mmcirvin: (Default)
mmcirvin ([personal profile] mmcirvin) wrote2017-04-25 10:27 pm

Rides at Walt Disney World: the Haunted Mansion and some other stuff

Probably the single greatest thing on my "rides I hadn't done before" wishlist was one of Disney's most famous and beloved rides, the Haunted Mansion. So much ink has been spilled over this thing that I'm not sure it even makes sense for me to try a blow-by-blow description. It was groundbreaking when it first opened at Disneyland in 1969 and at WDW a couple years later (after years and years in development hell).

Haunted-house attractions, both walk-throughs and dark rides, already had a long history at amusement parks by the time the Disney parks tried doing it. Disney distinguished themselves not by making their ride exceptionally scary (it isn't, though bits of it are a little unnerving) or even by having a particularly coherent narrative, but just by making the thing really freaking weird and funny, with an explosion of detail that's impossible to take in more than fractionally on one ride. Especially since it's mostly really dark in there (there's the darkness again). One gets the sense that Disney's Imagineers were cutting loose from the fairly conservative constraints they were usually working under, and getting to play with morbid whimsy and surrealism to a much greater degree.

They used all the classic and cutting-edge illusionary tech they could think of: infinity mirrors, animatronics, Pepper's Ghost illusions, statues with projected animated faces, inside-out masks that appear to follow you as you move, etc. Some of the tech has been updated in recent years; the murderous Bride toward the end is a lot more talkative than she used to be ("in sickness and in... wealth!"), and the Hitchhiking Ghosts that are riding with your reflection in the mirror use CGI and your account information to hold up signs indicating that they're following you to your home state. But it's basically the same ride it was originally, not thematically updated to the degree that, say, Pirates of the Caribbean was after the Johnny Depp movie became a monster hit. Paul Frees' eerie-sardonic narration as the Ghost Host still drives the whole thing as you ride through in your Doom Buggy (a name that hilariously dates the attraction in itself).

The Doom Buggies are actually Omnimovers, a system that they apparently invented for an old Monsanto-sponsored Disneyland ride to the subatomic world called "Adventure Thru Inner Space", but the Haunted Mansion was a pretty early use. Basically the same system, or a variant of it, is used on the fairly recent Little Mermaid ride, and at "The Seas with Nemo and Friends" and the horrible "Imagination with Figment" at Epcot, and probably a zillion other places. There's an endless, continuously moving chain of little three-person vehicles with a clamshell shape, and they can rotate from side to side to control what you're supposed to be looking at, and also tilt backward under ride control. Under normal circumstances the chain never stops moving--you board via a conveyor belt that lets you step into the cars in motion; but these rides seem to stop a lot just to accommodate people who need help getting in or out, so temporary interruptions are pretty common. The motion of the vehicles also helps ensure that you simply can't get a good enough look to see everything, which encourages you to come back someday.

Disney's "FastPass+" system lets you pre-select three rides every day for which you can skip the regular standby line. The standby lines often have theming and activities of their own, and can be pretty entertaining in their own right as long as the wait isn't much more than, say, 30 or 40 minutes. But I had a limited amount of time to do rides that my daughter didn't want to go on, so I spent two of my FastPasses for the Magic Kingdom on Space Mountain and the Haunted Mansion.

My third one (actually the first, chronologically) was just for her: the Tomorrowland Speedway, Disney's version of the little gasoline-powered cars that kids can drive, at pokey speed on a roadway with a safety rail down the middle. Disney's layout isn't distinguished by much other than being unusually large, with a lot of lanes arranged in suggestion of a racetrack. She loves these rides, but up to now she's usually demanded that I drive the car. Doing it at Disney World was finally the impetus that convinced her to take the wheel. I still had to operate the pedal.

What she really wanted to do, more than go on rides, was to do "Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom," a sort of alternate-reality game in which you walk around to different hidden-in-plain-sight window displays and fight animated Disney villains using spells cast by holding up collectible cards (the spells all seem to be equally effective; the differences are entirely cosmetic, and cast members hand out thick decks of the cards for free). It's basically Disney's answer to Universal's interactive wand displays in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The main activity in Sorcerers is that the game sends you dashing all over the park to find the next display in the sequence, so you get a lot of exercise, but it did occur at that point in the week where my feet had not yet developed new calluses but were starting to really feel destroyed.

What she likes even more is Epcot's "Agent P's World Showcase Challenge", a goofy alternate-reality game themed after the endless battle of secret agent Perry the Platypus versus incompetent supervillain Heinz Doofenshmirtz on "Phineas and Ferb". Six of the country-themed areas at Epcot have Agent P missions associated with them; Perry's boss Major Monogram appears on your smartphone and tells you to go places, identify clues and enter things into the phone, which then activates hidden animatronics and gadgets in the scenery that do silly things.

This was adapted from an earlier "Kim Possible" game in which players carried around old cast-off flip phones on which they did the user interaction. When we played "Agent P" three years ago, they were still using the flip phones, and the one we got had a malfunctioning screen that made it hard to see the animated clues. Today, they've dispensed with them entirely and just tell you to go to a website on your own smartphone, which works much better, provided you've got a smartphone. But there are some interactive bits in the game that still have anachronistic references to "the directional keys".

At any rate, Agent P's World Showcase Challenge was the reason she voted to spend our truncated last day before our flight home on a second visit to Epcot. I think we ended up doing five of the six missions in all. It goes a lot faster when the agent is 10 years old rather than 7 and the phone's screen is actually readable.

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