Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Backstories: Grizzly River Run

German emigrant Jakob Probst discovered gold at Grizzly Peak in the mid-1800's. But far from being a genius, Probst's discovery was by pure chance. Frustrated at failing to get his mule across Grizzly River, Probst threw his hat into the river and trampled it. Picking it up and putting it back on his head, he discovered a one-pound gold nugget had fallen inside. Probst immediately staked a claim he later sold for millions to the Eureka Gold & Timber Company.

Nicknamed "The Pride of the Sierra", the Company was a successful business throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Gold was extracted from the mountain and shipped to San Francisco. A company office and adjoining store were built right next door as well. But by the early 1950s the mine was exhausted and Eureka Gold & Timber closed down. The structures stood empty for years with only the office and company store remaining in use, converted to an outdoor supply store.

The land itself was sold to the government to create the Grizzly Peak Recreation Area. Over the next few decades the land was reborn with trees growing back and rivers clearing up. Eventually, California's rafting enthusiasts discovered the whitewater thrills of Grizzly River and the word got out about the crystal-clear waters and Class V rapids there. By the 1980s, that hobby had grown into a business with several companies offering guided raft trips to customers. One of those companies was run by a savvy group of young entrepreneurs. They purchased the old mining structures to use as their base of operations. The Grizzly River Rafting Company was born.

Monday, May 21, 2012

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Tokyo DisneySea) Transcript

Whilst perhaps fighting for it's place with the Tower of Terror, the Indiana Jones Adventure, and perhaps Journey to the Center of the Earth for its position, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is my favorite attraction at Tokyo DisneySea. My own measure for how much I enjoy an attraction is often whether I would want to step out of the ride vehicle and explore its story-world, and 20,000 Leagues, along with classics like Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion, does that magnificently.

I'm not able to speak Japanese, however, and so I never knew what the ride spiel was telling me while riding. Fortunately, I was able to get a recording of it, and my very kind Japanese flatmate sat down with me and translated it. There are probably some mistakes, either from the recording quality or the fact that my flatmate had never ridden the attraction herself and had only my description of events to go from, but I think this is mostly there. Enjoy!

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Transcript

CREW: This is the control centre. Remote control system is set, stand by. Testing search light. Hatch and air lock shut. Propeller condition good. Air pressure and hydrogen meter is clear. Testing submarine defence system. Dive. Nearing twenty thousand leagues. All systems clear, so from now on, we’re going to start remote controlling submarine.
NEMO: Volunteer crew, this is Captain Nemo. Welcome to the magnificent underwater world. In this mysterious ocean, there may be highly developed intelligent beings. Your mission is to solve that mystery.
CREW: Manual search light ready to turn on.
NEMO: Good, everybody in the submarine, you can control search light with the joystick. Please be careful when you search. You have to investigate very carefully. Don’t miss anything or any movement. Your discoveries may bring new knowledge to humankind.
CREW: It’s almost at the destination.
NEMO: Good, rise slowly.
CREW: Captain, defence system is activated. It’s going to be dangerous. Something is attacking!
NEMO: All ahead full power.
CREW: It seems like we are captured. We can’t move!
NEMO: Increase voltage, and attack it.
CREW: Captain, the voltage of the submarine is decreasing quickly. It’s going down.
NEMO: What?!
CREW: The main power is overheating. Captain, we changed to back-up system.
NEMO: Okay. Can you analyse where we are?
CREW: No, it looks like we’ve strayed into some unknown abyss. Captain, backup power is decreasing and oxygen level is dangerous. Oxygen is in the danger level.
NEMO: Minimise the use of energy.
CREW: Aye-aye.
NEMO: Bring the submarine up quickly. We must save the volunteer crew. Can you ascend?
CREW: No, the control has not been recovered. Wait! It looks like something is pushing the submarine up. It’s a miracle! Captain, the submarine is back!
NEMO: I am pleased you have all come back safe. But there are many mysterious which are not yet solved. There is no end to our study and exploration. I look forward to your return to this mysterious sea.
CREW: Please stay seated. We will now begin unloading the submarine. Please gather your bags and watch your step as you unload. 


Friday, March 23, 2012

Architectural Replication in Studio Parks

Following on from my last post which made available a resource I'd compiled, I present this next webpage which allows for easy comparison of the replica Hollywood buildings used in Disney's Hollywood Studios, Disney California Adventure, Walt Disney Studios and Universal Studios Florida.

Recently, I've become fascinated with facades (facadinated?). In researching the authenticity of theme park facades, I found a wonderful resource on on the replicas in the studio parks ( Though hours of staring revealed intriguing details, my hand quickly grew tired scrolling up and down between the images, each time attempting to remember what the previous image looked like. So to help myself, I put together this webpage to easily compare the images side-by-side, and thought others might find it useful. Do give a visit for further great descriptions, history, insights and explanations for each of the images.


Except where otherwise noted, these images were compiled by Werner Weiss for, a fantastic resource, not myself.
All credit goes to him for the fantastic work he did in putting these investigations together.
I am solely reorganising their arrangement on this page.

The webpage can be found at:

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Spaceship Earth Script Comparison

So my friend Ian (of the terrific blog Pure Imagineering) has suggested that I add a new post to my blog, and while I can't upload anything analytical at the moment, I did want to share something that I think will interest fellow theme park students. In my research into theme park writing, I wanted to take a look at the evolution of the script of Spaceship Earth, which in my mind has run the full spectrum from some of the best theme park writing ever written ("Poised on the threshold of infinity, we see our world as it truly is: small, silent, fragile, alive, a drifting island in the midnight sky.  It is our spaceship.  Our Spaceship Earth.") to some of the very worst ("To move their armies around, they built a system of roads all over the known world. Rome built the first World Wide Web, and it’s leading us into the future.").

Four different versions of the script have been written; the original by none-other than the genius Ray Bradbury. They are fascinating to compare. The original is poetic, esoteric, and perhaps to a theme park audience, convoluted. The latest has been attacked as dumbing down, cramming in references to 21st century buzzwords. (And in some cases, curious - 'Islamic scholars' has been changed to 'Arabic').

Here's an example of the change; the opening scene at the dawn of recorded time. The original:

"Where are we now?  It is the waiting dawn where vast things stir and breathe.  And with our first words and first steps, we draw together to conquer the mammoth beast.  It is the dawn of a new beginning, the dawn of recorded time."

And the current:

"Here in this hostile world is where our story begins. We are alone, struggling to survive, until we learn to communicate with one another. Now we can hunt as a team and survive together."

You can find the document at:

I think it's also relevent to include this quote from Walt: "You can’t live on things made for children – or for critics. I’ve never made films for either of them. Disneyland is not just for children. I don’t play down."

Monday, April 18, 2011

Backstories: Oblivion at Alton Towers Part 1

Here is a transcript of the queueline video which plays at Oblivion - the world's first vertical drop roller coaster, themed as a secretive government test facility in the X Sector land of Alton Towers. The video can be watched here on YouTube.


Welcome. You have been designated for Oblivion. The decision to come here was not your own. It was ours. The thought was implanted in your brain by auto-suggestion. What you are about to see will prepare you physically and psychologically for the most intense ride experience ever devised. If you wish to survive Oblivion, we advise you to observe the screens at all times.

This is the world’s first vertical drop rollercoaster. During the ride, you will freefall face first into blackness. A freefalling object is something which falls under the sole influence of gravity. Unfortunately, in this instance, that object will be you. Freefalling objects accelerate as they plummet downwards. This is a ticker tape trace of a ball falling taken at 0.1 second intervals. The fact that the distance the ball travels is increasing shows it is speeding up. Unfortunately, unlike the ball, people do not bounce. When there is air resistance, large objects fall faster than small ones and as you’ll be falling vertically on a ride car which weighs more than a large elephant, this could be some cause for concern. In fact, if Newton’s second law of gravity is applied to your predicament, this could mean you are about to be trashed.

During the drop into blackness, the gravitational pull may exert excessive force on body tissue. For instance, you may experience a reduction in skin moisture. Dehydration may lead to an evaporation of essential protective brain fluid. This may cause the brain to rattle around in the skull a bit. In stressful situations such as these, the body’s fight or flight response system is activated. Muscles tense. Heart rate increases. And there is an increase in body temperature. For those about to ride Oblivion, extreme anxiety may even cause spontaneous combustion. Make sure you are wearing flameproof underwear. At the same time, adrenalin levels also rise and the brain’s chemical messengers go into overdrive. Adrenalin junkies may O.D. on the excitement.

G-Force is another factor. Take a pilot for instance. The maximum G-Force a human being can withstand is plus or minus 9g. 9g means that a pilot is undergoing a force nine times that of Earth. If he weighs 200 pounds he will suddenly feel as if he weighs 1800 pounds. The force involved makes blood flow to the feet and the pilot will experience a grey out where he is unable to discern any colour, or even a temporary black out, or if the plane is upside down the increased blood flow to the brain may cause a red out, where his vision is replaced with a red screen. The maximum G-Force experienced on Oblivion is 4.5g. This is not drastic enough to experience a grey out, a black out or even a red out, but it may be enough for some people to experience what is known as - a cop out. This psychological state usually occurs when the moment of truth arrives and it’s their turn to drop into Oblivion. False bravado is replaced by weak excuses at the prospect of a sheer vertical drop into the abyss. If this happens to your friends it means they have zero g tolerance, or that they’re just soft.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Defining Story

A quote by Marc Davis in Didier Ghez's book Walt's People Volume 10, “Walt knew that we were not telling stories. You know, he and I discussed it many times. He said very definitely ‘You can’t tell a story in this medium’” prompted me to write down some existing difficulties I've found with defining story in the theme park sense, and how it is variously used to describe different elements, even when used by a single company like Walt Disney Imagineering. This is certainly an area I feel I will expand on in some detail in the future, and I have already written a piece critiquing the common view that Pirates of the Caribbean has no story. The quote was posted by Edde Sotto in his excellent thread on the WDWMagic message boards.
I think the topic of Story in theme park attractions is difficult because the word can be used in so many different ways. I'd essentially break it down into three facets:
BACKSTORY - The fictional explanation of how an attraction came to be. Imagineering seems to use this definition when it discusses the 'story' behind Prince Charming Regal Carrousel (he had the contraption built to practice jousting) or attractions like California Screamin' which don't have anything actually happen on them narratively.
STORY PREMISE - I'd think this is the 'old school' definition of story within Imagineering. Essentially its a set-up: "what if you explored a haunted house", "what if you sailed with pirates in the Caribbean". No explicit narrative is communicated but an environment, theme and atmosphere is created, peppered with events, moments and vignettes that populate the world. A specific narrative is open to translation by the audience.
STORYLINE - This is the modern definition of story used by Imagineering, which seems to have come directly from Eisner's background in film. It's a movie style plot of explicitly connected building moments. Nothing is really open to interpretation because everything is communicated and linked cinematically. Every audience member receives the same experience. Generally these attractions can be slotted into a story structure, most popularly "...And Something Goes Wrong".
(I would certainly say that it's a sliding scale between the three. How many events needed to be added to / removed from Space Mountain for it to switch between backstory and premise for example).
The best example of two and three I think is the Haunted Mansion (DL/WDW) vs. Phantom Manor (DLP). In the first, we are the main character; it is about our experience as we tour this haunted house stumbling across events (the seance, the party, the hitchhiking ghosts) that impact on us, even remotely. In the Phantom Manor however, it's no longer our story but the story of Melanie, the bride. As we move through the house we are given pieces of the puzzle that reveal her story. We're not peeking at 'A' ghostly ball (which we can claim as OUR ghostly ball), it is HER ghostly ball. This switch from internal/implicit story to external/explicit story was particularly damned by Marc Davis.
Now I'm one of many who thinks the third has vastly dominated the second in the past two decades, but I do think the third has a place in the theme park even though so many fans berate it. Because of that I wouldn't jump on Walt's quote as proof of anything other than how open 'story' is to interpretation.
Maybe Walt meant story as in film and literature; the introduction of characters, their internal and external struggles, their dialoguing, their adventure and so on, which of course is vastly unsuited to the theme park. We know that Marc detested the third style, but I'm not convinced we can use 'Walt's authority' to write it off. Star Tours, Muppets and Splash are all examples of effective attractions that use the third definition of story, Splash particularly - we are ENTIRELY external to the story, passive observers following it along, the emotions we feel (other than the non-diegetic anticipation of the big drop) being essentially mimetic. Really - why on earth is this log we're floating in disconnectedly following the story of Brer Rabbit; do we feel part of the story other than sharing the plunge Brer Rabbit endures to escape; how much better is this than just watching the film*? But it's still popular.
* Assuming the DVD was released!
Follow-Up Note: Since writing this I've been quite seriously looking into story within theme parks and my ideas have grown quite significantly. I hope to post a (much larger) update to this sometime in the future.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Art of Attraction Names - Part IV

In this series of articles, I hope to deconstruct the theme park attraction name to understand what makes them effective, their role in the theme park experience and identify the numerous considerations and influences that can shape just a few small words.
Jump to: Part I - Part II - Part III - Part IV
Exploring Alternate Names
Perhaps one of the most fascinating uses of this break down of attraction names is exploring the impact on iconic attractions if only their name were different. Such an exercise immediately demonstrates how changes can be made to the experience, marketing and audience reception with a simple substitution of names.
To understand the plentiful possibilities for attraction names, consider the relatively simple Dumbo the Flying Elephant attraction, which has gone through a number of various names in its numerous design stages:
Dumbo the Flying Elephant
Pink Elephants on Parade
The Amazing Flying Dumbo
Dumbo - The Ninth Wonder of the World
Dumbo’s Circus
Haunted Mansion, an iconic name comprising a Subject (the haunting) and Building (the mansion), can also be identified as a grander evolution of the typical amusement park Haunted House. The simplistic name immediately communicates to guests what they will experience, as well as prompting story and setting expectations that begin the process of unnerving the guests.
Alternate names may have included:
Bloodmere Manor - An early working title used by Imagineer Ken Anderson.
Captain Blood’s Curse - A Character based name taken from an early main character design.
Doom Buggies - The Transportation method used in the attraction.
Ghost House - The traditional amusement park name for this Attraction Type.
Ghosts! - A Power Word, with many synonymic possibilities.
Gracey Manor - The diegetic name for the Building.
Grim Grinning Ghosts - A Quote taken from the attraction’s song.
The Ghost Ball - An Event name taken from a major attraction scene.
The Ghosts of New Orleans - A Pirates of the Caribbean style amalgamation of Subject and Location.
The Haunted Tour Company - An Organisation name.
The final name is almost certainly better, but it is only by exploring these alternative options that the best name is revealed – and a methodical approach may even uncover some possibilities that would never have revealed themselves.
Haunted Mansion can diegetically be taken as a description of the building, but is also diegetically used as the name of the building in the attraction’s script and signage, essentially working as a title bestowed upon the building by its inhabitants. Alternatively, the Haunted Mansion’s sibling attraction in Hong Kong Disneyland, Mystic Manor, directly uses the name of the building – it having been named by its owner, Lord Henry Mystic.
In the design process for Pirates of the Caribbean, one of the proposed names was the Blue Bayou Lagoon, a location-based name. Whilst it plays into the eerie and mysterious atmosphere of the attraction, the main focus on swashbuckling pirates is totally absent. Other possible attraction names include spotlighting the primary character draw for the attraction, renaming it Jack Sparrow’s Pirates of the Caribbean, but such a simple change impacts the simplicity and elegance of the original name. Possible attraction names include:
Battle of Isla Tesoro - An Event based name describing the looting of the village.
Blue Bayou Lagoon - A working title for attraction, named after the starting Location.
Cutthroats! - A Power Word.
Dead Men Tell No Tales - A Quote repeated throughout the attraction.
Jack Sparrow’s Pirates of the Caribbean - A possible change which could have seen Character content added to the title.
Sailing the Seven Seas - A Transportation and Location based name.
Voyage of the Wicked Wench - A name taken from the prominent pirate ship seen in the attraction.
Yo Ho! A Pirates Life for Me - A second Quote, taken from the lyrics sung throughout the attraction.
Case Studies
Finally, I want to draw attention to some attraction names I think are particularly noteworthy and examine their content, style and effectiveness in their role.
This attraction is an EMV dark ride in the Mysterious Island land of Tokyo DisneySea. My fondness for this attraction’s name, and also for the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction nearby, comes from the designers confidence in retaining the original Source Material title rather than appending anything superfluous to it (as was done with the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Submarine Voyage at the Magic Kingdom, also this could be claimed as a franchised name from the original Submarine Voyage at Disneyland).
The content of the attraction name comprises an abstract Transportation, the rather conventional ‘Journey’ and Location, the ‘Center of the Earth’. It is this double-barrelled Location that gives the attraction name its significance, challenging the guest in an over-the-top, grand Victorian style, perfectly suited to the adventure story attraction.
The name can be understood diegetically, being the expedition Captain Nemo wishes the guests to embark upon. Nevertheless, the sign for the attraction is made up of glowing fissures coincidentally cracked in the shape of the title’s letters – an extra-diegetic approach. Whilst a diegetic sign was easily possible, the designers evidently chose to stretch the diegesis due to the wonderful novelty, opportunity and noticeability of this sign approach.
Perhaps my all-time favourite attraction name, Space Mountain: De la Terre à la Lune was a roller coaster in Parc Disneyland’s Discoveryland, based around the idea of a giant Victorian cannon firing the guests to the moon in a style heavily influenced by Jules Verne’s novel and the 1902 film adaption Le Voyage dans la Lune.
The attraction uses a subtitle to differentiate it as a franchised attraction from its sibling Space Mountain attractions. This original attraction name is notable in its own right, a Subject/Location and Geographic Feature combination especially innovative in that the Geographic Feature is the abstract shape of the conical building. To those guests who have experienced one of the other Space Mountains, they immediately know the spirit of the attraction they will experience, whilst the subtitle and striking visual design convey that there will be a twist on what they know.
De la Terre à la Lune (From the Earth to the Moon) then adds a very abstract Transportation to the title, ‘From’, and a double-barrelled Location, ‘the Earth’ and ‘the Moon’. Together, the two parts forge a magnificent balance : the Space Mountain adds a weight and drama to the title, while De la Terre à la Lune adds an elegance and ambition, fostered by the dual language. Practically, the use of two languages enables comprehension by both English and French speakers; making the attraction diegetically appropriate for its location whilst retaining the notability of its franchise origin.
Within the story, the name is essentially diegetic: unlike the other Disney theme parks where Space Mountain refers to the structure as a spaceship which has landed, here Space Mountain refers to the massive metal structure supporting the giant Columbiad cannon, containing the Baltimore Gun Club, fuel tanks, the loading platform, an observatory walkway called the Stellar Way and other such things. De la Terre à la Lune then refers to the Club’s mission objective. In such manner, the sign can be easily be viewed diegetically.
This unusual attraction name is the title of a children’s playground in the Old MacDonald’s Farm land of Alton Towers Theme Park aimed at children and themed around the idea that the guests are the size of bugs, let loose in a farm’s dung heap, with a fence maze (‘Mr Mushroom’s Magic Maze), sponge play area (‘The Toxic Bog’), climbing frame (‘Cobweb Capers’) and audio-visual interactive installation (‘The Soil Albug Hall’).
Whilst the sub-attraction names aren’t particularly noteworthy, my appreciation for the overall attraction name is primarily due to its wonderfully unconventional word structure. Whereas typical playgrounds take names such as Ariel’s Playground, UFO Zone or even Tom Sawyer Island, this attraction is innovative it its use of a Quote as its name, particularly when the simpler The Dung Heap is a much more obvious title, but not nearly as effective. Secondarily, the name references the abstract Subject, the ‘Something’, and the Location, the ‘Dung Heap’. The vague subject is wonderfully enigmatic, perfectly appropriate for an attraction encouraging the guests to explore and discover all that there is to find. Perhaps the mysterious Something is a strange insect, odd animal, or the role the guest takes themselves. Additionally, despite the disconcerting choice of farmyard location, the attraction name is effective in evoking the style and associations of a piece of British children’s literature, akin to Stig of the Dump or Five Children and It.
The name is of course extra-diegetic, and the attraction sign, a relatively conventional sign with cartoon bugs, shares this – a move essentially child-friendly but perhaps open to a diegetic alternative in the form of a curious note left by Old MacDonald.
That concludes my essay series on attraction names. If you have any comments, please leave a comment or message me!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Art of Attraction Names - Part III

In this series of articles, I hope to deconstruct the theme park attraction name to understand what makes them effective, their role in the theme park experience and identify the numerous considerations and influences that can shape just a few small words.
Jump to: Part I - Part II - Part III - Part IV
Equipped with the content of an attraction name, numerous stylistic techniques and practices have begun to establish themselves, tweaking the basic words into unique and unusual titles. This section will examine some of these trends, as well as considerations that need to be made towards names.
Examples: Jumpin’ Jellyfish, Goofy’s Bounce House, Dueling Dragons, The Cat in the Hat™, Coke Soak.
Both alliteration and rhyme are general writing techniques used to produce pleasing word structures and are commonly used in attraction names. Generally, rhyme is more suited to child-focused attractions where the name sounds playful, whilst alliterative names have been used for a wide range of attractions.
Examples: Princess Fantasy Faire, Rustler Roundup Shootin' Gallery, Pooh’s Hunny Hunt, S.S. rustworthy, Soarin’ Over California.
A deviation from standard spelling can help a name fit more comfortably into the fictional setting: numerous fantasy and medieval attractions add additional ‘e’s, as in ‘olde’, for example. Research for this particular style is appropriate to avoid it becoming caricatured however: for the designed but never built Beastlie Kingdomme land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, that particular spelling was chosen to be consistent with genuine styles.
Many times these alterations are done in a diegetic manner – written by the fictional characters of the setting in the style they would be used to – but can also be done extra-diegetically, for example using ‘hunny’ instead of ‘honey’ at Pooh’s Hunny Hunt – the spelling that the bear uses himself.
Altered spelling can also be done to alter the character of the attraction and add backstory: a water playground on a creaking ship at Disney California Adventure was called the S.S. rustworthy – a faded paint shadow reveals that the ‘T’ has fallen off ‘Trustworthy’.
Examples: El Rio del Tiempo, Impressions du France, Space Mountain: De la Terre à la Lune, Moteurs… Action! Stunt Show Spectacular, Phantom Manor.
The use of a language foreign to the host country’s language can be used to immerse the guests in a foreign setting, utilising the language of the fictional location. One of the most ambitious uses of this was planned but not executed at Parc Disneyland’s Fantasyland, where each storybook attraction would be named (and experienced) in the language of its origin (Peter Pan's Flight in English, Les Voyages de Pinocchio in Italian, Blanche-Neige et les Sept Nains in German, and so on). If a land is set in Spain, for example, it makes sense that much of the nomenclature would be in Spanish. However, the use of foreign language to add character generally only works when a majority of people know or can figure out the translation – otherwise designers risk alienating the guests with names they cannot understand.
The reception of foreign languages differs between countries. At American parks in Japan, English is used uncompromisingly used and well received by the Japanese guests who celebrate their theme park visits as mini-American vacations. At Disneyland Paris however, the strong sense of national cultural identity made many French people wary of cultural imposition, prompting Disney to use many French names for attractions, and retaining English only for what they termed franchises (typically attractions with well-known clones or siblings in other parks). A peculiar result of this is single attraction names spanning two languages, as with Space Mountain: De la Terre à la Lune and Moteurs… Action! Stunt Show Spectacular. In other cases, attraction names are specifically chosen due to their ease of translation: Haunted Mansion and its French translation Maison Hantée are equally unclear to those untrained in both languages, whilst Phantom Manor, the name they chose instead, is remarkably close to its French translation, Manoir Fantôme.
In parks which attract a large variation in nationalities, it can make sense to balance out numerous languages. The solution at to the English and French balance at Disneyland Paris was achieved by remaining diegetic to the setting: Main Street, U.S.A. and Frontierland, being set in America, use English primarily, whilst Adventureland, Fantasyland and Discoveryland, being set principally in French-speaking tropics, Europe and France, use French.
Examples: Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, Storybook Land Canal Boats, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, The Great Movie Ride, Primeval Whirl.
Attraction name styles need to be appropriate to the land they are in: whilst Tomorrowland comprises ‘encounters’, ‘tours’, and ‘voyages’ which push the cinematic style to its fullest and most dynamic potential, this over-the-top approach wouldn’t be appropriate to Fantasyland where the attractions are more suited by simple storybook style titles. Names should suit their environment: intimate lands should typically have understated names, mysterious lands should typically have mysterious titles, friendly lands should typically have character based titles and so on.
Examples: Autopia, CommuniCore, Innoventions, Muppet*Vision 3D, CineMagique.
Portmanteaus are the combination of two words into a single word, a practice used commonly in theme parks to create something unique and memorable. Autopia (Automobile Utopia) and CommuniCore (Community Core) both demonstrate how this is particular popular in futuristic settings where the style copies many contemporary consumer innovations.
Examples: Mickey’s Fun Wheel, Flik’s Flyers, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin.
A common trend for theme park attraction names is to directly attach them to a character, manufacturing some ownership or directly link immediately familiar to the guest. When diegetic, such as Mickey’s House or Tarzan’s Treehouse, this approach seems logical – nevertheless, in recent times this approach has increasingly been used to link non-specific attractions to familiar characters, an approach criticised as a cheap and easy form of Associative theming. Consider Mickey’s Fun Wheel, an attraction with very little link to the Ferris wheel.
Narrative attractions more understandably take this approach, but these titles are often superfluous. Rather than Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, many guests would be just as happy to ride an attraction called Pinocchio (and many times call the attraction by this name alone), while many guests prefer the classic title of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs over Snow White’s Scary Adventure. When the attraction is a quite direct adaption of the source material, as in the case of the storybook dark rides, and no unique name presents itself (as with Peter Pan’s Flight and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride), it is often simpler and more effective to retain the original title.

Attraction Name
Film Name
Original Book Name
Alice in Wonderland
Alice in Wonderland
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Le Passage Enchante d'Aladdin (Aladdin’s Enchanted Passage)
Aladdin (The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, or Arabian Nights)
Legend of the Lion King
The Lion King

Monsters, Inc. Mike and Sully to the Rescue

Monsters, Inc.
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
The Wind in the Willows
Peter Pan’s Flight
Peter Pan
Peter Pan
Pinocchio’s Daring Journey
Les Voyages de Pinocchio (Pinocchio’s Voyage)
The Adventures of Pinocchio
Snow White’s Adventures
Snow White’s Scary Adventures
Blanche-Neige et les Sept Nains (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Adventure
The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure
Voyage of the Little Mermaid
The Little Mermaid
The Little Mermaid
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Pooh’s Hunny Hunt
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
When We Were Very Young
The House at Pooh Corner
This table contrasts the titles of attractions that retell a story with their original source titles.

Possessive titles may also be known as ‘Of’ titles as they can most often can be structured in the manner of ‘The [Noun] of [Character]’ as well as [Character’s] [Noun]. Examples include Voyage of the Little Mermaid, Legend of the Lion King, Adventures of Curious George and Revenge of the Mummy. Many times this structure cannot be avoided, but the designer should recognise that an overuse of this structure risks it becoming bland, qualifying its use only when the words are particularly unusual (as with Peter Pan’s Flight).
‘Of’ Titles: Adventures, Escape, Expedition, Exploits, Festival, Flight, Journey, Legend, Quest, Story, Tale, Tour, Travels, Trials, Trek, Trip, Venture, Voyage, etc.
Conversely, numerous guests add possession to names which avoid them, for example saying Sleeping Beauty’s Castle or King Arthur’s Carrousel despite their actual names being Sleeping Beauty Castle and King Arthur Carrousel. This peculiar phenomenon has no definite reason, but some may speculate it is because guests are simply used to the possessive structure from other attractions, or the guests want to forge their own link to a character (for example, believing that the castle really is where Cinderella lives).
The grammatical meaning of such a slight change can be subtle, but is nevertheless important. With the castles for example, Cinderella’s Castle is not actually a name, but is simply an ownership description. The lack of the ‘s might mean that the name is referring to the source material and not the character, as with Tom Sawyer Island. For the castles, this idea is supported by the choice of Sleeping Beauty Castle, which if referring to the character could have been Aurora Castle. However, as Sleeping Beauty is a familiar nickname this is not conclusive.
More likely for the castles, the lack of the ‘s identifies that it is named in honour of the character, just as many schools or historical buildings are – an approach which fosters reverence or elegance. This approach can also help diegetically: King Arthur’s Carrousel would suggest the sixth century king owns the Victorian funfair contraption, whilst King Arthur Carrousel suggests it is named in honour of the monarch.
Disney’s own etymology for these names is unknown, and in some cases even contradicts itself, as with the Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups in Parc Disneyland (suggesting ownership), and the Mad Hatter Tea Cups in Hong Kong Disneyland (confusingly suggesting reverence or officiality).
Examples: Maliboomer, TriceraTop-Spin, Caro-Suess-el, Dino-Soarin', ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter.
Puns are a popular choice of theme park designers, typically appropriate for playful and silly areas, although they can sacrifice and opportunity for incluing, and are almost never diegetic. Walt Disney Studios Paris uses a bilingual pun for it's Moteurs... Action! Stunt Show Spectacular, where 'Moteurs' will be read as 'Motors' by English speakers, appropriate for an automobile stunt show, but will additionally be understood to French speakers as part of the French equivalent of 'Lights, Camera, Action!' - 'Silence, Moteurs, Action!'
In some attraction names, generic words are used when another word would be much more specific and evocative. For example, the most common word for theme parks and their attractions (and arguably the most overused) is ‘Adventure’, used for Snow White’s Scary Adventures, MicroAdventure!, Shrek 4-D Adventure, The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, Disney’s Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure, The Star Trek Adventure, Jurassic Park River Adventure and many other examples. The word is generally easy to use, and has become a pushbutton word, appropriate to virtually any attraction name but effective in very few.
One example where ‘Adventure’ is perhaps justified is in Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye, where the well-known tagline “If adventure has a name, it must be Indiana Jones” supports its inclusion and the word retains its strength.
Examples: The Enchanted Tiki Room – Under New Management!, Terminator 2: 3D, Jurassic Park – The Ride, Doug: Live!, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire – Play It!.
Subtitles are significantly useful and versatile, but run the risk of making titles overly long. Commonly, subtitles they are used to explain vague but effective main titles, such as with Circle of Life: An Environmental Fable. Similarly, these subtitles might highlight the specific focus of the attraction, as with Armageddon - Les Effets Speciaux attraction at Walt Disney Studios Park, which, by mentioning the special effects, identifies its focus to the guests.
The type of attraction can be communicated more acceptably through a subtitle, a practice common with 3D movies, where ‘3D’, or in some cases ‘4D’ follows the show title, as with Muppet*Vision 3D, Shrek 4-D and King Kong 360 3-D. With the novelty of these experiences becoming increasingly commonplace however, more modern practice has been to drop this subtitle, as with Mickey’s PhilharMagic and It’s Tough to Be a Bug. Similarly, many shows use ‘- Live!’ to indicate that they are a live-action performance, an option which should be noted, along with the use of ‘-3D’, as being extra-diegetic.
Another common subtitle is ‘- The Ride’, a name neither diegetic nor particularly cinematic, and often risk being used as an easier substitute for a more evocative subtitle. Compare, for example, Star Tours to Star Wars: The Ride, Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye to Indiana Jones: The Ride, or Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey to Harry Potter: The Ride.
‘- The Ride’ is most effectively used when the focus is specifically on the adapting of the source material from one medium to the other, an approach which is the speciality of the Universal Studios theme parks and where the common use of this subtitle has made it an effective park naming tradition. At other times, the subtitle is used to blatantly communicate the attraction is a ride and avoid guests mistaking it for a show, film or similar attraction, as with Alton Towers Theme Park’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – The Ride, a choice which has unfortunately significantly affected diegesis (the guest has been alerted that it is definitely a ride, losing much of their suspension of disbelief).
Subtitles can be used to differentiate franchised attractions and significantly changed refurbishments and remakes: effectively enabling the concept of the sequel to work in a theme park. Whilst Parc Disneyland’s Space Mountain is remarkably different from its overseas namesakes, the original working title Discovery Mountain was scrapped in favour of appending the subtitle ‘De la Terre à la Lune’ to Space Mountain as it was thought a large number of guests would be familiar and excited by the overseas versions whilst still acknowledging that this attraction was quite significantly different. The original Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room has led to both The Enchanted Tiki Room – Under New Management! and The Enchanted Tiki Room: Stitch Presents Aloha e Komo Mai!, each recognising that the original Enchanted Tiki Room name was well-remembered. The sequel to the original Star Tours also shares this approach, taking the name Star Tours: The Adventures Continue.
Individual parks may develop styles of their own, and name a series of attractions in similar styles and formats. At Disney, many of the big, intense attractions are based and named around mountains, including Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain and Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain. A pattern such as this means a guest knows that if it is a ‘mountain’ attraction, it will be a major, E-ticket experience.
As discussed above, Universal Studios uses the subtitle ‘- The Ride’ after many of its attraction names, an approach which has made it diegetically acceptable and identifiable.
Similar names can also link different yet related attractions, as with the Autopia and Aquatopia attractions in the Disney parks, which both share the experience of riding in a unique vehicle – the first in land, the second in water. At Walt Disney Studios Park, two of the major shows, each housed in prominent matching showbuildings, are CineMagique and Animagique – the first portraying the magic of cinema, and the second portraying the magic of animation.
Attraction names are just one part of the theme park experience that can benefit from an unusual vocabulary and clever use of words so that the feelings of delight can be communicated through nomenclature alone. Aquatopia, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, Dueling Dragons and Hex – The Legend of the Towers each include word choices which are unusual and something of a novelty to say, encouraging the idea that the theme park world is a delighting place of heightened reality.
For the designer looking to name an attraction, potential lies in subverting the typical naming type of the attraction: as spinners are often named after the Transportation, roller coasters are often named after Power Words, and dark rides are often named after Characters, a unique identity can be crafted by avoiding or subverting these trends. Flying Carpets Over Agrabah stands out more as an attraction name than Jasmine’s Flying Carpets, for example, due to its more interesting structure and sense of place-setting, whilst If I Ran the Zoo is a much more intriguing name than those typical of playgrounds.
In Part IV, the final essay in the series, I shall explore the impact of alternate attraction names for a handful of classic attractions, and examine some attraction name case studies.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Art of Attraction Names - Part II

In this series of articles, I hope to deconstruct the theme park attraction name to understand what makes them effective, their role in the theme park experience and identify the numerous considerations and influences that can shape just a few small words.
Jump to: Part I - Part II - Part III - Part IV
The process for creating an attraction name goes through a number of different stages. The very first names are often the working titles for projects, but in a number of cases these names end up as the final titles, either because they work so well, the designers have grown used to them, or the name is a driving factor in the development of the project. Because of this, it is valuable to have good titles from the very start of production.
Ultimately, the suggestion of nomenclature is the responsibility of the show writer, along with attraction scripts, signing, menus and any other written communication. Their suggestions may be supplemented by designers working on the project, with final decisions resting with the project lead or management depending on the project significance. Increasingly, the marketing department has influence on nomenclature as theme parks recognise the importance of clearly advertising new attractions outside the park.
Nomenclature needs to be cleared by the legal department before it can be used, and depending on the circumstances, sometimes needs to be checked for foreign language issues: names need to be able to be pronounced easily by guests speaking another language, and cannot translate into anything offensive.
Crucially, attraction names need to be usable by the guests, and are often shortened regardless of their length.
In order to understand the possible sources and content of attraction names, I have analysed and broken down a number of attraction names into their constitute parts. From a theoretical perspective, identifying the content of attractions names can provide a peek at the direction the designer was taking their attraction, whilst from a practical perspective it may provide new naming possibilities for those working on their own project.
Examples: Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, King Arthur Carousel, Fievel's Playground, Frontierland Shootin' Arcade, Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress.
These names specifically state what type of attraction they are, often in an extra-diegetic way. Generally, this approach is taken when it is explicitly obvious what type of attraction it is and a diegetic explanation is too farfetched, as with Castle Carousel at Tokyo Disneyland or Flounder’s Flying Fish Coaster in Tokyo DisneySea. Sometimes these names are used when the attractions are diegetically supposed to be the attractions they are, as with Gadget’s Go Coaster, specifically intended to be a roller coaster built by the mouse Gadget. Stating what type of attraction it is also helps inform the guest what to expect, as with the Star Toons Character Meet and Greet but can risk damaging the manufactured reality of the theme park environment.
Examples: Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye, Phantom Manor, Mickey’s House and Meet Mickey, Hyperion Theatre, Jurassic Park Discovery Center.
These attractions are named after the building that house them, often used when the focus is on exploring that particular constructed environment. Building attraction names can range from purely diegetic, as with Mystic Manor, to building nicknames, as with the Haunted Mansion (the backstory for the Haunted Mansion typically gives Gracey Manor as the house’s proper name), or more general names for the type of building, such as the Tower of Terror. Building names in this third style particularly work well for weenies and other unusual, unique building designs such as the Templo del fuego, La Pirámide del Terror or even Tarzan’s Treehouse. More general names, such as Haunted House, are sometimes used but perhaps miss an opportunity to develop story through incluing.
Examples: Mickey’s PhilharMagic, Shrunken Ned’s Junior Jungle Boats, Swiss Family Treehouse, Shrek 4-D, Incredible Hulk Coaster.
When a specific character is heavily featured in an attraction or has a diegetic ownership of the attraction, it becomes common to link that character to the attraction through its name. A recognisable name brings familiarity to an attraction: many guests may pass PhilharMagic, but will be much more accepting when Mickey Mouse is hosting, just as guests will have more response to Tarzan’s Treehouse than an anonymous tree house.
Characters are also appropriate when the attraction is retelling the story of a particular character, as with a number of the storybook dark rides like Alice in Wonderland and Snow White’s Scary Adventures.
Examples: Splash Mountain, Doctor Doom’s Fearfall, California Screamin’, Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, Stitch Live!.
When there is a particular element that stands out with the attraction it can often inspire the name. Typically these names work best when the entire experience is building to that one specific moment, as with Splash Mountain and Doctor Doom’s Fearfall, which both build to their huge drops. Alternatively, it might be the feature that differentiates the attraction from other similar attractions: Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin both identify what separates them from more typical dark rides (the first’s crazy, out of control nature, and the second’s ability to spin the car).
Examples: Stitch’s Great Escape, Kongfrontation, Countdown to Extinction, Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
Some attraction names reference the actual story experience the guest will face or a similar variation such as the goal of the attraction’s story (whether the main characters or the guests). This approach does separate out the experience from the diegesis of the park quite drastically and is blatant in its scripted nature, but can nevertheless provide a dramatic name. Alternatively, some attractions, such as Riverbank Eye Spy or Treasure Hunters, state the activity guests can partake in on the attraction. More general events, such as parties, holidays and other celebrations are also commonly used to title entertainment offerings.
Examples: Big Thunder Mountain, Grizzly River Run, Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland, Tom Sawyer Island, Space Mountain.
Similar to Buildings, attractions may also be named after the (supposedly) natural features they are situated amongst, particularly for weenies. Possibilities range from mountains and rivers to volcanoes, mines, deserts, caves, valleys, plateaus, forests, hills, islands, bays, bayous, waterfalls, glaciers and many other natural formations. Such terms can also be figurative, as in the case of Space Mountain, which whilst not intended as an organic mountain still retains the iconic shape and uses the term in a unique and memorable way.
Examples: Disneyland Railroad, Tomorrowland Speedway, Adventures Thru Inner Space, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Mulholland Madness.
Some names will choose to link the attraction to its location. Extra-diegetic names of this style are often used when an attraction passes through multiple lands or themed areas, such as the Walt Disney World Railroad, or when the attraction is specifically linked to that park. Land names may also be used, either when clarity about location is required, as with train stations such as Toontown Depot, or when the land name has been established as the diegetic term for the location, as with the Tomorrowland Transit Authority (Tomorrowland is said to be the actual name of the futuristic spaceport) or Main Street Vehicles.

Names may also describe the attraction or experience in relation to a place: ‘over California’, ‘under the sea’, or even more abstract locations such as ‘through time’ or ‘to the future’.
Examples: Star Tours, Goofy’s Sky School, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Disney Channel Studio Tour, Ollivanders.
Often a useful origin for staying diegetic, attraction names can often borrow the titles of the organisations presented within the attractions story. These might range from organisations attempting serve the guests with new products or experiences (including tours), to organisations trying to acquire the guests as their newest recruits, as well as numerous other scenarios including imprisoning the guests, rescuing the guests, teaching the guests and so on. Organisations can also be real-life groups or companies – particularly when they are sponsors of the attraction, or are intricately linked to the experience offered, as with the Mission Tortilla Factory or Nickelodeon Studios.
Examples: Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, Sounds Dangerous with Drew Carey, Ellen’s Energy Adventure, Lights, Camera, Action™: Hosted by Steven Spielberg.
Attractions which have had significant involvement from a specific person well known to the public may have their name directly attached to the name - a real life version of the Characters grouping. These may be celebrities who are starring in the attraction, drawing guests to the experience through familiarity with the star, or, more rarely, a designer, director or similar contributor who has shaped the attraction without appearing it in. Walt Disney chose to attach his name to some of his most technologically advanced attractions or those that he personally funded, for example.
Examples: CineMagique, Fantasmic!, Hex – The Legend of the Towers, Magnus Collossus, TH13TEEN.
A trend of amusement parks, but also showing up in theme parks too, is the use of power words: short titles that sum up the experience in a quick, dramatic and often abstract way. These are very often used (and perhaps overused) on roller coasters and other intense attractions where powerful names such as Nemesis, Inferno, Dragon Khan and even Goofy’s Barnstormer evoke the wild nature of the attractions. The sources of these names vary from mythological creatures, predatory animals, dangerous natural phenomenon or any number of other similar origins.
A problem with Power Words names however is that they can become alarmingly generic, with each name losing its ability to specifically identify a particular attraction and instead becoming just another synonym of a similar one. Alton Towers Theme Park has been particularly innovative when it comes to avoiding this problem and reinventing the approach the retain the spotlight. Two of the parks roller coasters include Air, a significantly calmer, elegant name which stands out against the harsher roller coaster names dominating the industry, and the highly postmodern name Rita.
Power words can also be used to make ordinary titles more interesting and differentiate them from more ordinary versions beyond the park’s gate. CineMagique, Mickey’s PhilharMagic and Magical Oz-Go-Round each use the word magic to heighten the imagined experience. The risk is that an overuse of these words will devalue them into being pushbutton words.
Examples: “it’s a small world”, “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience", O Canada!, It’s Tough to Be a Bug, There’s Something in the Dung Heap.
Some attractions use spoken-style phrases as their names, variously taken from lines in the attraction, song lyrics or even well-known phrases. Statement titles are perhaps the most unique and can be highly personable, and, if taken from well-known writings, can be immediately familiar to the audience, although may have trouble fitting diegetically. In some cases, an altered spelling or pun will reference a familiar quote, as with the Disney California Adventure roller coaster California Screamin’, a play on the classic California Dreamin’ song.


Examples: Tom Sawyer Island, American Idol Experience, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The Ride, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.

In many cases, an attraction name is used to communicate the source material the attraction is based upon to the guests: if they like the source, they will be more likely to want to experience the attraction. An attraction called the Laugh Floor would probably not mean much to a guest, but as the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor it is much more recognisable. Although a land and not an attraction, rumours suggest that Cars Land in Disney California Adventure Park received that name over other possibilities such as Route 66 or Radiator Springs, specifically because of the ease in marketing it in commercials. Whilst Route 66 could be used by any theme park, and Radiator Springs (the name of the fictional town in the Cars film which has been recreated in the park) may be unfamiliar even to those who have seen the movie, Cars Land directly links the area to the popular film franchise.

Perhaps an unusual name from this perspective is that of Star Tours, which, despite being based on the hugely successful Star Wars film franchise, chooses not to mention this in its name, relying on taglines, a shared font, or simply assumed knowledge to link it to the films before a guest ventures inside – unlike another attraction which shares its source, the Star Wars: Jedi Training Academy.
Examples: Legacy of Walt Disney, Impressions de France, Journey Into Imagination, Dinosaur, Pirates of the Caribbean.
This approach specifically references what the attraction is about, an approach particularly strong when the subject is evocative and well-known in the wider public consciousness, and which avoids complicating the name with backstory specific references. One of the most direct examples of this is Pirates of the Caribbean; a name coined when Walt first approached his Imagineers and descriptively told them that he wanted “a pirate ride. You know, pirates of the Caribbean.”
This approach is also common with exhibit attractions or those with a similar approach, where the education about a specific and identifiable topic is the primary goal.
Examples: Walt Disney World Railroad, Peter Pan’s Flight, Soarin’ Over California, Mark Twain Riverboat, The Magic Carpets of Aladdin.
Transportation inspired names use the method a guest will move through the space as their source, an approach most appropriate when the experience is focused on a unique or unusual method of transportation (such as a monorail, antique motor car or a flying carpet), and not the environment it moves through. Additionally, this grouping covers not only what will move the audience, but how it will do it; cruising through the jungles, running river rapids or soaring through the air for example.
In dissecting attraction names, it is important to recognise that many times a single word will fit into more than group: consider the Disneyland Railroad for example, where Disneyland is both the Location and an Organisation. Generally, attraction names are often two or more of these groups mixed up together - take for example Alice’s Curious Labyrinth which is made up of a Character (Alice), a Quote (“Curiouser and curiouser” is memorably spoken in the animated film), and the Building, in this case a hedge-maze labyrinth.

In Part III, I shall analyse the stylistic conventions of attraction names.

The Art of Attraction Names - Part I

In this series of articles, I hope to deconstruct the theme park attraction name to understand what makes them effective, their role in the theme park experience and identify the numerous considerations and influences that can shape just a few small words.
Jump to: Part I - Part II - Part III - Part IV
Sometime in the mid-eighties, Disney’s newly appointed CEO, Michael Eisner, was looking over some models of upcoming Disneyland attractions and decided to make a suggestion for the Zip-a-Dee River Run: the Imagineers should include an animatronic of Daryl Hannah as the mermaid from the 1984 Disney hit Splash! To Michael, the film held a special significance as the first major studio hit since he took on his new job, but to the Imagineers it was pretty apparent their new boss didn’t quite understand how Disney theme park attractions worked yet. Amongst the critters and creatures of a 19th century Deep South, an eighties mermaid wouldn’t be the most natural fit. Michael was happy to take on board the correction when the Imagineers explained it to him, but wasn’t fully content with the name Zip-a-Dee River Run. Disneyland has a Space Mountain, a Matterhorn mountain and a Big Thunder Mountain, he thought, why not a Splash Mountain (a name infinitely more marketable to those familiar with Disney’s mountain range). Decades later, the Imagineers can’t think of any name that more perfectly suits the attraction.
Attraction names are incredibly important and must simultaneously accomplish a number of objectives, appealing to a wide range of people, and at the same time simply sound good. Those words on a park map or the name above a queue-line may be the only incentive for a guest to commit their park time to the unknown attraction within. Whether an attraction name sounds great is of course highly subjective, but what possibilities for names there are, and what constitutes a good name from a practical and communicative perspective is certainly something that can be analysed. Despite their apparent simplicity, good attraction names require an aptitude and flair for language to fulfil everything required from them.
Historically, attraction names were originally remarkably malleable, even in Disneyland. Attraction names would differ between the park maps, the park guides, the attraction sign or between employees, and in many cases included little thought at expression, being more description than an attempt at evoking an adventure as in the case of the Disneyland Mule Pack Ride. Through time, however, attraction names have come to be recognised as an important element in the overall show, as will hopefully be explained.
Theme park attraction names need to fulfil a number of practical requirements, the most fundamental of which being to get the guests to want to experience the attraction and justify their waiting in line, a goal often accomplished by an intriguing, exciting or inviting name to draw people in. Each attraction name needs to be somewhat unique, not overly complicated and immediately identifiable with the attraction it refers to so incidents of mistaken identity are not common (a problem which might cause guests to search for a different attraction to the one they wish to experience).
Beyond this however, an attraction name can also be selective in order to specifically target the appropriate audience for that particular experience. It is of no value getting guests of all ages interested in an attraction designed only for a specific age bracket: consider the different audiences that Tower of Terror would appeal to when compared to Alice’s Tea Party. When Sindbad’s Seven Voyages opened at Tokyo DisneySea, it had trouble locating its audience - the scary elements made the ride unpleasant for young children, but the production design was too cartoony for older guests. The attraction was eventually given a make-over in which it was made to specifically target a younger demographic. The scarier scenes were toned down, a new, more childlike song was brought in, and as part of the process the attraction was renamed Sindbad's Storybook Voyage, making clear the attractions intention to be a children’s retelling of the Arabian stories. Certain words and phrases are more likely to appeal to children than adults, and this can be used to appeal to certain groups. More complicated attraction names aren’t appropriate to Fantasyland, which primarily caters to a younger crowd, for example.
As well as demographic selection, an attraction name should also give a general sense of what the attraction is, empowering the guests to be self-selective in choosing the attractions which will most appeal to them. Attractions such as the Mystic Manor, Spinball Whizzer and Doctor Doom’s Fearfall each give some suggestion to the experience (in these cases mysterious, dizzying or scary) so that guests know which attractions to seek out, and which to avoid.
Finally, the attraction name also takes a role in being one of the first elements in telling the story, equipping the guests with their first morsels of information about the experience to come. The name is generally the first piece of incluing guests receive, and can be used to prepare the guest who some expectations about the attraction. Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye immediately tells the guest that this temple is not a welcoming place, and perhaps somewhere they shouldn’t be, readying them for their dramatic escape later on. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea gives quite direct exposition about the guests’ intended destination, but does in a dramatic and mysterious way, whilst Dragon Challenge challenges the guests to survive the experience that awaits them.
Expanding on attraction name’s position of introducing the story, we move beyond the practical requirements of an attraction name and begin to explore their role in the story experience and the fictional world. Attraction names divide into those which are diegetic and those which are extra-diegetic, the deciding question here being whether a fictional character in the presented environment would call the attraction by the same name as a guest. For example, a cowboy in Frontierland would be knowledgeable about the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, but a spaceman in Tomorrowland would be expecting perhaps the Star Command Headquarters over a location called Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters.
Diegetic Attraction Names: Main Street Cinema, Jungle Cruise, Tarzan’s Treehouse, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Matterhorn Bobsleds, Princess Fantasy Faire, Mickey’s House, Space Mountain, Star Tours, etc.
Extra-Diegetic Attraction Names: Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan’s Flight, Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, etc.
Assuming a goal of creating seamless fantasy environments in which an attraction is just a logical extension of what the characters in that world might get up to, the extra-diegetic attraction name seems somewhat problematic, isolating the attraction as a distinct entity. With the avoidance of attraction names being far too logistically problematic, the general solution has to been to accept the name as a manifestation of Theme Park Acknowledgement. Attraction names cannot always be diegetic (or even if they can be, may hold far more expression in a name which is extra-diegetic), and so designers have chosen to embrace this, devising names of wonderfully theatrical and cinematic proportions, such as the Haunted Mansion, Revenge of the Mummy or Space Mountain: De la Terre à la Lune.
Diegesis is generally favoured because it continues the illusion of the environment. Compare Big Thunder Mountain Railroad to Runaway Mine Train: the first maintains the premise of really being back in the wild American frontier, organically experiencing the same events that a cowboy might come across, whilst the second is discernibly fake and manufactured – if the fictional characters in the attraction’s world knew it would run away, they would have stopped it.
Attraction names don’t need to be diegetic, but the key to their suitability is recognising that the attraction sign will be visible in the land and ensuring that it does not impact on the overall environment. This problem is apparent in the Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland, where the attraction sign for Stitch’s Great Escape is far too dominant over its surroundings. Whilst the name may be suitable for the experiences, seeing the extra-diegetic signs breaks the illusion of being in a real futuristic city: if this really was the headquarters of the Intergalactic Council, why would they have a sign saying ‘Stitch’s Great Escape’ and a two-dimensional Stitch cut-out image at their entrance? A solution may have been to have a video billboard as the attraction entrance, broadcasting a fake news alert that Stitch has escaped, whilst the two-dimensional Stitch flat could have been a Stitch silhouette shaped cut-out through the metalwork, as though the destructive alien had ripped his way right through it (whilst the shape remained familiar to guest passers-by).
Diegesis can often lie in the presentation of the attraction name. Consider the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, which is certainly extra-diegetic as a name. At Tokyo DisneySea, the Twilight Zone source material was dropped due to a lack of exposure in Japan and the attraction came to be known simply as Tower of Terror - a name which might very well have remained extra-diegetic. However, through a clever backstory, it is established that the New York City Preservation Society is offering tours of the mysterious building – the “Tower of Terror”, a local nickname for the crumbling hotel. The attraction sign is made to look like an advertisement for the tours. Similarly, whilst Space Mountain could have stayed as an abstract name for the conical structure, many years after opening the Disney Imagineers cleverly established the backstory that the building is really a Space Mountain-class Spaceship which has landed in Tomorrowland, backed up with nearby imagery of a cluster of Space Mountain-class Spaceships flying through space, or other Space Mountain-class Spaceships docked to a space station.
Even extra-diegetic names can be presented in a diegetic way. For example, the entrance to Slinky Dog Zigzag Spin at Walt Disney Studios Park is portrayed as the box the toy dog came in. On the side, the advertising slogan reads: “Collector’s edition Slinky Dog. See him Zigzag. See him Spin round ‘n’ round”, but because the bolded words are so much larger, guests who read it can clearly see it as the name of the attraction.
Generally, the ultimate aim is a name which is simultaneously both diegetic and cinematic.
In Part II, I shall begin to deconstruct attraction names used throughout Disney, Universal and Merlin theme parks to understand the common sources providing the content of attraction names.