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The confusion within Disney storytelling dark rides – DePaoli on DeParks

by Jeff DePaoli

A lot of folks’ earliest memories of visiting a Disney Park are the traditional and iconic dark rides like the ones found in Fantasyland. They’ve been a staple of the Disney Parks since day one of Disneyland and are appropriate for guests of all ages to experience. On opening day, there was Peter Pan’s Flight, Snow White’s Adventures (later renamed), and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

dark rides
Photos via Disney Parks Blog

Although these attractions are always delightful for the whole family, I’ve often been confused as to why the storytelling on most of them is so poor. After all, whenever you hear a behind-the-scenes story of a Disney attraction, the first thing that’s always said is, “It all starts with the story.” I wouldn’t disagree with that statement when it comes to a lot of the more adult rides, but for the dark rides geared toward children, it seems to all start with the songs.

When you look back at those previously-mentioned original rides at Disneyland, I get it. This was a whole new medium of entertainment, so perhaps they didn’t have the knack yet of telling a story through a ride.

Let’s look at Snow White’s Adventures for a moment. Originally, the character of Snow White was never seen throughout the ride, as the experience was supposed to be as if the guest was viewing the attraction through Snow White’s eyes – essentially, you were Snow White. I like that concept, but it apparently went over the heads of guests, who wanted to see the titular character.

The ride was also too scary for children, causing the name to be changed to Snow White’s Scary Adventures years later, as well as updating the queue with more scary imagery to prepare younger guests while they wait in line. This was done to weed out those not yet brave enough for this kind of adventure. I think the biggest offender on this particular attraction is the finale, where we see the Evil Queen in her witch form crash to her death. and just seconds later we read “And they lived happy ever after.” What?! We seem to have skipped past a big chunk of the story here.

dark rides

The same lack of storytelling can be said for Peter Pan’s Flight, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, and more attractions to come later. I get that there are restrictions. The ride can only be so big and so long, but I feel like if you’re going to preach “It all starts with the story,” then the story should be easy to follow. It shouldn’t be a prerequisite to see the movie in order to understand what’s happening in the ride.

As the years pass, we continue to get more of these traditional dark rides because they’re awesome, iconic, and they can entertain many guests since they’re reliable and move pretty much constantly. But I would have hoped that by now, more focus would have been given to the story.

These storytelling issues, unfortunately, continue to happen, considering that when The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure opened at Disney California Adventure in 2012, the same sorts of storytelling issues were present. It was more about hopping from one song to the next rather than having dialogue tell a story. It seems as though they tried to fix the storytelling narrative issues by giving Scuttle the role of narrator, but seeing him once at the beginning and again at the end just isn’t enough.

Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue attraction at Disney California Adventure

Of all the traditional dark ride attractions I’ve ridden, I think the one that tells a story best is the 2006 Disney California Adventure ride, Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sully to the Rescue. From the very beginning of this ride, the story is set up that a child has been let loose in Monstropolis. Perhaps the reason the story is so clear here is because this movie doesn’t feature any songs. Therefore, we’re hearing character dialogue throughout the ride instead of just hopping from one song to the next.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of Disney music, but I believe it should always be used to enhance a story, not replace it. I would love to see some of the more music-heavy movies made into rides featuring dialogue and do a better job of telling the story.

But perhaps I’m in the minority. Maybe people don’t care about the story. Maybe most guests are just happy enough seeing favorite characters and singing along to their favorite tunes. But I would like to see it all truly “start with the story.”

What do you think? Do you find these dark ride’s stories to be difficult to follow? Do you care if they are? Let me know in the comments.

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

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.

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6 comments

Bob Bedore December 5, 2020 - 1:46 pm

I have always disliked these types of rides (throw stones if you want). They are basically, “oh, you liked the movie? Let’s show you parts of the movie all over again, but in a less entertaining way”. They feel like the story is already there because you already know the movie.

I prefer rides that take something you know and then put you into that world with a new story. I think the Universal did this very well with rides like “Spider-Man”, “Transformers”, “Men in Black”, and so on. Disney finally captured a little of this with “Cars” and the rides in Star Wars land and I hope that they continue to explore showing us more of a world rather than just rehashing the movie.

The Monsters, Inc ride could have been a marvelous race to see what was behind a lot of doors as we were whisked from one room to the next. But it’s basically the movie.

Re-telling a story with animatronics is not “storytelling”.

Just my two-cents.

Reply
Jeff DePaoli December 10, 2020 - 1:16 pm

I definitely prefer the ones that tell a different story but I get why they don’t do that with attractions geared more toward children. I think they did a great job with that 25 years ago with Indiana Jones Adventure.

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Sue December 5, 2020 - 9:06 pm

You have to remember that some of these rides are for children who want to relive the story…Like Peter Pan…They deserve their Fantasyland while the rest of us who grew up can see the Avengers , Star Wars, etc. Have to warn against there being”too” much of the Virtual Motion rides also… The Star Wars Rise of the Resistance was done the right way however.So is Mickeys Runaway Train.

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Jeff DePaoli December 10, 2020 - 1:18 pm

I agree that these rides should exist for kids (and adults) who want to relive the story. I just wish that they actually told a clear story.

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Marilen Wood January 5, 2021 - 5:27 pm

While I appreciate the desire to have a clear story told throughout the rides, I think that’s more of an adult concern. As a kid, my favorite ride was Peter Pan; not for the story, but because it felt like I was really flying like Peter Pan. The same thing applies to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride; being thrown around the way he must have trying to control that car. Another good example is Alice in Wonderland; that feeling of disorientation when going through the ride is similar to what I think Alice felt (although I don’t like that the Tea Party is at the end of the ride). My point is I don’t think it’s just about the visual for a kid. It’s about the sounds and the motion as well.

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Jeff DePaoli January 8, 2021 - 1:42 pm

I totally agree that kids probably don’t care. The thing is that I don’t consider these just kid rides. They’re rides for families. That’s one thing that Disney does so well. Before Disneyland, most rides only had seats large enough for children. By making ride vehicles large enough for the entire family (and therefore an attraction for the entire family), I think the adults riding would appreciate better storytelling. I know I would.

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