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  1. #1

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    "Story" vs "Immersion and Imagination" - What works best for you?

    I was just looking at a framed set of 2 Disneyland Submarine Attraction posters that I recently purchased at Disneyland.


    The juxtaposition of these 2 images got me thinking about the way that Disney now presents attractions to it's guests.

    When Walt Disney was around, he believed in stimulating the imagination of his guests by immersing them in an environment that didn't necessarily tell them a story, but rather gave the tools to imagine a myriad of different ideas.

    Conversely, the attractions often being offered these days use a storyline to stimulate the guest, so consequently most folks walk off an attraction with the same experience.

    The original "Submarine Voyage" compared to the "Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage" is a good example of these two divergent views.

    Of course, there are numerous exceptions to this... Disneyland opened with several dark rides where the story had already been told via the silver screen. So, Walt and the Imagineers decided to immerse their guests in the attraction by using sets that were supposed to make the guest believe that they, the guests, were playing the roles of Alice, Peter Pan, Snow White and Mr. Toad. Unfortunately, this approach didn't work so well, and when Fantasyland was rehabbed in 1983 these characters were added in.

    When DCA opened in 2001, one of it's biggest hits was "Soarin' over California". The only story this ride used was to set the guest up with a short film in the queue, and then they were off, hang-gliding all over California. This attraction is quite successful with almost no story at all.

    So what do think? Are you more partial to one method compared to the other? If so, why?

    No wrong answers here folks... just different viewpoints! Have fun!!
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  2. #2

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    Re: "Story" vs "Immersion and Imagination" - What works best for you?

    There's always a story - beginning middle and end.

    Why do you end up at Disneyland at Christmas time with the fireworks going off? It's a grand finale.

    Similarly you sort of follow a course - you don't go back and forth from the beach to the desert to the beach to the desert, it's more of a journey.

    So even if you don't think something has a very detailed story, it has some structure to it, and that structure is the storyline.

  3. #3

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    Re: "Story" vs "Immersion and Imagination" - What works best for you?

    The stories used to be implied--the guest filled in the missing parts.

    Now they're overt--you get the story the imagineers want you to get.

    I prefer the former.

  4. #4

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    Re: "Story" vs "Immersion and Imagination" - What works best for you?

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve DeGaetano View Post
    Now they're overt--you get the story the imagineers want you to get.
    And even worse, due to years of this happening, guests expect to be spoon-fed this stuff rather than imagining it themselves.

    You're going to hate this, but demanding a more elaborate Fort Wilderness design is a perfect example of this...(Not referring to anyone specifically here, just so you know)

  5. #5

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    Re: "Story" vs "Immersion and Imagination" - What works best for you?

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve DeGaetano View Post
    The stories used to be implied--the guest filled in the missing parts.

    Now they're overt--you get the story the imagineers want you to get.

    I prefer the former.
    Agreed. And many times it is the same formula.

  6. #6

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    Re: "Story" vs "Immersion and Imagination" - What works best for you?

    I never knew there was a story line on most attractions.

    I'm none too bright.


    This has been a Filmways presentation dahling.

  7. #7

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    Re: "Story" vs "Immersion and Imagination" - What works best for you?

    Quote Originally Posted by DisneyIPresume View Post
    And even worse, due to years of this happening, guests expect to be spoon-fed this stuff rather than imagining it themselves.

    You're going to hate this, but demanding a more elaborate Fort Wilderness design is a perfect example of this...(Not referring to anyone specifically here, just so you know)
    The Fort's original design was about as simple as it could get: Logs. Hand-hewn, bark-on, pine logs. But I digress...

  8. #8

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    Re: "Story" vs "Immersion and Imagination" - What works best for you?

    I think Disney needs to be reminded that every ride doesn't necessarily need a detailed story. Some of Disney's most beloved rides (Pirates, HM, IASW) don't really tell a story. Since the Jack Sparrow additions to Pirates, the story has been solidified a bit but it is still not concrete. I read an interesting article on the Re-imaginnering blog awhile back concerning this same topic and it mentioned how the focus on story really came about under Eisner. It evens points out how many of Disney's rides of the past 2 decades essentially have the same story - either something or someone goes missing or something goes terribly wrong.

    It's interesting to compare the two posters. It's kind of funny how the sub in Nemo's poster is so much less prominent in the original poster smaller and the emphasis falls on the fish. It's appropriate since so much of the wonder and awe of the original subs was just the fact that you were riding a submarine exploring the ocean, whereas the new subs are entirely about Nemo and nothing else. The subs aren't even necessary to tell the story.

  9. #9

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    Re: "Story" vs "Immersion and Imagination" - What works best for you?

    Quote Originally Posted by Druggas View Post
    I never knew there was a story line on most attractions.

    I'm none too bright.
    I'm not sue "story line" is the right phrase.

    Every SOP (Standard Operating Procedure manual) for the trains I've come across has a section called "the story behind the story." This going back to the mid-1960s. So, even though one would be hard-pressed to find a "story line" on the trains, a "story" was taught to the CMs nonetheless.

    The train "story" was not so much a story as an explanation about why the trains were relevant. The "story behind the story" talks about Walt Disney's passion for trains, the Carolwood Pacific, the meaning of trains in history, discussions of the scenic elements along the line--all meant to provide a cohesive "experience."

    I suspect most attraction SOPs have a similarly-titled section.

    (One day maybe I'll reprint the story behind the story, either in a thread or an article).

  10. #10

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    Re: "Story" vs "Immersion and Imagination" - What works best for you?

    Of looking at the some of the posts, and trying to understand this, you are saying that back in the old days, Walt didn't necessarily try to tell a story, but rather presented a narrative of images so that you could use your imagination to "get" the story. I guess an example of this would be "Pirates of the Caribbean." In the attraction, there was no narrative, but rather a narrative of images, that would show what pirates do and the trouble they get into to. And the guests would use those images to get an idea about what the story would be (or create a story in thier head).

    It seems like to the people here that nowadays, they simply just retell the stories of their films a'la "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh." Instead of the guests thinking they are Winnie the Pooh, guests see Winnie the Pooh and go with him through his story. I did hear that back when Peter Pan was opened in 1955, they didn't have Peter Pan in the attraction. What they wanted to do was to make the guests think they were Peter Pan. It didn't work, so Peter Pan was added.

    For me, I personally prefer the former.

  11. #11

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    Re: "Story" vs "Immersion and Imagination" - What works best for you?

    Quote Originally Posted by CaliforniaAdventurer View Post
    There's always a story - beginning middle and end.

    Why do you end up at Disneyland at Christmas time with the fireworks going off? It's a grand finale.

    Similarly you sort of follow a course - you don't go back and forth from the beach to the desert to the beach to the desert, it's more of a journey.

    So even if you don't think something has a very detailed story, it has some structure to it, and that structure is the storyline.
    Actually, you're dead wrong.

    A story, by its definition and by all accords with narrative and storytelling requires the account, be it fictional or authentic, to follow a succession of events, instances, or situations in a cohesive, coherent narration with a beginning, a middle, and an end; its conclusion necessitating dual obligations:

    1) Leaving its audience with a theme, motive, canon, or maxim, which belies the theory that all story/narration/tale is conversational and thereby fluid; open for personal and intellectual interpretation.

    2) Reflecting or impacting the societal zeitgeist in which it was focused. By artistic definition, all tale, story, and narrative is refracting, meaning it relays common or derivative tones (social, political, economical, historical) and/or conveys intentional commentary on said topics.

    Sorry to tell you this CaliforniaAdventurer, but Soarin' is anything but a story.

    Circarama is 100% correct. Soarin' was designed as an immersing experience, a virtual slide show of California. Nowhere is a story conveyed to its audience. Unlike Golden Dreams, where the history of California as territory to a colony then a state is conveyed with considerable slant and taint, Soarin' is just a sequence of aerial shots. Nothing is said, implied, or relayed.

    Back to the question at hand, I agree with Circarama. Disney's talent at immersing its audience into scenes versus beating them over the head with a story (on half of its attractions) is somewhat of a dwindling art.

    As of late, even the more immersing attractions have been "re-story-ized." Pirates of the Caribbean now is a hunt for the savvy pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow, the fearsome Captain Barbosa hot on his trail.

    The Haunted Mansion too, has been revamped; introducing its guests to a house of horrors, once-and-still occupied by a murderous bride whose greed fueled the deaths of five of her husbands, their souls crossing through the ether at the call of a decapitated gypsy.

    Does Space Mountain, Big Thunder Railroad, or Matterhorn have a story to tell? Not really, only a scene that's laid out for the riders. SM puts guests in the middle of a floating space station while BTRR lands them in the middle of a boomtown gold claim that has been ravaged by earthquakes.

    Splash Mountain, on the other hand, is completely story-driven, from beginning to end. We have a tale of a naive rabbit leaving the safety of home to explore the untamed world outside of its own only to fall into the hands of would-be murders (and consumers).

    Only to outsmart his captors and free himself and return home; the final message being that the grass is no different shade of green than your own, and usually that grass is dangerous (read: contentment in lieu of adventure and personal discovery). While I don't personally agree with the theme of Splash Mountain, there's no arguing its heavy-handed storytelling.

    Then the question becomes relevant: Is the art of immersion versus storytelling dead in attractions? I say no. While Tower of Terror establishes that the hotel is cursed/haunted/a gateway to another dimension, there is no real conclusion to the attraction's tale. The five guests are still trapped in the Twilight Zone, you're free to go home, and the hotel is still a wreck, unlike Pinocchio's Daring Journey, where the conclusion is very different from its commencement.

    Immersion is still alive and well, but Immagineers can't tell if enthusiasts such as us can really tell the difference and appreciate it.

  12. #12

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    Re: "Story" vs "Immersion and Imagination" - What works best for you?

    Weird, I've been meaning to get around to start a thread similar to this.

    I'm disturbed with the growing "story" trend in Imagineering that began with Tony Baxter's Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in the 70s and pushed even harder by Eisner in the 80s. Because of "story," Imagineeering has mostly abandoned the ways of WED's immensely popular "experience rides."

    I was recently reading through Jason Surrell's new book, The Disney Mountains: Imagineering at its Peak and it details how Tony Baxter's Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was the beginning of present-day story-based Imagineering.

    Tony Baxter is perhaps single-handedly responsible for the demise of attractions like The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Matterhorn Bobsleds, or the Disneyland Railroad that don't rely on story to carry the attraction. These attractions rely heavily on the experience they offer, and not on a story being told to guests.

    I think that some of Imagineering's recent story-based projects are surely exceptional hits. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is great. Indiana Jones Adventure benefits greatly from the story it offers. And Star Tours benefits from its story as well, even if thematically it is somewhat questionable.

    Yet, sometimes WED-style "experience rides" are better fits. Surely, the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage could have been a bigger success if it didn't try to impose a story upon itself and its riders. And is the supposed "Space Station 77" storyline for Space Mountain entirely necessary? And the addition of a story to Pirates has changed the attraction forever.

    What I find disturbing about all of this is the revisionist history that present-day Imagineers are feeding to the public. With every new attraction, Tony Baxter or some other Imagineer tells us that every attraction has a rich story for guests to experience and that it is life-long tradition for Disney to do this. It's simply untrue. Tony created this tradition, and in some cases its worked beautifully... but in others not so much.

    It's important for Imagineering to revisit a little Marc Davis quote from 1969, otherwise, we run the risk of being fed more and more stories that simply are unnecessary or poorly concieved:

    "We don't have a story, with a beginning, an end, or a plot. It's more of a series of experiences building up to a climax. I call them experience rides."
    - Marc Davis

    Some really good further reading on this can be found at the Re-Imagineering Blog:
    The Myth of Story (November 25, 2006)
    One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing! (April 30, 2007)
    Last edited by MasterGracey; 09-26-2007 at 01:39 PM.

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  13. #13

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    Re: "Story" vs "Immersion and Imagination" - What works best for you?

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve DeGaetano View Post
    The stories used to be implied--the guest filled in the missing parts.

    Now they're overt--you get the story the imagineers want you to get.

    I prefer the former.


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  14. #14

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    Re: "Story" vs "Immersion and Imagination" - What works best for you?

    I dislike the story part of Nemo. We've seen the movie, we know the story, and I think it would have been immensely better as an experience ride, not a story ride.

    Splash works as a story ride. Pirates- better as an experience, not the story. Haunted Mansion- could go either way; the bride really only comes into play in the attic, so it's some of each kind of ride.


    In general I prefer experience rides. I can make up my own stories, and I really really dislike the spoonfeeding that seems to be increasing in society over the last few years. Kids can't just play and make up their own stories- they're given stories; movies hand-feed us the plot; where did our imagination go?
    I pledge allegiance to the Earth, one planet, many gods, and to the universe in which she spins.

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    Re: "Story" vs "Immersion and Imagination" - What works best for you?

    Quote Originally Posted by alphabassetgrrl View Post
    In general I prefer experience rides. I can make up my own stories, and I really really dislike the spoonfeeding that seems to be increasing in society over the last few years. Kids can't just play and make up their own stories- they're given stories; movies hand-feed us the plot; where did our imagination go?
    I totally agree with this one. My son is an only child and so making up stuff comes naturally for him. He can entertain himself a lot easier than other kids can. It is so funny. We will be in line for Space Mountain, and he'll have his hand cupped on his face, saying things like, "Check the rocket launchers... The laser hatches are shut...." all by himself. When I ask him what he was doing, he tells me, "Playing Space Mountain."

    Ask Tikiroomliz -- she got to witness my son turn into a pirate on the Columbia!

    But unfortunately for a lot of kids imaginative play just isn't what it used to be. And too bad Disney seems to be catering to this rather than teaching kids just how to imagine...

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