Monday Morning Imagineer – The Shanghai Effect


© Fayhoo / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

On May 7th, the soft opening for Shanghai Disneyland began. Not too long after, the first video began to surface of the new attractions in the park, with a lot of attention being paid to the TRON Lightcycle Power Run and Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure. While it’s hard to judge from video alone, but the buzz for the latest creations of Imagineering is strong.

With Pandora, Star Wars Land and Toy Story Land on the way in the American parks, the interest in these new designs has been magnified. This week, I’m going to take a look at these new attractions, along with another from another international park, and explain how they might give us some hints on what we can expect in these new lands.

Oh, and seeing just how far the Imagineers pushed the envelope also altered a lot of my ideas for my proposed Robotics Pavilion in Epcot, so you might consider this some important background before next week’s MMI.

A New Kingdom

Plans for Shanghai Disneyland began in 2009, with ground broken on April 7th, 2011. Costing an estimated $5.5 billion(a figure which may be even higher in the long run), it is the most sophisticated and elaborate Disney park to date. There’s a lot different about Shanghai, as it’s the first kingdom park without a Main Street USA, replaced with Mickey Avenue as the main entrance. The spectacular new Enchanted Storybook Castle, the largest of any Disney castle, will contain a boat ride themed around the Disney Princesses.

Another first among the Disney parks is Treasure Cove, an entire land dedicated to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Early on, the buzz was centered on a new adaptation of Pirates of the Caribbean, which would focus on the storyline of the movies rather than the classic theme park ride. Other new attractions include Roaring Rapids, a rapids ride based around a creature named Q’aráq, and the first ever Tron attraction.

Not surprisingly, footage of two of these attractions made its way online shortly after the soft open. While no footage of Roaring Rapids has appeared online yet, ride through videos of both Tron and Pirates of the Caribbean have shown up online.

The TRON Lightcycle Power Run isn’t the more intense coaster in the world, but the ride vehicles are unique, and I’d wager than the effects will look far more impressive in person. It still looks amazing, and the addition of the Daft Punk score from Tron: Legacy is a nice touch. It’s a fun attraction, but it’s a bit short, and honestly a little overshadowed by the other attraction in the park.

Simply put, Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure might be one of the most impressive attractions the Imagineers have ever concocted, and that’s based off of one ride video. From the brilliant homage at the beginning with the prisoners and the dog, to the amazing effect of Jack Sparrow materializing from a skeleton and the amazing Davy Jones animatronic, I could see people talk about making the trip to experience this one alone. The boat is magnetically controlled to allow a precision of movement previously unheard of.

What’s interesting is that this is one of the first Disney attractions to make extensive use of projection technology, but it’s done artfully. Not unlike Transformers The Ride 3-D, actual set pieces are used to augment the reality of the scene, with Pirates taking it a step further and incorporating Audio-Animatronics into the attraction.

Of course, when the subject of impressive attractions in other Disney parks is brought up, the subject often turns to Hong Kong Disneyland, and its version of the Haunted Mansion, Mystic Manor. Due to taboos of Chinese culture, ghosts were excluded from the attraction, and the Imagineers instead opted to use the Society of Explorers and Adventurers to tell a whimsical story starring the adventurer Lord Henry Mystic and, more notably, his pet, Albert1. It features amazing effects and one of the most endearing original stories of any Disney attraction.

(I’m not going to lie, Mystic Manor may be one of my favorite attractions, and I’ve not even actually ridden it yet. But this is truly spectacular in every way.)

These three attractions are three of the best in any Disney park, but unfortunately they are in parks that will be prohibitively expensive for even the regular Disney attendee. Sadly, the ride videos can only convey so much, and aren’t quite the same as being there.

However, it’s worth pointing out that there are three new areas opening in Walt Disney World over the next few years, and a new section in Disneyland as well. What could these new creations tell us about what Disney might have planned for these areas? To answer that question, we first have to put together what we know about Pandora and the upcoming Star Wars and Toy Story lands.

The New Lands

Pandora: The World of Avatar will open in 2017, and despite the recent ground breaking no date has been announced for the Star Wars and Toy Story lands. Disney has said all three areas will be immersive, striving to make the guests feel as though they’ve stepped into the worlds of those films. And while the details aren’t completely clear yet, we do know the major attractions that will make up each area.

Pandora will boast two majors attractions. Avatar Flight of Passage will be a simulated ride on the back of one of the Banshees from the film, while the Na’Vi River Journey will explore the bioluminescent plants and animals of Pandora. Star Wars Land will let guests take the controls of the Millennium Falcon on a secret mission, while a second attraction will put guests in the middle of a battle between the First Order and the Resistance. In Toy Story Land, Slinky Dog Dash will be a family roller coaster, while Alien Swirling Saucers will be a simpler attraction, apparently similar to attractions in the new Cars Land in Disney California Adventure.

So, can we glean anything about these attractions from the Shanghai and Hong Kong attractions? The answer is… maybe a little.

Flights of Passage is almost certainly a new ride system, or at the very least is heavily adapted from something already in the Disney parks. However, in discussing the ride vehicles themselves, Disney CEO Bob Iger called them “…so real, so lifelike…” which implies guests will be using the Banshees themselves as the “ride vehicle”. This might mean the riders are seated in a similar fashion to the Tron attraction.

There’s not a lot to be learned about either the Slinky Dog Dash or the Millennium Falcon ride from what we’d seen so far from Shanghai either. Simulations of the Slinky Dog coaster suggest they’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, and we might have a sense of the ride system from Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. The Falcon ride will likely feature new technology, so it’s hard to pin down much.

That leaves the Na’Vi River Journey and the other Star Wars attraction. While they aren’t many obvious similarities between Pirates and the River Journey, it seems reasonable to guess that the magnetic technology used to position the boats in Pirates will also be used in the River Journey. From what we’ve seen so far, however, it looks like the attraction will be using more practical effects.

It’s the First Order and Resistance battle that Battle for the Sunken Treasure might give us a glimpse of. While the attraction won’t be taking place on a river, there has been speculation it will utilize a trackless system, which allows for more freedom of motion than current Disney systems. This even allows riders to take separate paths through the attraction, increasing the repeat visit factor and making each experience somewhat unique.

Now imagine a trackless rider system, with guests scattering to avoid laser fire from storm troopers or the light saber blade of Kylo Ren, each moving in different directions and each seeing a different hero from the Star Wars films. The use of projection technology, combined with practical effects where possible, would give guests the experience of fighting alongside Rey, Finn, Poe or Chewbacca. Combined with some of the visual tricks we’ve seen in Disney’s latest batch of attractions, it’s a fascinating use of old and new technology to create a memorable, one of a kind experience.

If nothing else, a look at these three attractions should fill even the most jaded Disney fans with hope for what’s to come. Imagineering is pushing the envelope once again, and in the next few years we’ll get to see just what they’ve come up with for some of the most beloved franchises in the world. I for one can’t wait to see what’s in store.

A Daily Weekly Dose of Disney

Like most Disney fans, I like to find ways to feel closer to the parks when I’m half a country away from them. Each week, I’ll highlight little ways you can bring a little Disney magic into your lives.

Magical Mouse Radio – If there’s one thing that can connect you to the Disney parks even you’re half a country away, it’s the music. Whether it’s the songs on the attractions, the background loops that play as you walk through the park, or the music from the parades and fireworks shows, it’s an easy way to transport you back to the Happiest Place on Earth. Magical Mouse Radio is an entire station dedicated to that music, and I think it’s impossible to listen without at least a little bit of a smile on your face.

What’s to Come

Wednesday marks the end of the Disneymoon portion of our honeymoon, with a return trip to the Magic Kingdom. Splash Mountain, Philharmagic and Be Our Guest await us, but will any of them disappoint?

And next Monday, it’s a post that was directly affected by what I shared today. I transform the Wonders of Life into the Robotics Pavilion, and invite you to tour the International Robotics Museum, and meet one of the most enduring icons in the history of video games, who takes his well deserved place in Future World.

Not So Hidden Mickeys(AKA Footnotes)

1 – While I offered my own take several weeks ago in Monday Morning Imagineer, more than one person has suggested Mystic Manor would be a wonderful template for a new Journey into Imagination with Figment and Dreamfinder, and I can’t argue the point.

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