A Quick Note: Disney Immersion
Boardwalk Times Ryan Dorman opens the discussion on Disney’s recent efforts of immersion in the parks.
Recently, immersion and consistency in the Disney theme parks has been sacrificed for more productive, economically viable design choices. In fact, the most recent developments in both American Disney parks have identified the mentalities that WDI employs when making decisions regarding what to place and how to do so.
One such example of design ineptitude is evident in the most recent attraction to open in Disney’s California Adventure, Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout. Negating the failure to replicate the intricacies of most other WDI attractions, the fact that DCA had been through years of overhaul in an effort to bridge the theming bridge between Buena Vista Street and Hollywood Land really puts this addition into perspective. The Red Trolley that peruses the front of the park into the leftmost area was developed to essentially bridge the two themes in one cohesive blend, with the Hollywood Tower standing as both retro Californian Architecture and a symbol of the Hollywood culture.
Yet, it’s hard to believe that the same company who designed the back face of WDW’s Tower of Terror in a manner that it would blend with the Morocco pavilion at Epcot would commit such a crime of non-immersive design, that being the change of DCA’s Tower of Terror’s facade to that of Mission: Breakout. Gone are the stylings of 1920’s California in favor of a bland, green(ish) color palette with multicolored pipes and assorted absurdities. Consistency in thematic design was lost, and to note that it stands out like a sore thumb would be an understatement.
Not only does is this one of the most impactful failures by WDI, it stands at a stark contrast to multiple other projects, even ones in Disney’s California Adventure itself.
In 2001, during the opening of California Adventure, Disney unveiled one of the most influential attractions in their history, Soarin’ Over California. Using a simple but intuitive ride vehicle with multiple theaters allowed WDI to capture the feeling of flying while minimizing wait times that plagued most theatrical attractions. Quickly, this attraction garnered immense support, cementing it as a key part of Disney Parks itself.
But what should be noted is the theming of the area, and how it supported such a revolutionary attraction. During a time in DCA’s history in which a lack of a centralized idea provided nearly nothing in terms of consistency in the park, Condor Flats, stood high amongst its counterparts.
Based off of aeronautics and assorted aerial history, Condor Flats attempted to provide a rough but nostalgic look into the golden era of air travel, defining itself using sheet metal and assorted constructional archetypes of design.
Lined on the pathway is a runway of sorts, generating the connections to air travel right off the bat upon entering the area through the main street of sorts. Guests continue down this path, simulating the experience of an airplane (subconsciously at the very least), happening upon a giant airplane exhaust port held by a multitude of steel levers and assorted industrial motifs. The area was built to simulate the feelings of the attraction Soarin’, all the way down to the very basis of flight.
Taste Pilots Grill was simply a quick service joint that, while offering very little in terms of fine dining, matched the direction Imagineers had hoped the area would lead to. The same can be said for the nearby gift shop Fly’n Buy, mimicking tchotchke stores frequented by tourists.
Apparently, this wasn’t enough. The masterful theming that connected Soarin’ to an immersive land seemed to lack the cohesive nature that Disney Parks often hold. Change in a Disney Park often comes with vitriol and a general distaste for the mindset of engineers. However, it’s extremely important to analyze past successes and modern improvements in order to maintain faith in WDI. Such is Grizzly Peak Airfield, an example redefining an argument for constant change.
In 2015, Grizzly Peak Airfield was opened to the public to coincide with the future release of Soarin’ Around the World. This new attraction demanded change, and clearly the best way to do so was to further develop a unified theme park.
See, the adjacent land to Condor Flats was Grizzly Peak, containing little more than wilderness and a mountain in the shape of a Grizzly Bear. But as years went on, the introduction of Grizzly River Run and the popularity of the Grand Californian as a backdrop to the redwood forests of Grizzly Peak necessitated expansion. The unified theme of wilderness clashed with the mechanical and gritty theming of Condor Flats, leading to the closure and replacement of said themed area.
Simply looking at pictures fails to encapsulate the feeling of warmth and wilderness that Grizzly Peak Airfield manages to develop. The natural colors, reminiscent of the natural parks system match perfectly with the motif of the Grand Californian, extending the theming further into the park. California Adventure begins to feel more like California, relying on realistic parts of the Californian life and designing a theme park around it was the original meaning behind DCA, and realizing such potential is a cornerstone in the Grizzly Airfield Mindset.
Change is not necessarily a bad thing, in fact it can take a new idea and push it into timeless glory. It’s extremely important that we as a community allow change to flourish and blossom in a manner that promotes the modernism of design while maintaining the integrity of WDI’s past. Questioning decisions is not a bad thing by any means, but a general fear towards any change whatsoever reap negative effects. Standing against GotG Mission: Breakout is by no means unwarranted, but the attraction should not be used as a litmus test for further productivity of the brand. The future possibilities are endless, limitless, and are in the hands of Walt Disney Imagineering. From here, we can only wait and see what the next marvel or mishap will be, and learn from whatever we can.
Ryan Dorman is a Columnist for the Boardwalk Times.