April 29, 2013

Rating the Latest Attractions from Disney Imagineering

Could it be? Are we on the verge of a renaissance at Walt Disney Imagineering? There's certainly some new magic spread around in these brand new attractions, but the answer to this question depends on which park and resort you examine!  

Let's look at some of these, and I'll give them a letter grade- just like in school. A few of these, I have seen for myself. Others, well, I'll have to go by a combination of Disney propaganda, on line videos, and just a bit of subjective observation. And lastly, I will not review shows or parades. Still interested? C'mon, everybody, here we go...

Hong Kong Disneyland is on most theme park fans' mind right now, as it's multi-year expansion concludes, so let's start there:

Toy Story Land- You'd think a theme park land focused on the vastly popular movies of the same name would show immense creativity and flair. You'd be wrong. In either Disney Studios Paris or Hong Kong Disneyland, the execution of the concept falls flat, reading just like it is- souped up carnival rides. There's little to be found that's clever. So different than Mickey's Toon Town at Disneyland. Interestingly, Toy Story Mania (or Midway Mania at California Adventure) is not found in either park. That attraction ranks a C+ at best. The rest of the area, I'd give a D. Cheap, cheap, cheap.

Grizzly Gulch- The Runaway Mine Cars certainly earn their A rating. Every on-line video seems to show an attraction that packs a first class punch. Take one part Expedition: Everest, one part California Screamin' and throw in huge doses of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad for atmosphere, and you've got a family friendly thrill ride worth its wait. Even with its namesake peak stolen from California Adventure, cute but mischievous Audio-Animatronic bears and a great thrill provide a dynamic storyline. The rest of this water-logged Frontierland is fairly boring, earning a B- rating at best.

Mystic Point- Almost as if to punctuate the build out plan, Disney Imagineers saved the best for last. Taking on an original look at Disney's chestnut Haunted Mansion, Hong Kong's Mystic Manor is so excellently done, it may in fact become the centerpiece of the entire park. Who can resist a mesmerizing adventure in an exotic location, with enchanted objects, and a unique ride system guaranteeing return riders? This stunning attraction is everything the New Fantasyland at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom should be but isn't. A+

Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom reveals its own new land, a Fantasyland that never was. It's full of different flavors and experiences, even if it is only partially complete.

Let me say this up front- there's plenty to like in the New Fantasyland if you're satisfied by environments rich with detail, varied textures, and plenty of first class dining and shopping options. That piece ranks a clear, strong A from the fans appreciative of what the Imagineers built into this revamp of a tired space. When we take a close look at each individual attraction, it doesn't look all that great...

Enchanted Tales with Belle. If we look at this as solely a new generation meet and greet, it's a pretty solid A.  There's a compelling story, rich detail, beloved characters effectively brought to life through Audio-Animatronics and wonderful special effects. However, since Disney is looking at this story space as an attraction, I will as well. Therefore, the rating drops to a shaky C, on par with other smaller attractions found at the flagship kingdom.

Journey of the Little Mermaid- As discovered by many others before me, there was much more potential for an "E Ticket" attraction than what actually materialized. Smaller budget or was it smaller mindsets of those in charge, thinking this downsized attraction could compete with Universal's Harry Potter? Either way, Ariel deserves better than this. Although the queue stuns, the attraction itself rates a B, reminding us of what could have been. Another missed opportunity.

The last piece now opened is Storybook Circus.  Much like the rest of the reimagined land, the attractions are secondary to the atmosphere. A revamped Dumbo and kids' coaster earn a C, but exploring the area is bound to make me think more was planned and less was achieved. 

Let's move on to the West Coast, where Anaheim's second Disney park completed its own multi-year "expansion".

California Adventure has seen its own renaissance of sorts, turning an ugly duckling into an emerging swan. As with Florida's Fantasyland redo, some parts satisfy and others fall short. But the effort has done its trick. Turnstiles are spinning like never before. 

Buena Vista Street- Detail upon detail creates an opening act every bit as successful as Disneyand Paris' Main Street. That is saying a lot! The scale just feels right with Disneyand right next door, providing a sense of place and charm the park sorely needed. It's an instant classic- warm, inviting, and Disney-esque. I downgraded the original A rating to an A-, mostly due to the inclusion of only one attraction, the Red Car Trolleys

Paradise Pier Redo- Sorry, Imagineers and pencil boys, this quick and dirty carnival is much better then its predecessor, but the land is still only worthy of a C rating.  With the B rating of Mermaid, a tepid remake of a few carnival rides, and a C+ arcade shoot 'em up, only the evening show of World of Color makes the land a must see. The area that is a success is the revamp of the eateries and the buildings that house them. Elegant and very worthy of what the old school Imagineers would have built. 

Cars Land- I'd be a harsh fool intent on just dissing Disney if I gave this land and its premier attraction, Radiator Springs Racers anything but an A+. Disney has not created anything this spectacular since Tokyo Disney Sea. Sure, two smaller attractions round out the land, but the environment is so rich, so convincing, so mesmerizing, that it satisfies as well as an afternoon in Disneyland's New Orleans Square. Every nook and cranny has to be seen to be believed. Worthy of a trip west to see it for yourself!

Well, that about does it for this round of the Rating of Disney's recent attractions. If I know anything about the suits, or at least the accountants, these parks will remain stagnant for awhile. But the future could be bright if the Imagineers are allowed to really dig in and do what they do best.

(Photographs and art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)


Anonymous said...

I'd give Toy Story Mania more than a C+...it's innovative, interesting, and fun. I'd give it a B+/A-

Anonymous said...

How I'd rate it:
Toy Story Land
-Atmosphere C-
-Attractions D
Grizzly Trail
-Atmosphere B
-Attractions A
Mystic Point
-Atmosphere A+
-Attractions A+
Enchanted Forest:
Atmosphere: B+
Attractions: C-
Storybook Circus
Atmosphere: B-
Attractions: C-
Cars Land:
Atmosphere - A+
Attractions - A+
Buena Vista Street:
Atmosphere - A+
Paradise Pier
Atmosphere: A-
Attractions: B+

And, yes, Toy Story Mania deserves at least a B+. Probably an A-