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.
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
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.
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.
JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH
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.
SPACE MOUNTAIN: DE LA TERRE A LA LUNE
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.
THERE’S SOMETHING IN THE DUNG HEAP
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!