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 PirĂ¡mide 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.

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