Saturday, September 10, 2011

Review of the Haunted Mansion Interactive Queue – Part I

New characters greet (and confuse) you as you enter the new interactive queue at WDW's Haunted Mansion
(Originally posted March 27, 2011)

People at theme parks are little better than devolved monkeys. Some so resemble this image that it’s hard to tell if I should direct them to the entrance of my attraction or hand them a banana. First off before delving further into the myopic cesspool of humanity that inhabit theme parks let me say I am speaking in generalities and that I admit there are a great deal of people there simply to enjoy the experience and have a good time lost in the fantasy created by the fantastical buildings and people that work there. They know why they are there and appreciate the great and small. They take time to allow the atmosphere to seep into their reality and replace it with something more fun for the time they visit. However for as many people as fall into this category it is painfully clear they are in the clear minority outnumbered many times over by the remnants of our evolutionary past.

Recently the Haunted Mansion has undergone some major renovations in the outside queue area as well as some additions on the inside. This change has been painful to some, especially the purists who decry this meddling and denounce it as a desecration. In their view they are correct. The house that has stood for hundreds of years, this Dutch Colonial in sunny Florida has welcomed guests for ages—oh wait, the house is only 40 years you say? Well shit. And it only vaguely resembles a true Dutch Colonial? Well double shit. Yeah that’s harsh I know, and these are the people I like!

The reality being replaced by the fantasy is great when everyone buys into it. However Disney World is a business. A cutthroat heartless one scared of bottom line and profit margin shrinkage. Perhaps this was not always so, but it is absolutely true now. That fear drives the company to move with the demands of the people. And THIS is the real tragedy.

Imagine watching a Macbeth performance when suddenly calls for Snooki are shouted from the audience and then, even worse, some of those very audience members shouting run onstage and start touching the sets and poking at the three witches.  Where, do I ask, is something like that even remotely acceptable? Well, at Walt Disney World of course!

That’s the problem I see when viewing the Mansion as what it resembles. It is a fantasy-based reality that is sadly hijacked by the millions ignoring it and walking on through. To them they do not notice the detail of the molding and intricacies of the carved wood. They do not appreciate the way the light from the cobweb filled chandelier hits the wallpaper just so. They do not often see the aging man actually age. They are too busy running through. In part because our management team, feeling pressure from wherever it comes, are compelled to move as many people through an hour as they can.

How then, in this rushed state, can one truly appreciate all there is to appreciate?

The truth is they can’t.  They are forced to run ahead, sit down, ride, cross that attraction off their list and move on. They repeat this all day. Before we feel bad though for the poor guests I must once again point out most of these are the mental equivalent of a cunning chimp (apologies to any chimps reading this).  Disney is slow to change and when they do it is through observed behavior and many hours of intensive research.  This is our society and culture; that is the sad realization I have come in my time working in theme parks. It is actually more accurate to say this is the degraded state of our society and culture. There simply is too much information transferred too fast to too many people very few of whom are equipped or able to process it and therefore properly appreciate it. We have plugged in and tuned out. What the new queue attempts to do is entertain those masses without forcing them to unplug and look up. The irony that I have seen more times than perhaps WDI would like is that very many of those targeted guests are actually annoyed at the queue because it keeps them a few more minutes from the Mansion and therefore delays their feasting on a turkey leg for lunch as they run through another queue. I wonder if these people even know there is a castle in the park?

If the target audience cares little and the purists hate it why then build it in the first place? Good question. The new queue in its design will theoretically alleviate crowd presence in the main walkways of the park. More people in the queue means less people in the street. However that possible boon will be negated if people do as WDI intends and stop and play with the queue elements even possibly creating greater lines and more miserable guests. And if they don’t and choose to bypass the queue or even rush through it, then WDI is defeated as well. This is a no-win scenario, but a necessary one.

You see the real heart of the problem lies in the artificially created queue line and the modern person’s innate rudeness and “me-first” attitude when in a crowd of people. At Disney we are always just a few incidents and 15 minutes away from full mob mentality. Don’t believe me? Be in a queue of a broken down ride for 10 minutes before anyone has been evacuated or compensated for their wait time then tell me where the mentality of the people is? Or their sanity for that matter?

As the lines get longer and the chains forever multiply with an ever increasing number of twists and turns people stop caring about their surroundings. By placing those there Disney has signaled to the guest subconsciously that the goal is the ride and anything that comes between is viewed cursory at best. So like little lab rats we have placed the cheese and then place obstacles in the way. Why do we get angry when they bypass those? If it doesn’t get them closer to that cheese they will lose interest soon.

Like a kid with a new toy at Christmastime this queue will be a hit. But just like that toy it will soon lose its luster. My remedy? Do away with all chains and stanchions and bring back the giant oaks and allow those that want to the ability to use the new playground as that is precisely what the new queue is. Let those that want to run in do so. And don’t rush those that do appreciate art, history, and beauty. A lot of work went into the Mansion and other rides so it’s a damn shame to quickly herd these monkeys right through.
I admit, that’s wishful thinking. Rather than change the trend of myopic vision and goldfish-like memory we contribute to it. Sadly it seems that all the rides and all the queues, unless something drastic changes in society at large, will follow in the Mansion’s footsteps. Next Gen? No thanks!

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