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Saturday, July 17, 2021

Thoughts on Behind the Attraction


Behind the Attraction Poster

I grew up in that era when The Wonderful World of Disney was event television.  Every Sunday night at 6, the family would gather around the TV to watch Disney.  And one thing that always stuck out in my mind were episodes that would take you behind the scenes at the Disney theme parks.  Seemed there was always an episode showcasing how they made the animatronic in Pirates of the Caribbean.  Heck, I remember when Splash Mountain opened up in the late 1980s.  Splash Mountain was a really big deal when it first opened.  

So that's been one of my disappointments so far with Disney+.   There hasn't been a lot of that "behind the scenes at the theme parks" stuff yet.  Yeah, we got The Imagineering Story, which was great, but it was more about the parks in general.  I want to see deep dives on the history of the Haunted Mansion.  I want the inside scoop on Star Tours.  Heck, I want those classic episodes of The Wonderful World of Disney to binge.  

Enter Behind the Attraction.

This was announced a year ago, as one of their big tie-ins to Jungle Cruise.  They even got Jungle Cruise star Dwayne Johnson on board as a producer.  But like a lot of things in our pandemic world, it got delayed.  It's finally dropping on Disney+, and my interest was piqued when I heard that they even had Brian Volk-Weiss on board as a producer.  Volk-Weiss was the man behind the Netflix sleeper hit The Toys That Made Us...the documentary series all about the history of your favourite action figure lines.  Volk-Weiss brought this wonderful, slightly irreverent tone to the proceedings, which made the end product fun and breezy, yet still educational.  So I went into Behind the Attraction thinking it was going to be The Toys That Made Us for Disney rides.  

And that's exactly what Behind the Attraction is.  

The same playful tone that Volk-Weiss brought to The Toys That Made Us is here in full force.  The same use of stock footage, the same kind of graphics, and the same kind of quippy narration (here provided by Della Duck herself, Paget Brewster).  

But, true to the show's name, this is more than just turning on the lights in the Haunted Mansion and showing you how the animatronics work.  This show really does take a step back and show you how the attraction fits into the Disney parks and it's history as a whole.  A great example is the episode on Star Tours.  Yeah, we get to hear it's well-known origins as a ride to tie in with the Disney film The Black Hole, but when that flopped, it was shelved until Disney CEO Michael Eisner reached out to George Lucas about getting the Star Wars license.  But then we start following the whole design lineage of how Star Tours eventually leads to Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, and how it all ties together.

Another new aspect that those Wonderful World of Disney episodes of yore could never get into was localization.  We've got Disneylands in Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Shanghai now.  So they also go in to how these rides had to be adapted for other cultures.  The more famous example is the Haunted Mansion.  They knew that the Haunted Mansion couldn't compete in France with things like the Paris Catacombs, so at Disneyland Paris, they put it in Fronteirland and gave it a Wild West makeover.  The Chinese people have an entirely different concept of ghosts and spirits, so at Hong Kong Disneyland, it's called Mystic Manor and has more to do with playful spirits than spooky ghosts.  

But the lesser known example comes from the episode on the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.  Well, The Twilight Zone never made it to Japan, so when they opened it up at Tokyo DisneySea, they had to remove all connections to The Twilight Zone and make a completely original story.  And then the episode ends with another kind of localization...they go into how the Tower of Terror at Disney's California Adventure was refurbished into Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout.  

But it's not just the rides, oh no!  There's an episode that's all about Walt Disney's fascination with trains, so you think it's about the steam train at Disneyland and Walt Disney World's famous monorail.  But that eventually springboards into an analysis of Walt Disney World's mass transit system and Walt Disney's fascination with the subject.  Remember:  Walt Disney World consists of four theme parks, twenty seven hotels, a bunch of water parks and golf courses, and tons more stuff.  People need to get to all these places.  One of the imagineeers they talk to says Walt Disney World has a mass transit system comparable to the city of Atlanta.  It's one of those things that you think is going to be boring, but winds up being utterly fascinating.  

Behind the Attraction is a wonderful series that will scratch that "behind the scenes at the parks" itch that you might be having at Disney+.  I didn't have a chance to watch every episode in advance, but I can hardly wait to binge the whole thing.

The first five episodes of Behind the Attraction drop on Disney+ this Wednesday, July 21.

Sunday, July 04, 2021