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  1. #1

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    On Theme and the Erosion Thereof

    (Yeah, this post won't be controversial )


    I've been doing a lot of thinking recently about the purported erosion/destruction of theming around the park. Sure it's been rather obvious lately what with Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, A Bug's Land, Pirate's Lair at Tom Sawyer Island, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, etc., but hasn't there always been some sort of that crossing of themes/not quite in theme experience at Disneyland? Consider, for example, the Matterhorn. When the Matterhorn opened it was in Tomorrowland. There's nothing especially "tomorrow" about bobsledding down a mountain. Later it was moved to Fantasyland, and until the addition of the (geographically inaccurate) Yeti to the attraction, there's nothing especially fantastical about it either. The Matterhorn generally gets a pass, though, because its a classic attraction and very enjoyable, as well as being very popular throughout the years.

    Moving over a few feet into Tomorrowland, we look at the flying saucers. Flying saucers weren't particularly futuristic, either, but rather were tied into popular science fiction and space fantasy social imaginaries of the time. Sure, people associate space aliens and flying saucers with the future, but it's not a possible future, it's a fantasy future. Remaining in Tomorrowland, let's look at the Autopia, which has never really fit in my mind as especially tomorrow either, though in 1955 it was touting the advent of widespread freeways, it was a very close goal. Ditto with the original Submarine Voyage. Nuclear powered submarines were real at the time the attraction was created. Toss in the inclusion of mermaids and sea serpents and you've got a little bit of the fantastic in the ride.

    Using the Autopia as a bridge, we move over into Fantasyland and the now defunct Fantasyland Autopia. What does driving a car have to do with Fantasyland? Moving further over into Frontierland, we don't find much that's misthemed in the past. The anthropomorphic cacti in the Rainbow Ridge Mule/Mine Train/Through Nature's Wonderland are pushing it a little, but I chalk that up to a little bit of whimsy.

    Traveling into Adventureland we come across some more problems. Originally Adventureland was to be based on true-life adventures. In other words anything in adventureland was at least supposed to be within the realm of possibility. The Jungle Cruise was very much possible and rather realistic for the animatronic technology of the time. The Swiss Family Robinson Tree House was also realistically presented as being within the realm of possibility. However, with the inclusion of the Tiki Room, that theme began to fall by the wayside a bit. There's not much true-to-life about talking tiki birds unless you're doing lots of acid. And of course later we have additions such as the Indiana Jones Adventure and Tarzan's Treehouse stretching the bounds of reality again, but those come much much later and this post is dealing with early Disneyland.

    Passing into New Orleans Square we have a bit of a juxtaposition of eras, though it's been my contention that New Orleans Square has never represented a particular time period. It's true the buildings are styled after 19th-century Bourbon Street style buildings, but since almost the beginning of the land jazz music has been featured there, which did not exist in the 1860s. Moving finally into Bear Country, what do the Davey Crocket Explorer Canoes have to do with Bear Country? They still don't make sense in Critter Country.

    And I'll close with Main Street. Main Street has lost a lot of its theming over the years, starting with all the real businesses such as the pharmacy, corset shop and bank. I attribute those to necessity, because like I said, how many people would go to Disneyland to get a prescription filled? I think that was one part of Walt's dream that was ultimately impractical and doomed to an early grave. However, I think Main Street remains one of the better themed areas of the park to this day despite some infrastructure changes and the addition of light towers, etc. I overlook those and allow myself to be immersed in the aura of the past.

    I welcome any addition to this discussion. I just felt that this was an important thing to discuss. I look forward to hearing from you, particularly Steve, PragmaticIdealist and fo'c's'le swab. Anyone else is welcome to butt in, of course.

    EDIT EDIT EDIT: I am not equating past episodes of mistheming with the current bout of weird theming such as PLaTSI and Monsters, Inc. Just having a discussion.
    Last edited by BassBone; 06-12-2007 at 04:14 PM.
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  2. #2

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    Re: On Theme and the Erosion Thereof

    I think it's a good point to bring up. Everyone blames new management for themes starting to fade away, or become crossed, yet it happened in walts time aswell...






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    Re: On Theme and the Erosion Thereof

    Wait, a thread about Themeing the park, wheres the Swab

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    Re: On Theme and the Erosion Thereof

    Quote Originally Posted by BassBone View Post
    Later it was moved to Fantasyland, and until the addition of the (geographically inaccurate) Yeti to the attraction, there's nothing especially fantastical about it either. The Matterhorn generally gets a pass, though, because its a classic attraction and very enjoyable, as well as being very popular throughout the years.
    Of topic but is fantastical a word, I think you mean Fantastic, Just givin you a hard time BassBone, excelent thread

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    Re: On Theme and the Erosion Thereof

    Quote Originally Posted by 1disneynut2another View Post
    Of topic but is fantastical a word, I think you mean Fantastic, Just givin you a hard time BassBone, excelent thread
    I like fantastical. :-P
    Quote Originally Posted by dictionary.com
    ]fan·tas·tic/fænˈtæstɪk/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[fan-tas-tik] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation –adjective 1.conceived or appearing as if conceived by an unrestrained imagination; odd and remarkable; bizarre; grotesque: fantastic rock formations; fantastic designs. 2.fanciful or capricious, as persons or their ideas or actions: We never know what that fantastic creature will say next. 3.imaginary or groundless in not being based on reality; foolish or irrational: fantastic fears. 4.extravagantly fanciful; marvelous. 5.incredibly great or extreme; exorbitant: to spend fantastic sums of money. 6.highly unrealistic or impractical; outlandish: a fantastic scheme to make a million dollars betting on horse races. 7.Informal. extraordinarily good: a fantastic musical.
    Also, fan·tas·ti·cal.


    So there :P
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    Re: On Theme and the Erosion Thereof

    Quote Originally Posted by BassBone View Post
    I like fantastical. :-P


    So there :P
    I was just being Sarcastical

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    Re: On Theme and the Erosion Thereof

    Quote Originally Posted by 1disneynut2another View Post
    I was just being Sarcastical
    Har har har. Seriously, let's stay on topic. This interests me... Plus I spent a long time writing it.
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    Re: On Theme and the Erosion Thereof

    We'll get around to this one tomorrow. It's late here on the East Coast.

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    Re: On Theme and the Erosion Thereof

    I think the Tiki Room gets a pass because Walt allowed it. This is an excellent thread, by the way.

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    Re: On Theme and the Erosion Thereof

    I'll dare say that the original concept of themed lands is limiting, but certainly better than different types of attractions scattered haphazardly.

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    Re: On Theme and the Erosion Thereof

    Well, since you asked...

    I'm in almost full agreement with you, BB. While I generally side with Steve, Swab, and the other thematic champions, I agree with you that we must resist the temptation to outWalt Walt himself as thematic purists. To do so leaves your argument needlessly vulnerable to the kettle frogs. When people argue that the original Subs were thematically TL, I get nervous. When they do the same for the bobsleds (yes, I've seen it...somewhere), I start to leave the room. As the Hatter says, "Let's not be silly."

    Everyone knows there wasn't enough money when TL was built, so Walt settled for 20K Leagues movie sets in TL. But when the money began to roll in, we got the 1959 TL additions (Subs, Mono's, Motorboats, Sleds), only one of which is clearly TL-themed, in my opinion.

    But for all the agreement, some of your examples won't stand up, BB. The anthropomorphic cacti are like the mermaids and seaserpent: we are explicitly invited to interpret them as hallucinations, thus saving the realistic theming. Desert sun getting to us? Cabin pressure off? (They call that "whimsy.")

    Adventureland has no thematic violations. None. The Tiki Room is the Enchanted Tiki Room, and we are carefully set up for it by the pre-show. The south-sea Tiki gods are at work in this place, and so an otherwise inexplicable display of supernaturalism is carefully explained. ("Here in this land of enchantment I appear before you as a mighty tree....Oh mystic powers, hear my call....") They even ease you into it by having the parrots talk first. Parrots can talk, so we're being led by the hand to accept strange sights and sounds, bit by bit. Indiana Jones is similar: the message is, "Out in the exotic wilds, strange forces may be at work, things we Westerners poorly understand. Not just leopards and rhinos out there: Voodoo and witchdoctors too.") The much-maligned Tarzan Tree House is a failure of execution, not theme. You're too close to fake-looking plastic statues of fictional characters. But Huck and Tom are fictional too. There are plastic statues in the Jungle Cruise too. If they had made it Tarzan's tree house, but left the character figures out, I'd have no problem with it from a thematic point of view.

    Other thematic violations: Lincoln is too early for 1900's Main Street. The station announcer droning "...annnnd Primeeeeval Worrrrrld. Booooaaard!"

    The trick is not to go for absolute thematic purity. Walt himself didn't shoot for that. The trick is to get things to fit at an instinctive, feels-right level and not worry too much beyond that. The Matterhorn fits Fantasyland because, well, Swiss clocks and alpine yodellers seem fairy-talish, like they walked out of Pinocchio. And what EXACTLY is Fantasylandish about IASW? It's a hymn for world peace done with dolls.

    I hate to give ammo to the frogs, when good, consistent theming is clearly on the decline and needs to be shored-up. But overstating the case ultimately undercuts your credibility.

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    Re: On Theme and the Erosion Thereof

    Very good points BassBone and well thought out. I would say that it probably is best to state that when a new ride is going to be built in the park, it's not so much which land it fits into, but more which land does it fit into the best.
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    Re: On Theme and the Erosion Thereof

    I agree that themes were stretched a bit in the past...but at least they weren't outright ignored as they seem to be now.

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    Re: On Theme and the Erosion Thereof

    Quote Originally Posted by HBG2 View Post
    Well, since you asked...

    I'm in almost full agreement with you, BB. While I generally side with Steve, Swab, and the other thematic champions, I agree with you that we must resist the temptation to outWalt Walt himself as thematic purists. To do so leaves your argument needlessly vulnerable to the kettle frogs. When people argue that the original Subs were thematically TL, I get nervous. When they do the same for the bobsleds (yes, I've seen it...somewhere), I start to leave the room. As the Hatter says, "Let's not be silly."
    Bobsleds the transportation of tomorrow?

    Quote Originally Posted by HBG2
    Everyone knows there wasn't enough money when TL was built, so Walt settled for 20K Leagues movie sets in TL. But when the money began to roll in, we got the 1959 TL additions (Subs, Mono's, Motorboats, Sleds), only one of which is clearly TL-themed, in my opinion.

    But for all the agreement, some of your examples won't stand up, BB. The anthropomorphic cacti are like the mermaids and seaserpent: we are explicitly invited to interpret them as hallucinations, thus saving the realistic theming. Desert sun getting to us? Cabin pressure off? (They call that "whimsy.")
    We are invited to interpret them as hallucinations, yes, but the undertone of them (at least for the sea serpent, I am too young to have gone on the Mine Train) is that they are actually there. The captain of the submarine says "No one would believe us anyway" as if he believes that a sea serpent is actually there and is coming up with the "submerged too long" explanation in order to salvage his own frail sanity. Yes, the serpent is whimsical, but it's presented as if it's actually there while the hallucination explanation is intended to gloss over it.

    Quote Originally Posted by HBG2
    Adventureland has no thematic violations. None. The Tiki Room is the Enchanted Tiki Room, and we are carefully set up for it by the pre-show. The south-sea Tiki gods are at work in this place, and so an otherwise inexplicable display of supernaturalism is carefully explained. ("Here in this land of enchantment I appear before you as a mighty tree....Oh mystic powers, hear my call....") They even ease you into it by having the parrots talk first. Parrots can talk, so we're being led by the hand to accept strange sights and sounds, bit by bit. Indiana Jones is similar: the message is, "Out in the exotic wilds, strange forces may be at work, things we Westerners poorly understand. Not just leopards and rhinos out there: Voodoo and witchdoctors too.") The much-maligned Tarzan Tree House is a failure of execution, not theme. You're too close to fake-looking plastic statues of fictional characters. But Huck and Tom are fictional too. There are plastic statues in the Jungle Cruise too. If they had made it Tarzan's tree house, but left the character figures out, I'd have no problem with it from a thematic point of view.
    So what you're saying is that the tiki room is presented as a true-life adventure because it eases you into it? I don't agree with that. I believe Adventureland as it stands now is well themed now. My argument is that the theme has evolved from what it was. As for the plastic figures in the Jungle Cruise, skipper jokes aside, they're presented as real animals, not plastic figures.

    Quote Originally Posted by HBG2
    Other thematic violations: Lincoln is too early for 1900's Main Street. The station announcer droning "...annnnd Primeeeeval Worrrrrld. Booooaaard!"

    The trick is not to go for absolute thematic purity. Walt himself didn't shoot for that. The trick is to get things to fit at an instinctive, feels-right level and not worry too much beyond that. The Matterhorn fits Fantasyland because, well, Swiss clocks and alpine yodellers seem fairy-talish, like they walked out of Pinocchio. And what EXACTLY is Fantasylandish about IASW? It's a hymn for world peace done with dolls.

    I hate to give ammo to the frogs, when good, consistent theming is clearly on the decline and needs to be shored-up. But overstating the case ultimately undercuts your credibility.
    World peace? That's not a fantasy to you? I wasn't really trying to disprove the current decline of theming, which I believe exists, I was just trying to illustrate that the germ of such a trend was very early in the existence of Disneyland. That it continues at a higher rate now is definitely cause for concern. However I think some new attractions are not thematically inconsistent, such as the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. It's as thematically consistent as the original Submarine Voyage. I'll save my spoiler-filled explanation for later, if someone wants to hear it. Also some things that seem thematically inconsistent aren't if looked at in the correct light. A Bug's Land, for example, could be brought thematically in line with its surroundings if it were presented as the denizens of a California farm. Some of that exists in the area already. It wouldn't take much to complete the theme in the land itself.

    Quote Originally Posted by DLandFansAZ View Post
    Very good points BassBone and well thought out. I would say that it probably is best to state that when a new ride is going to be built in the park, it's not so much which land it fits into, but more which land does it fit into the best.
    And that's the other half of my point. Sometimes things don't fit anywhere else. Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, for instance, doesn't seem to go anywhere else. It could fit into the Tomorrowland theme (at least the space fantasy aspect of it) if it tried, if it weren't the toy instead of the character.
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    Re: On Theme and the Erosion Thereof

    Great thread Bassbone,

    While Walt had great vision for what he was trying to create, there was always some question as to what fit where. Nearly impossible to fit everything perfectly while making the masses content.

    Chad

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