nothing I fear.

    DCA is a good example of how things can get much MUCH better if you allow the theme to change fro the beginning mold

  13. #13

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    Re: Theming - What Can We Agree Upon?

    Quote Originally Posted by RegionsBeyond View Post
    A general rule: if something convincingly envelops you, the rider, in a fantasy or 'historical' environment (a haunted house, a ransacked Caribbean town overtaken by pirates, a lost temple in India circa 1930, etc) then it is well-themed, regardless of larger location (though matching the larger location also makes such stronger).
    YES.

    Disneyland's magic requires willing suspension of disbelief. If the atmosphere has managed to envelop you and charm you, Disney has done its job, IMHO.

    Is that always going to be historically or scientifically accurate? No. Absolutely not. Just like the clownfish in Nemo. And someone might point out that real mice don't look like Mickey, real elephants don't fly and teacups really aren't large enough to ride in. A real American town in 1900 might have child labor, segregation and citizens who bathed once a week...100% faithful recreation isn't always everything.

    It's about creating an overall atmosphere, and that can be seen in everything from the cast members' costumes to the superficial decor. If you look around the new Little Mermaid ride, for instance, the railings have bronze sea urchins, there are shells in the floor, etc. That's good theming. With the Jolly Holiday bakery, it's all Victorian, and that DOES fit the theme of Main Street. Is it English and not American? Maybe they're immigrants. Maybe they're simply folks who had a fascination with England--as a lot of American people did at the time. If they'd made the bakery a recreation of Carnaby Street in the 60s, well, then perhaps it wouldn't fit in.

    At the end of the day I think it's hard to get any real consensus. Everyone has their own ideas about what belongs and what does not belong.

  14. #14

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    Re: Theming - What Can We Agree Upon?

    What can we agree upon? Sadly, very little. I've realized the very nature of theme has been polarized between two groups of DL fans. More and more I believe it's a generation gap between the young'uns and those whose memories extend beyond the Pre$$ler years.

    The older generation wants to believe in the lands as actual places. This is how the Park was originally designed and intended. Main Street was not meant to "represent" a small American town; it was meant to be a small American town, albeit idealized. Suspension of disbelief was vital to the illusion. The attractions in each land grew organically from the land itself. To the younger set, "theme" means "a group of rides w/ something in common." The lands do not represent actual places, but simply a way to tie those rides together.

    There's really no way to reconcile these two schools of thought. There's the world building side and the "as long as it's a fun ride" side and they shall never meet on the Twain.
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    Re: Theming - What Can We Agree Upon?

    I'm of the old school that believes that lands within the park are actual places. And that the overall feeling of being in a specific place is important. I would be one that would argue at the meetings for much stricter adherence to a land's theme.

    I would have never allowed Star Wars to be represented in Tomorrowland, since Star Wars takes place in the past. I would not have agreed to locate Fantasmic! where it is, nor would I have allowed the Pirates on Tom Sawyer Island. I don't think the Matterhorn qualifies to be in either Tomorrowland or Fantasyland. I wouldn't list it under either.

    I think it's a small world fits well with Fantasyland because its message of peace, unity and harmony is utter fantasy. The Disneyland Railroad making an appearance in Tomorrowland is an anachronism, but what can you do about it? The time difference for Indiana Jones vs. Adventureland doesn't bother me, I think that's the most appropriate land for that attraction. Even the Pooh ride in Critter Country doesn't bother me, I just regret that it's not Pooh's Hunny Hunt. The retro re-theming of Tomorrowland in 1998 was a colossal mistake; they should have just kept the sleek Populuxe city-of-the-future look.

    Each land should be a theme park in and of itself, with a single unifying theme, and the attractions, shops, restaurants and shows should all reflect that theme and I'd be strict about that. Land-specific merchandise, even attraction-specific. Land-specific food and drink specialties. Cast member costumes, signage, landscaping, all the little details should conform to that land's overriding theme. You should have a sense of being at a specific place, not just being in Disneyland. Everything should reinforce the land's theme. When in New Orleans Square, for example, you should be so immersed that you forget Space Mountain even exists.

    Maybe lands and theming are not important to the video-game-generation. But I think it's risky to discount theming. Those who would doubt that the total environment of a land, and a sense of a land being "a specific place" is important only need to take a look at the huge success of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

    Unfortnately, Frontierland and Tomorrowland have both lost their sense of place and both need new master plans to restore it. The immersiveness of the land itself needs to be restored in both of those. This is equally important in my mind as adding new attractions is. The park designers need to remember that "the park is the ride."

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