When "Ride the Movies" Works

Animaniac93-98

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
Inspired by blogs like Passport2Dreams, I wrote a little (ha!) something that sums up my recent feelings about the new BatB ride in Tokyo and my thoughts about IP rides in general, including two that I like very much. I may edit this post in the future if I have more thoughts, but I tried the keep the whole thing to a point. Enjoy!


The purpose of this essay is to explore the idea of theme park attractions as adaptations of movies and why some succeed in this translation more than others. The two examples used are Walt Disney World’s Snow White’s Adventure (1971-1994) and Universal Studios’ Jaws (1990-2012 in Florida and 2001- in Japan). More information on these two attractions can be found here and here.


On September 28 2020, Tokyo Disneyland opened their newest headliner attraction; a long-form dark ride through the story of Disney’s 1991 animated movie version of Beauty and the Beast. Despite the ride’s enormous scale, technologically advanced robotic figures, lengthy run time and elaborate detail; the new attraction was met with a collective disappointment from the theme park fan community. How could all that talent and money go to waste? Was Beauty and the Beast not a beloved property? Did modern audiences no longer care about slow-moving dark rides? Was something lost in the translation of English to Japanese? The answer was none of the above, yet far simpler. Adapting a movie into a ride is not as easy as simply recreating scenes in three dimensions and presenting them in the same order as the film. Adaptation means understanding the medium you have to work with. Its strength, its limitations, its audience. They are not the same for ride through experiences as they are for movies, books or stage plays. Time is limited, the audiences’ focus is not as controlled and more senses are engaged. Staging and pacing need to be understood in a new way if the end result is to have a desired impact, and that may not be the same as the original source. Beauty and the Beast is a fine 80 minute movie, but it can’t be recreated in a new fashion in 8 minutes and be just as effective. The best examples of “ride the movies” are those that appreciate the medium in which they exist and create something new from the source of inspiration.

Two excellent examples of rides as movie adaptation would be Snow White’s Adventure at Walt Disney World and Jaws at Universal Studios Florida and Japan. Both are relatively simple in their execution, but succeed beautifully in achieving their desired goal; to frighten young children and surprise their older friends and relatives. Theme park rides by their nature are physical things. Being jolted around from point to point in a controlled environment, they are far better suited for thrills and spills, than intimate character moments or lengthily musical interludes. The two movies these rides are based on are considered hallmarks of American cinema, but the ride designers know better than to be slaves to tradition or too reverent of their Hollywood counterparts. The film’s setting and characters are the jumping off point for something new and different, something that can be enjoyed on its own terms by paying customers looking for the next stimulus in a full day’s worth of adventure.

Part of the reason these rides work, is their understanding of the primary source of conflict. Both the Witch in Snow White and the shark in Jaws are examples of an almost primal fear instilled in us at a young age through cultural osmosis. We don’t need to have seen either film the respective rides are based on to know why each of these nemeses poses a threat to us. Big scary sharks eat people, and witches do all manner of bad things. This is critical to each ride’s success as not only are the experiences too short to develop any kind of sustained hero/villain conflict, they are seen by people who may not speak English, Japanese or whatever language the ride has been recorded in. The two figures are also frightening in a way that’s immediately recognizable thanks to their superb design. Due to budgetary and technical limitations, neither figures of the shark or witch have much movement. They merely slide, swivel or bob into place on cue, not being a great likeness of the human or fish form. This is overcome through effective timing and theatrical lighting. Part of the thrill of these rides is not knowing when either threat will show up (assuming one has never tried them before). Things jumping out from the dark or behind a corner are usually good for a jolt, and in the case of these two monsters, their somewhat frozen features help make their ugly designs clearly read and recall other cultural fears around possessed dolls and demonic statues. It doesn’t matter what either creature did to their original film victims or why, they are here now and out to get you, and we the audience, know that as soon as they arrive.

One of the delightfully morbid ways these rides heighten their thrills is by hiding them behind benign facades. The load area for Snow White’s Adventure is a tableau of painted trees, green grass, waterfalls and little depictions of the Dwarfs’ cottage and Queen’s castle. We hear Snow White singing from her wishing well and that cheery music helps to further conceal what lurks inside. Similarly, we board Jaws on the pretense of getting a tour of the New England town of Amity. We see the quiet village on the other side of the water and no reference is made to the shark or any danger he might present. This is another example of how these rides understand the medium. In a film, there can be a slow build up to the inciting incident or first attack. Rides are too short to waste time with that, beyond perhaps being hoisted up the first hill of a roller coaster. But the load area and queue are clearly visible to those waiting for an extended period of time, or passing by the attraction on the walk to somewhere else in the park. These areas help to explain the premise of the experience in a visual way and set expectations that may or not be broken once on board the vehicle.

Relying too much on the guests’ detailed knowledge of the events of a movie can be a hindrance on the ride if they are unfamiliar. When Snow White’s Adventure opened in 1971 it was near impossible to see the Snow White movie in its entirety. Disney only re-released the movie to theaters once every 7 years on average, refusing to sell such an important movie (and cash cow) on video or show it on television, beyond select clips. Coincidently, the year the ride was changed to more closely resemble the movie’s plot and visual design was the same year it was finally sold on VHS and laserdisc. The original design team took advantage of this by creating a nightmare of an attraction deliberately removed from the original animation. Some of the film’s most memorable scenes and songs were discarded entirely in favor of new moments so that the Witch would be a more direct threat to riders.

While Jaws was released to VHS just 5 years after its original theatrical run, and has never been out of print on home video, not everyone who goes on the ride has seen it, particularly children too young to watch it. Jaws the ride has only passing references to the movie’s originally characters and wisely ignores the many sequels spun off from the blockbuster. It also understands that while the original terror of the movie was being trapped in the middle of the ocean on a tiny boat far from shore, this cannot be replicated in a land locked theme park in central Florida. The shark instead is a stealthier creature, able to somehow hide from sight in shallow waters or inside a boat house. The logic doesn’t matter or register in such a short experience. Like many a movie monster, his abilities are endless and part of the ride’s suspense is anticipating what he may do next.

Both rides are part of a long tradition of ghost trains and haunted houses that have been a staple of carnivals for 100 years. This is obvious for Snow White, being a bus bar dark ride, but while Jaws from a structural and operations standpoint is comparable to Disney’s Jungle Cruise or Submarine Voyage, it’s still in essence, a spook house ride. Shockingly, it’s a spook house ride that takes place almost entirely outdoors, in broad daylight for most of its daily schedule, with large vehicles that are anything but intimate, and yet it still works. Both rides’ success is in part due to their being cinematic. Not because they are based on movies, but because they use filmmaking techniques to elevate what was once a crude kind of showmanship into something polished. There is a level of craft on display in both that exceeds anything done at a county fair. Snow White’s primary art director was Claude Coats, a man who had a long background in animation before transitioning to theme park design. He understood colour, staging, pacing and action, all important elements in crafting a themed experience. Just because rides are not the same as movies, does not mean they cannot employ the same tools or techniques. These stylistic choices and the understanding of them in ride design are what can elevate even modest experiences into something memorable. Snow White is not significantly advanced from a technical perspective above its industry predecessors, but it understands design in a way that’s far more sophisticated.

Jaws is a ride that is full of practical limitations. The original version was notorious for simply not working and shut down for years of remodeling. However, much of the ride’s scenes and pacing remained largely intact. The early glimpses of the shark and his destructive capabilities, the shock of seeing him up close in the dark boathouse, his final attack on the rider’s boat all remained much the same. What made the ride a success in the end was this effective stagecraft. The careful planning of scenery, the timing of effects, the changes in space, visibility and lighting are what sold the idea that the obviously fake shark was out to get you and full of surprise.

Rides based on movies need not abandon all aspects of their source material or the techniques of filmmaking. They can still use them to create something new and memorable. Therein lies the difference between quality attractions based on movies and those that try and fail to reproduce them. It’s not always a case of budget or technology, or even how popular or known a movie is. It’s about understanding the medium and its potential to elicit new emotions, thrills and delights. Both Disney and Universal have produced a number of attractions over the years based on movies that take those stories into a new direction or expand the worlds in which they existed. Some have even gone as far as surpass their film counterparts in terms of popularity and longevity in the public consciousness. While new technologies and blockbusters may have the potential to be fused into new attractions, it is important to remember on a fundamental level what makes for a memorable ride through experience that can be appreciated by all audiences regardless of their age or what language they speak. That way we can all continue to “ride the movies” and want to shares those thrills again and again.
 

Animaniac93-98

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
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I guess if I wanted to add one more key point, it would be that individual rides in a park do not exist in a vacuum like movies at a multiplex. That their collective worth and placement next to other offerings in the park work to enhance each other. The problem for Jaws is that USF circa 1990 was very much built like a Multiplex with the boxy soundstages deliberately not having much to do with each other.
 

The Empress Lilly

Well-Known Member
I guess if I wanted to add one more key point, it would be that individual rides in a park do not exist in a vacuum like movies at a multiplex. That their collective worth and placement next to other offerings in the park work to enhance each other. The problem for Jaws is that USF circa 1990 was very much built like a Multiplex with the boxy soundstages deliberately not having much to do with each other.
Yes. I think this Multiplex Box setting still plagues USF. Especially the front half. Shrek, Transformers, Despicable Me...
Indeed like arriving at a Multiplex and going from individual movie to movie, who thereby don't actually come alive outside their cinema hall - the very premise of a movie theme park.

But the Amity/Jaws area I thought quite accomplished? USF also has/had a gorgeous progression of American urban environments.
 

HongKongFooy

Well-Known Member
the new attraction was met with a collective disappointment from the theme park fan community.


An outstanding read......

but I'm curious how you concluded that above. Are Japanese not running to that upon opening? The comments on this site look to be overall thumbs up.
 

Animaniac93-98

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
But the Amity/Jaws area I thought quite accomplished? USF also has/had a gorgeous progression of American urban environments.

I love the Amity area at USJ, in particular the split level counter service restaurant that has windows overlooking Jaws load/unload and feels very much like Columbia Harbor House.

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But when I looked at video of Florida's Amity the Christmas before it closed, it seemed way more cluttered with midway games and ads and not nearly as nice. Maybe it was better when it first opened? Or maybe I was looking at a bad video.

But USF's sets are at least nice depictions of American streetscapes, even if the sightlines are not always good.
 

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Animaniac93-98

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
An outstanding read......

but I'm curious how you concluded that above. Are Japanese not running to that upon opening? The comments on this site look to be overall thumbs up.

The ride is brand new, being delayed by several months due to the park's closure. People are eager to see it in person after years of waiting.

Soaring last year had wait times up to 4 hours when I was there, but the ride is mostly the same as the other parks and not really that special. Midway Mania also has long lines in TDS, and it's far from the park's best ride.

Capacity, novelty, marketing etc all can contribute to a ride's appearance of popularity. That does not mean it's universally adored (Mermaid continues to have lines in Florida despite the bad word of mouth it gets on this site) or will have staying power beyond the initial opening.

It will be interesting to see if BatB remains as popular as Hunny Hunt 20 years after opening.
 

The Empress Lilly

Well-Known Member
I love the Amity area at USJ, in particular the split level counter service restaurant that has windows overlooking Jaws load/unload and feels very much like Columbia Harbor House.

View attachment 503700

View attachment 503699

But when I looked at video of Florida's Amity the Christmas before it closed, it seemed way more cluttered with midway games and ads and not nearly as nice. Maybe it was better when it first opened? Or maybe I was looking at a bad video.

But USF's sets are at least nice depictions of American streetscapes, even if the sightlines are not always good.
I just watched a pre-closing video too. Aren't you right. A carnival, Chester&Hester set in a WS America shacks clutter environment.

I guess I just passed by all that and just rode Jaws and took my waterside stroll along the prettier parts.
 

Animaniac93-98

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
You don't tell us why you think BatB went wrong, or how it violates these principles you lay out.

It falls flat because it tries to recreate the movie scene by scene without understanding how character moments like "Something There" don't necessarily translate well to large dimensional spaces with constantly moving vehicles. That's what I mean by this sentence:

"Beauty and the Beast is a fine 80 minute movie, but it can’t be recreated in a new fashion in 8 minutes and be just as effective."
 

techgeek

Well-Known Member
But when I looked at video of Florida's Amity the Christmas before it closed, it seemed way more cluttered with midway games and ads and not nearly as nice. Maybe it was better when it first opened? Or maybe I was looking at a bad video.

I just watched a pre-closing video too. Aren't you right. A carnival, Chester&Hester set in a WS America shacks clutter environment.

I guess I just passed by all that and just rode Jaws and took my waterside stroll along the prettier parts.

The carnival along the walkway was unfortunate, and the visual and aural noise upstaged the outstanding New England waterfront area of Amity. Even if you look past the games themselves, many of them were housed in properly rendered facades representing all the expected architectural styles of the area.

I always thought the original USF did a fine job of being the multiplex to 'ride the movies', but the disconnect for me came from the stark front lot stage buildings contrasted with the richly realized backlot locations original to the park. There were some fantastic locations... like Sting Alley, Amity, Central Park, Garden of Allah... that were fully immersive and worthy of their own exploration as attractions. It's a shame that most of the 'rides' of the park were relegated to the boxes, with only a handful like Jaws appearing in their thematically correct backlot locations.

You don't tell us why you think BatB went wrong, or how it violates these principles you lay out.

Comparing again to Universal Studios Florida and going beyond Jaws, "ride the movies" was never ever literally paralleling the story of the film, it was attractions that enabled you to enter into and play in the world that the films existed in. We encounter King Kong attempting to escape New York on an aerial tram. We fly along with ET through the forest and even to his planet, which was not something represented at all in the film but someplace we definitely wanted to go to. Jaws took place in the location of the film, but in a later time period with much different visually dramatic adventures attached.

If we apply that same mindset to B&tB, we definitely want to spend time exploring Beast's castle, but we want that adventure to be our own and not a retelling of the story we already know. We want to see the dishes dance and explore the dark and mysterious west wing we never really saw all of in the film and maybe steal a twirl around the ballroom if we have the time, but it was up to the Imagineers to imagine a successful conceit to allow us to do so. Instead, there wasn't much imagining that needed to happen... the story was on a rail and already cast in stone in 1991, it was only left to them to render it. Some imagination, huh?
 

Animaniac93-98

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
I always thought the original USF did a fine job of being the multiplex to 'ride the movies', but the disconnect for me came from the stark front lot stage buildings contrasted with the richly realized backlot locations original to the park. There were some fantastic locations... like Sting Alley, Amity, Central Park, Garden of Allah... that were fully immersive and worthy of their own exploration as attractions. It's a shame that most of the 'rides' of the park were relegated to the boxes, with only a handful like Jaws appearing in their thematically correct backlot locations.

I believe the idea was to have non specific buildings and locations so that shows and rides could be more easily swapped out every 5-10 years. Universal since then has thankfully moved away from this for the most part.

Universal Japan is similar to Florida in terms of layout and attraction mix, but does a better job of having rides in their relevant areas (Spider-Man in NYC), but not always (Backdraft the movie is set in Chicago, but in the park it's the San Francisco area).
 

LastoneOn

Well-Known Member
It falls flat because it tries to recreate the movie scene by scene without understanding how character moments like "Something There" don't necessarily translate well to large dimensional spaces with constantly moving vehicles. That's what I mean by this sentence:

"Beauty and the Beast is a fine 80 minute movie, but it can’t be recreated in a new fashion in 8 minutes and be just as effective."
Ah, ok. Gotcha!
 

BrianLo

Well-Known Member
Beauty and the Beast sounds like it suffers the same analogous fate as a parade show stop. Over-long lingering. Definitely not really the North American fans' thing.

That said I too will be curious to see how it settles with the primary audience on a longer-term scale. But I'm not yet sure if the online reaction here will really translate yet.

It's very hard to design a ride to impress North American audiences by eschewing both tight pacing plus a thrill these days.
 
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Animaniac93-98

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
It's very hard to design a ride to impress North American audiences by eschewing both tight pacing plus a thrill these days.

I guess Navi River Journey was the last kind of ride like this built by Disney in the USA?

But the specific complaints about that ride tend to be that it is too short and lacks impressive set pieces besides the ending, more than it being a slow moving boat ride.
 

Jon81uk

Well-Known Member
Also the original Snow White Adventure didn't really feature Snow White, as you were taking the adventure yourself, this I understand did lead to guest complaints but I can see why it was done that way to make the better story.

Atractions like the Little Mermaid where it is just a ride through scenes from the movie are much more boring compared to extra adventures such as Jaws, ET etc.
 

Robbiem

Well-Known Member
Really good post Animaniac93-98. I had never thought of Universal Studios as a multiplex but its a great comparison.

For me I guess movie based attractions break down into two categories. One is more experienced based where the movie element adds another layer for people familiar with the source material. Indiana Jones adventure would be good example of this. If you've never seen an Indy movie you would still be able to enjoy the ride in the same way as you would Pirates or Haunted mansion but knowing movie references like the giant boulder add an extra layer of enjoyment. Tower of Terror or carsland would also fall into this category. In each case a basic premise - car culture, haunted hotel is made more fun through the infusion of a movie / TV tie in. Most importantly you don't need knowledge of the source material to enjoy the ride.

At the other end would be rides which require you to have prior knowledge of what you're experiencing. Galaxies Edge or Harry Potter and the Forbidden journey would be a good examples of this. Without an understanding of the movie series you don't really know much about what is going on on the ride and while you might enjoy it the experience is diminished by a lack of knowledge of the source material. I'd also argue that a lot of the fantasyland dark rides fall into this category as well. If you didn't know the story of Winnie the Pooh would the ride make much sense or would it just be a series of cute scenes?

Of course like most systems the reality is that there is a sliding scale between these two extremes
 

Jon81uk

Well-Known Member
Really good post Animaniac93-98. I had never thought of Universal Studios as a multiplex but its a great comparison.

For me I guess movie based attractions break down into two categories. One is more experienced based where the movie element adds another layer for people familiar with the source material. Indiana Jones adventure would be good example of this. If you've never seen an Indy movie you would still be able to enjoy the ride in the same way as you would Pirates or Haunted mansion but knowing movie references like the giant boulder add an extra layer of enjoyment. Tower of Terror or carsland would also fall into this category. In each case a basic premise - car culture, haunted hotel is made more fun through the infusion of a movie / TV tie in. Most importantly you don't need knowledge of the source material to enjoy the ride.

At the other end would be rides which require you to have prior knowledge of what you're experiencing. Galaxies Edge or Harry Potter and the Forbidden journey would be a good examples of this. Without an understanding of the movie series you don't really know much about what is going on on the ride and while you might enjoy it the experience is diminished by a lack of knowledge of the source material. I'd also argue that a lot of the fantasyland dark rides fall into this category as well. If you didn't know the story of Winnie the Pooh would the ride make much sense or would it just be a series of cute scenes?

Of course like most systems the reality is that there is a sliding scale between these two extremes

I would say there is the third category of the basic retel of the movie, rides such as the Little Mermaid, where you just go through the scenes of the film.
As you say you need a basic understanding of the wizarding world to “get” the Harry Potter areas, but the ride tells a unique story at least rather than rehashing the film plot.
 

doctornick

Well-Known Member
Comparing again to Universal Studios Florida and going beyond Jaws, "ride the movies" was never ever literally paralleling the story of the film, it was attractions that enabled you to enter into and play in the world that the films existed in. We encounter King Kong attempting to escape New York on an aerial tram. We fly along with ET through the forest and even to his planet, which was not something represented at all in the film but someplace we definitely wanted to go to. Jaws took place in the location of the film, but in a later time period with much different visually dramatic adventures attached.

If we apply that same mindset to B&tB, we definitely want to spend time exploring Beast's castle, but we want that adventure to be our own and not a retelling of the story we already know. We want to see the dishes dance and explore the dark and mysterious west wing we never really saw all of in the film and maybe steal a twirl around the ballroom if we have the time, but it was up to the Imagineers to imagine a successful conceit to allow us to do so. Instead, there wasn't much imagining that needed to happen... the story was on a rail and already cast in stone in 1991, it was only left to them to render it. Some imagination, huh?

I think this reflects on why FoP is so popular and well regarded. And you don't have to have knowledge of the specific film to make it "work" as a guest.
 

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