Let the Characters Tell the Tale…

In a recent MiceAge.com article by George H. Taylor, Jeff Heimbuch shared some interesting details of Disneyland’s City Hall. It’s a collection of books – classics of fantasy and adventure that fill a shelf in the reception area. The titles would be familiar to any Disney fan – but where you would expect to see the author’s name, there is listed instead one of the story’s incidental characters!

So what would The Hatter’s version of Alice’s story be like? Does it start when she barges into the tea party? What’s his perspective on the croquet match, or Alice’s trial? And what was really in that tea, anyway?

Surely Druzilla and Anastasia would all-but-ignore Cinderella in their version, but imagine the dirt we might get about Lady Tremaine… and the Prince… and I shudder to think what they’d write about Jaq and Gus!

Obviously someone in Disneyland’s Decorating Department knows: Exciting things happen when the writer lets the characters tell the tale.

In 1982, when Eastman Kodak needed a spokesman to tell the world about their new attraction at EPCOT Center, they sent Figment and I on a tour of the Florida media. We were able to communicate the mood and mission of the EPCOT Center pavilion better than any corporate rep.

In 1991 Universal Studios Florida used Mae West and the Marx Brothers to publicize their new studio attraction, and when it came time to debut the Beetlejuice Graveyard Revue, Park President Tom Williams had to contend with an aggressively flirtatious Elvira, Mistress of the Dark!

In 1967, when Disneyland guests arrived at New Orleans Square for the world premiere of the new pirate ride, they found the building boarded up and defended by armed sentries. But the buccaneers arriving on the Columbia were not to be denied! They stormed the building, shot the guards, tore the planks from the doors and led their new mates inside and on to the Caribbean. Thus, the event established a swashbuckling mood even before the first guest departed Lafitte’s Landing… because the pirates ran the show!

All of these moments were enlivened by letting the characters drive. What might have been dull as dirt, instead generated excitement and interest in the story and better represented the creative nature of the attraction.

Images copyright Walt Disney Co.

In 2012, when the Magic Kingdom’s New Fantasyland premiered, the press was greeted by the star of Disney’s ‘Once Upon a Time’, Ginnifer Goodwin. She read a lovely, generic speech about how wonderful Disney is, how wonderful New Fantasyland is and how wonderful Disney music is. She then introduced singer Jordin Sparks to “take us on a musical journey through the classic Disney tales you’ll relive in New Fantasyland”.

Then Jordin came out to tell us how wonderful Disney music is and offer to “take us on a little journey through Fantasyland.” As she sang, the stage filled with dancers, characters and puppets cavorting in time to the pretty music.

Then the “enchanted moment” arrived:  the introduction of Mickey Mouse and Chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Tom Staggs. After a little stilted banter, Tom launched into what has become Disney’s standard-issue Dedication Speech for Executives:

“Walt Disney once said that Disneyland would never be complete as long as there is imagination left in the world. That was a promise he made… yadda yadda our guests… yadda yadda our legacy… yadda yadda bring our characters to life… yadda yadda memories that last a lifetime.

“I think it’s clear from the… yadda yadda that there’s plenty of imagination left in our world. And I think Walt would be extremely proud… yadda yadda cast members and Imagineers whose tireless efforts made… yadda yadda a reality. (Hold for applause) This project has really been a labor of love and I know that I speak for all of them when I say… yadda yadda.”

Tom did a pretty good job with the speech, but his banter and introductions sounded very awkward. Not his fault… Tom’s not a performer; he’s more at home in an office or a meeting.

If you were there that day, no one would blame you for looking around to see who else might be available to take the mic from Tom and handle the introductions… and your eye might have fallen on any one of the dozens of talented and charming characters standing behind him.

Images copyright Walt Disney Co.

One of the basic principles of this work is: Success comes not from having all the answers, but from knowing what questions to ask…

Suppose the dedication was treated as a storytelling opportunity rather than a corporate event? What if it was developed and presented as a natural extension of the New Fantasyland? And does the event – the setting, characters, occasion, guests’ presence, and client’s agenda – give us anything to work with?

In this case: Oh, hell yes!

We have the castle setting, home of Cinderella who is welcoming us and could likewise welcome the new neighbors. We have Belle and her fascination with these characters she’s meeting for the first time. There’s the Beast who is notoriously wary of strangers. Prince Eric is showing his newly land-based wife, Ariel, around their new home. The Dumbo Circus is in town to entertain the royal guests. And the Seven Dwarfs could take a break from readying-the-mine-for-visitors to make an appearance.

There are sufficient personalities and backstory right there to compose a great original event where they all meet and interact and build on our prior affections. Such a presentation would have generated infinitely more excitement and Youtube hits than any speech from any executive ever could.

Now add to this our visiting guest star, Ginnifer Goodwin, Once Upon a Time’s Snow White. Assuming we’ve seen the series and know who she is, you could bring her in dressed as Snow White and accompanied by the Seven Dwarfs to wrap things up! Yes, I know she’s the ‘real world’ Snow, but seeing this wonderful actress, who already looks just like the animated version, in that costume – I think the guests would be thrilled with this bit of cross-utilization… something the TV series has never shied away from.

Images copyright Walt Disney Co.

Surely someone can dream up a better way to tell these exciting, new stories… After all – there is imagination left in the world.

This entry was posted in Critical Studies, Editorial, Ron Schneider Columns and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

2 Comments

  1. TheManWithAHat
    Posted March 20, 2013 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    You’re right Ron, they should have totally given the job to the Hackmeister 2000.

    But seriously, when did Disney start doing these generic opening ceremony’s anyway?

    • Posted March 21, 2013 at 9:44 am | Permalink

      Dedications are dictated by timing and personalities, more than anything. Who’s running creative, who’s the corporate sponsor. who gets to approve concept and content… Consideration of story and the effect on the audience are not a priority as often as one might wish.

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