Thursday, September 16, 2010

Main Street USA: Color Schemes and Declining by Degrees

This was posted in a very interesting thread on MiceChat: On Main Street's Current Color Scheme, discussing the inauthentic paint colors used throughout Main Street USA at Disneyland and the invasion of contemporary merchandising in place of period appropriate store windows.

I find it so so interesting that some people just don't see the importance of these seamingly minor details, or see them as obsessive or nitpicky. It's precisely a mastery of these elements that make Disneyland the best at what it does. Would Frontierland be okay painted 'Cowboy Woody Brown'?

In the past people have been talking about the decline by degrees of Main Street wondering when the tipping point would be reached that it loses its magic, and I think threads like this ring alarm bells. I think to many people, Main Street has just become a lost cause subconsciously, no longer held to the same standard that the other lands are. People who fume about light up spinning Stitch's in Frontierland don't seem to mind if its on a supposedly turn-of-the-century Main Street, but I think that's because the thought is "Well, all theme parks have merchandise shops at the entrance, I guess Disney needs them too." Cartoon color schemes, anachronistic merchandising, contempory advertising, Vacation Club carts, levelled out curbs, parade lighting rigs, overtaking retail space and other jarring elements really threaten Main Street's ability to transport.

What some people seem to not realise is that Main Street USA should be just as much as an immersive land as any of the others. What makes this one even more special is that it was real, and has a masterful design that wonderfully targets nostalgia, patriotism and Americana - but which is being dulled by overly invasive retailing and design decisions centred around the bottom line.

I recently visited a tourist attraction in England which come across to me as the British version of Main Street (trip report here). There were no piles of plush toys or pin stations, it was magnificently transporting, as wonderful as a city of the future or lost jungle, and stirred some amazing feelings that Main Street apparently no longer generates in the people rushing to the E-tickets. To those who have visited the Henry Ford's Greenfield Village or Colonial Williamsburg, it is that connection and pride with the past that Walt intended and was directly influenced by.

Yes economics (and our own desires to get some Mickey goodies!) mean that shops should be there, but they should be end result of a fantastic voyage back through a century, not the centerpiece of Strip Mall USA. Hold Main Street USA to a high standard! An Imagineer (someone will know who I'm sure) once said that if it apparently makes no difference doing it accurately or not, why not go for accurate? To those who do realise, it will be that bit more impressive.

I may sound doom-and-gloom reading this over, but it's best to strive for more. Main Street is still an amazing place to be... there's even more amazement it could have. All of Main Street's compromises (the color scheme, Vacation Club, parade lighting rigs, etc.) are problems which I think should be addressed, even if they seem insignificant individually.

These small problems lose the magic.

Specifically for the colorscheme - if you're going to do it, do it authentically. There's a value in people saying "Did you know, Disney uses real antique street lamps on Main Street!" or "Did you know, Disney has real antique mining equipment in Frontierland!" when talking about the park. No one will mention "Disney uses a bunch of oversaturated colors for its Main Street", but "Disney uses the real colors Walt remembered from his childhood" just may get a mention.

These small details create the magic.

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