I have come to the conclusion that much of the overall appeal of these successful spaces can be loosely and poorly described as a “stratifying” effect on the viewer’s perception of the thematic space. This is not so abstract as it sounds: where one feels that, for example, an exceptional themed environment like The Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland could potentially go on forever, a less successful area feels more limited in scope. So while
The Triumph of Romance
The most successful themed environment ever constructed for a Disney park is also one of the smallest.
If these successful “lands” immediately establish a kind of visual grammar that the spectator will apply to his or her exploration of the area, then New Orleans Square takes ample advantage of its limited space by presenting most of itself to the attentive viewer at a single glance: a tall stack of ornate structures comprising two full city blocks jutting out of a curving backdrop of similar buildings; a shaded park with a railroad station, and a plantation Mansion. It can be photographed in its entirety from its northward boundary to its’ southward boundary from Tom Sawyer’s
Although not part of the original designs, this “visual grammar” is immediately apparent from your first impression of the square no matter from which angle you approach it; it is defined by the “Pirates courtyard” dug in the late 1980’s to alleviate traffic congestion. This beautiful succession of curving lines presents an arc of bridge that allows you to travel level with the ground, passages under to the recessed courtyard beyond, and two great swooping lines up to the Disney Gallery above the attraction. This architectural flurry of lines says definitively that in this area, you will travel both above and below the surface of the earth. While these five curving lines add visual interest, they effectively intensify the verticality of the Square: situated higher than the other
Essentially composed of six large structures, once inside the Square itself nothing seems to exactly parallel any other building: the casual wanderer loses her bearings on where each building rests in relation to the other. Addtionally, the pedestrian walkways commonly narrow down to their slimmest possible space while still being able to cram 40,000 people through a day: the overall effect is of an exploration rather than a quick jaunt on the way to
Smaller touches add to the overall effect that this area multiplies in layers into infinity: two beautifully dressed tiny courtyards do not give the effect of being mere transitional spaces between shops, but beautiful discoveries exclusive to the tourist that finds them. Each and every space encountered is richly dressed – although the One of a Kind Shop has been gone for many years, there still seems to be a staggering amount of real antiquity on display here. From upper windows recorded vignettes are played out to the attentive listener as the auditory backdrop to thematic arrangements of props along these upper balconies: the lady with the bird, the voodoo lady, and the artist painting the river have become characters as recognizable to Disneyland fans as signifiers of this area as the Ghost Host or the pirate auctioneer.
Notice how the steps have not been covered up on their underside; visually
clarifying the architecture as well as making the tableau look more visually complex than it really is.
This stratifying effect is useless without attractions to anchor it, but
The Square grows in richness once you add Pirates and Mansion to your understanding of the vertical space created by the area: just below the feet of the pedestrians, boats are flowing through a windswept grotto full of decaying pirates. The effect is enhanced by the fact that these scenes are actually under the area, and once one calculates that she can not only go up three full levels, but also down another five, does the full scope of the area become clear.
These two attractions orbit each other in maddening circles both intentional and unintentional. The
The arch is redefined by
The arch, especially in the context of the Old South, is a signifier of death: tombstones and crypt doors are defined by arches. Even outside the attractions, reminders of the staggering amount of death imagery found in the area is constant, from the ghoulish chants of the Voo-Doo Lady high above, near the train station, to a tiny and unmarked crypt along the shoreline of the Rivers of America. It is small and uncommented upon.
The keystone for
Out of this mire of conflicting ideas of high culture, vulgarity, hidden demons, and moonlit romance emerges the premiere themed area of
--I wrote this piece three years ago now; back when I was trying to write my book all in a go and now, looking back, I realized that had I actually finished it, it would've been a more appreciation-based effort than the analysis I'm trying to do here now. It also would've been the most florid trash; I've cut half of my overladen romantic prose out of this and it still embarrasses me. But it was the first time I started naming things that places do, which is worth sharing.
Appreciation and analysis needn't be two unrelated approaches, but I find that much of the Disney online community stops dead at appreciation and never goes over into real analysis. Which is fine, because saying "X exists" is two thirds of "X exists because", and is still significant. I say: don't tell us that something's there, tell us why it's there. Then we'll start cracking the old chestnuts and getting somewhere.
Anyway I hoped you liked it. I'm getting burned out on talking about the parks so expect some filmic analysis post here through December.