4-D attractions have been part of the theme park experience for a long time. But has this form of entertainment become outdated for theme parks? It’s a tough question to answer.
I’m writing in particular about the type of attractions where you sit in a theatre of some sort and are watching media on a traditional movie screen, while practical effects are happening all around you like wind, water, and fog.
When 4-D attractions were introduced in theme parks, they were a unique experience. Back in 1991, we got Muppet*Vision 3D at then-named Disney-MGM Studios. In 1994, there was Honey, I Shrunk the Audience at Epcot. 1998 brought us It’s Tough to be a Bug! with the opening of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Universal Studios parks opened Shrek 4-D in 2003 and Mickey’s PhilharMagic opened in Magic Kingdom that same year.
These are just some of the 4-D attractions that have popped up in theme parks over the years, but as you can see, these examples are all fairly dated at this point – yet some still remain open.
I do enjoy a lot of these attractions, but let’s face it: the 3-D/4-D experience isn’t all that unique to theme parks any longer, making it a harder sell as an experience worth visiting. For decades now, your local movie theater has been trying to make the 3-D movie experience a thing, but it has never quite caught on.
Going all the way back to the 1950s, the 3-D gimmick was used to try and sell more movie tickets when television was considered a threat. The 3-D moviegoing fad seems to return every couple of decades. The 1980s brought us movies like “Friday the 13th Part III,” “JAWS 3-D” and more. The fad returned in the 21st century, but for the most part, paying audiences showed once again that they weren’t interested enough in 3-D to pay extra for their tickets.
3-D became even more commonplace when 3-D television sets and Blu-ray discs became available to the public for home consumption. When a bunch of 3-D movies are available at your local cineplex or in your home, it doesn’t make for a sought-after experience in a theme park. In fact, we’ve seen theme parks strip away the 3-D glasses from some attractions like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem, partially due to lack of popularity.
I think the theme parks have realized that people don’t want to wear 3-D glasses anymore. The next big step for 3-D is a three-dimensional image without wearing glasses. We’ve seen Disney head in this direction when they touted a “2 ½-D” experience with the opening of Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, but they seem to have strayed away from using that phrase since the attraction’s opening. “2 ½-D” was a buzz phrase when the ride was originally announced, showing that Disney knows they need to head toward 3-D without glasses to satisfy current audiences.
But to be fair, there is a big difference between a 3-D experience in a movie theater and a 4-D experience. But 4-D experiences don’t only exist in theme parks these days. They’re certainly not as common as the standard movie theater, but 4DX theaters have a good amount of locations all over the country.
According to their website, “4DX is a state-of-the-art film technology developed by CJ 4DPLEX which delivers an immersive multi-sensory cinematic experience. 4DX incorporates on-screen visuals with synchronized motion seats and environmental effects such as water, wind, fog, scent, snow and more, to enhance the action on screen.” I personally experienced this with “Jurassic World,” and it uses a lot of the same effects as a 4-D theme park attraction.
So what we really need to ask is, is the technology of 3-D and 4-D attractions so outdated and commonplace at this point that it simply no longer satisfies audiences, or is there still a place for it in theme parks? After all, technology like blacklight effects in dark rides began decades ago, but is still a useful tool in current attractions. So why can’t 3-D and 4-D attractions stick around and become classics as well?
I believe they can, but they need to be properly cared for. When the picture print becomes old and out of focus and/or the in-house special effects stop working, they must be updated and fixed in order to remain relevant. With a lot of this technology becoming available in the “real world,” theme parks need to go above and beyond to ensure that their in-park experiences remain superior to other entertainment options that are usually much less costly to experience.
What do you think? Do you enjoy 3-D and 4-D attractions? Are there any classics that you would be sad to see go away? How would you feel about a new 4-D experience being put into a theme park now?
If you have any theme park topics you would like to hear my opinion on, let me know in the comments. You might just see it pop up in a future DePaoli on DeParks.
Jeff DePaoli is a producer and voiceover artist living in Los Angeles. He can be heard as the voice of Disney Trivia on Alexa as well as the host of “Dizney Coast to Coast,” the ultimate, unofficial Disney fan podcast. Get your FREE gifts of “America’s Hidden Mickeys,” “On the Rohde Again,” “Theme Park Comfort Kit” and more at DizneyCoastToCoast.com.