Belated birthday greetings to Mr. Drastik who turned the huge Three-Oh this weekend. To celebrate, we made like tourists and went to a theme park. Disney to be exact. I will affirm the truth in all those ads that you too can be granted no-nonsense free admission on your birthday.
It’s been a long time since we’d been there. Not since my teenage years as the Swiss Miss of Fantasyland food service. Naturally, as my first job and young age, history demands that I wear a humiliating costume when I serve people hamburgers. Not much has changed, saved the eruption in children present (single adults without children stick out like a sore thumb, and other anatomical analogies). It was mostly the same, except a few changes made as a result of the conglomerate’s split with MGM, resulting in a name change for one park and the reworking of one decent ride into a shitty one by replacing Mother (of Alien) with Stitch (of Lilo and Stitch).
And with the exception of walking eye first into the wall in the poorly lit caverns of Tom Sawyer’s Island (can I sue for more free admission?!!) and the uncomfortable experience of an angsty jungle cruise guide who made it very obvious how much she hated her jobs and even worse, the bad jokes written into the monologue, all was good.
Theme parks… I wish there were a test audiences for theme park design as there is plenty of untapped potential. And perhaps in a future post, I can post my blueprints for the great place on earth: 80’s Town!
To start with a theme park of the future… we go Back to the Future! Aside from a 3-d themed ride at Universal Studios, there’s a more entertaining aspect to the whole time traveling genre – future Man in the past! So the theme park of the future begins with 80’s Town! Because everyone loves the 80’s, overlooking of course the various reign of terror (especially Margaret Thatcher) and things like skyrocketing unemployment, crime, and drug use (NYC sat in rubble). But you (probably) won’t find that in 80’s Town! Here, our focus is entertainment! Or more specifically… Californ-ized entertainment! We’re talking pre-fab housing, red convertible sports cars and avocado colored station wagons, a teen celebrity wax museum featuring Corin Nemic and Lori Laughlin, Max-like eateries, arcades, brightly colored multi-ethnic choreographed street dancing (in lieu of scheduled parades), meet-and-greets with 80’s Town characters like the boombox-carrying street kids, Japanese tourists, proud Soviets, nondescript surfers, and NASA employees!
On a smaller scale, the theme parks now could use a little variety in the rides. A cheap man’s version of the theme park ride would begin with flamboyant storytelling with a muffled narrative and some singing. Sitting in a chair, you’d be pushed a little, your chair bumped. And to conclude, you’d get a shot of air in the back of the head and a splash of water square in your face. (That sounds vaguely like “that’s what she said”). 3-D glasses optional. But a few suggestions for ride themes, if I may…
The ride: Scratch and Dent World
The concept: A 3-d IMAX screen car chase sequence using a mobilized, hydraulic car combination ala the Back to the Future/The Simpsons rides at Universal Studios. Only, instead of the intricacy of the underdogs chasing about the cunning villain, the story would be a simpler dynamic of good guys (young chain smoking studs in leather), bad guys (old chain smoking foreigners in leather), muscle cars, and lots of things getting smashed or blown up while dumbfounded passer-bys seek refuge from possible high speed head-on collisions.
Inspiration: With a vicarious, first person point of view (for those of who at least haven’t pushed our cars past 105 MPH yet… or can), the ideal chase is one based Bullit or Ronin and while, both were memorable, the former had that added element of danger as it was filmed on the impossibly hilly streets of Fog Country (read: San Francisco).
Music provided by: a toss up between Euro drum n’ bass and Motorhead’s Ace of Spades.
The ride: Willy Goes Wonky
The concept: Based on Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory movie, this is a boat ride around the chocolate factory based on the better, more respectable adaptation that starred Gene Wilder.
The inspiration: This ride concept began with the idea of using the fold over IMAX screen (the cylindrical wrapped kind that projects on the walls and ceilings) ala the Buzz Lightyear Astro Fighters ride at the Disney parks to recreate the psychedelic boat trip that the chocolate factory owner incorporates into the tour. You know… where Wonka starts going wonky.
Of course, being based on the film rather than that single moment, the ride could begin from the waiting line where the guests are presumed to be Golden Ticket winners (or whatever). They prepare to enter the factor and preliminary introductions are made to the eccentric (but eventually, warm) factory owning hermit. The boat tour begins at the candy land utopia (with the plump German boy stuck in the tubes in the background), and floats along the chocolate syrup river through recreations of sets used in the movie that would feature the faithful Oompa Loompa’s, Slugworth, bratty kids, and the poor kid and his grandpa. And before we see Wonka handing over the factory to Charlie and Grandpa Jack, this is where the strange scenes are projected on screen and Wonka starts his brief acid trip.
Music of choice: The mega hits of 1970s Scandinavian folk interrupted by Wonka’s “There’s No Way of Knowing” melody, then cut to the dreamy happy ending orchestra.
The Ride: The Goonies Are Good Enough
The concept: A fun-house styled walk-through of the sewers and caverns in search of hidden treasure. But hurry, the Fratelli’s and that bastard Troy Walsh are hot on your trail.
The inspiration: The Goonies, obviously. The story goes like this… Everyone knows about the legend of the pirate One Eyed Willie and has completely overlooked the innuendo of the name. Wise Willy knew of his impending demise and buried his exotic treasure deep in the mountains of coastal Oregon. Ignoring the fact that the pirate miser killed all survivors who might be able to track his fortune, and that professional grave robbers made unsuccessful attempts to find the gold in later years, Willie’s treasure map has somehow wound up in a basement and into the hands of hip, suburban teenagers.
The actors in the Goonies DVD commentary said they weren’t permitted to see the final set where One Eyed Willie’s boat was docked before they actually filmed the sequence (though Feldman admits to cheating). It looked like the crew built a huge funpark for the actors, especially since reaching Willie’s boat meant first bombing down those gnarly water slides. But the whole thing has a Fun House type sense from the start, full of clattering skeletons suddenly falling from overhead to figuring out the combination for avoid certain doom by playing a makeshift piano made of bones, to booty traps! Or is it booby traps?
Music of choice: In the lobby, a midi version of the theme (NES Goonies!), followed by the spooky Fun House music for the walk-through, and a resolution marked by the John Williams victory soundtrack at the end.
The Ride: Tim Burton’s Haunted Tavern
The concept: The master of cartoonish horror designs a haunted tavern!
The inspiration: In a way Disney’s Haunted Mansion, still a popular attraction after all these years, doesn’t seem like a far cry from something Tim Burton might do. Initially conceived in 1955, several years before the park was built, it manages to limit the amount of campiness and corniness otherwise found in Disney fare (especially newer fare!) from the time guests enter the foyer and the walls start rising to reveal more complete and less pleasant portraits of former mansion occupants before going on to ride Doom Buggies through the cold, gray, dusty levels of the mansion, which is riddled with neon green ghosts. It’s more reminiscent of British literature and cartoons than corny horror movies of the period, which seems like a similar foundation that Burton has tapped for his own creations. But, if Burton were to design a tavern occupied by ghouls and ghosts, it would likely find additional reference in New Orleans and especially Haitian culture. You know, bold colors and jazz influences and warped, but nonetheless, not all that scary. Just as there were musical performances among the ghosts in the Haunted Mansion, so too would there eventually be among the haunting creatures of Burton’s haunted tavern (also a ride in a buggy type of vehicle). At first you approach a chilling scene, as cold and sterile as his characters tend to be, until you hit that moment where the colored lights flare up and the music begins…. also like in his movies. Obviously, it’s intended to be more lively.
Music supplied by: Danny Elfman, of course!
Ah, but those are only a few ideas. I’m certain that Orlando could really use just a regular amusement park, something a lot more low key and far less expensive than the mega lots of Disney, Universal, and all others who have followed suit. We used to something like that… we could use it again.