Thursday, March 22, 2007

Adventures in Master Planning #1

Sometimes, you come across something in a theme park which strikes you as either exceedingly brilliant or exceedingly baffling. All of this is, of course, the domain of Master Planning, which (ostensibly) accounts for every angle, dimension and layout question which arises in a park. Master Planning can make a theme park revolutionary (Disneyland) or frustrating (Disney-MGM Studios). Even a company as large as WDI tries to keep everything in line, but sometimes…

Adventure One: Colonial Mansion?

A question which will probably haunt Walt Disney World for the duration of its existence is the rather baffling placement of the Haunted Mansion in Liberty Square. Frankly, it simply smacks of desperation. Here was WED Enterprises, fresh off a triple victory lap with the opening of Pirates of the Caribbean, New Tomorrowland, and The Haunted Mansion, stuck in a room and told to re-re-invent the wheel they had just spent the past 15 year perfecting. Liberty Square, or at least the idea of a Liberty Square, would rise from the dead and would be joined with the Rivers of America and Frontierland to create a vision of American progress and spirit. Wouldn’t it make sense to put The Haunted Mansion there?

Yet the selection of Liberty Square seems almost arbitrary, after having ruled out Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, and Adventureland right off the bat. A Haunted Mansion on Main Street was drawn in the very early days of Disneyland’s master planning, but as the area developed a haunted house on that street would more or less measure up to sacrilege. And WED wasn’t yet ready to do a Western haunted house. After all, all that interior Victorian design that had been decided on for the attraction would look preposterous in the old west.

An early idea would be to put the Haunted Mansion all alone out on Tom Sawyer’s Island, a delightfully spooky idea until one realizes that not only would the show building be impossible to hide but the attraction would be astonishingly difficult to access. Marc Davis later made statements to The E Ticket magazine in 1999 which suggest that the same concept was also shortly considered for Pirates of the Caribbean, but nothing came of those, either.

And so Liberty Square it was. The building was shoved out onto the Rivers of America as far as it could go, to isolate it and make its’ appearance in colonial America less suspect. It could almost be a part of Fantasyland. Claude Coates designed a brilliant colonial-Gothic fa├žade and it was all systems go. Let’s just hope they don’t think about it too hard.

This is not, however, to forget the subtleties of the placement of the attraction: Disneyland’s Mansion was placed where it could be and has always looked mildly incongruous, casually placed between you and any Indian Villages / Bear Countries in the area. Perched high on a hill on the outskirts of town, metaphorically and literally placed at the intersection of history and fantasy, the Orlando mansion’s atmosphere would be expanded and replayed to great effect at Disneyland Paris.

Compared to the images of decadence, decay and general spookiness summoned up by the popular image of the dark side of Old New Orleans, Disneyland’s Mansion is perhaps perched more comfortably than the Florida property’s version ever will be, but Disney fans ought to be thankful that the Mansion was always a part of Orlando’s Phase One development – after all, we know that in Liberty Square, the Mansion is significantly longer and better rounded than the Disneyland version. More potently, we know that Pirates of the Caribbean, an attraction of equal weight, density and importance but never planned for Orlando, was botched in the afterbirth. There’s food for thought: a version of Pirates of the Caribbean east coast which is as much of an improvement on the original as all of the other Orlando Phase One attractions were over their originals.

Early Walt Disney World guidebooks would try to pass off the Mansion as an evocation of Early American superstition and folklore, and very accurately described the house as the type of building it’s easy to imagine Ichabod Crane riding past on his way toward encountering the Headless Horseman. This is probably the best and most coherent reason for the Mansion being where it is, seeing as Americans tend to associate the country’s early history with Fall, in particular Thanksgiving, and it’s an easy leap to backtrack a month to the similarly ancient tradition of Halloween (regardless of what the Pilgrims would have thought of such paganistic merrymaking).


Unknown said...

Thanks for such an insightful post. I guess I always considered it a good place for the Mansion since it was sort of tucked away. I never drew the comparisons...just sort of assumed that it was the next logical step for the area and the time period.

Could you imagine the traffic on the island if the Mansion had been built there? A footbridge would have been needed for the amount of people.

Thanks for such a great blog!

JStone423 said...

Hmmm, can't say I agree with you on this one. I find the location to mansion the best choice as it is such a diverse attraction from the themed lands of WDW. I always thought that it was tucked north of Liberty Sqaure as its Hudson River Valley facade would place it north of Colonial Philadelphia. Nonethless, this is a great artcle and you make an astute observation.

Keith said...

I've just discovered, and read the entirety of, your blog, all the way back. Great stuff, very thought provoking.

I hate to be "that guy", but I just have to point out that there are only two correct spellings of "its": the contraction of "it is" is spelled [it's], and the possesive of "it" is spelled [its]. There is no case where the word is spelled [its'], as you do, frequently. I think in every case where you use [its'], it should be simply [its].

The memory trick I use is simple: if the [it's/its] word you're trying to use can be replaced with [his], then it should be spelled [its] -- neither word has an apostrophe at all.

Anyway, sorry to nit-pick. Thanks for the intriguing reading.

-- Keith

FoxxFur said...

Hi Keith;

Thanks - I know "it's" a problem and I'm trying to reform. Your hint will be very helpful to me. =)