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.
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.
-----------------------------ALLITERATION & RHYME
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.
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
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
The Wind in the Willows
Peter Pan’s Flight
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.