This is not to say that the self-guided attraction is actually thriving in today’s market; if it is built at all today it is likely to take the form of a queue experience funneling the spectators towards a motion based ride. This is a logical if unenviable fate for the original aesthetic mode of the themed experience; the spectator is waiting her turn in line anyway, and there might as well be a highly themed walkthrough attraction as a preface. This reaches its’ apotheosis at Disneyland’s Indiana Jones Adventure and Animal Kingdom’s Expedition Everest, where the queues are done with a great deal more care and detail than the rides themselves.
Perhaps the inevitable decline of the number of Disney self guided attractions is an end result of the fact that it’s very hard to straddle a line between a museum (One Man’s Dream) or a corporate exhibit (Transcenter) to make a walk-thru feel like an organic creation. The original EPCOT pavilions were sometimes good and sometimes bad at this, but were usually done with a degree of aesthetic class and cleverness not often found in today’s Innoventions or Project Tomorrow displays.
I have identified three basic groupings of the self-guided attraction:
Type A: Defined Path, Defined Boundaries
Type B: Open Path, Defined Boundaries
Type C: Open Path, Open Boundaries
“Type A” of the self guided attraction may be regarded as the linear attraction, where the flow of peoples is projected in a linear fashion through a series of rooms or exhibits. This flow of peoples is essentially similar to the forward flow of vehicles on a track, where variances in speed and direction can slow down the entire chain. This is the mode which the indoor attractions would all eventually become based on, but an especially desirable example here is the Swiss Family Treehouse because it is not only a linear attraction, but one which is essentially an outgrowth of the Adventureland area itself. The Treehouse is a form of interactive public art, where spectators from the ground level can enjoy viewing the tree and spectators on the tree can enjoy viewing the ground. Both views are different but essentially analogous. The Treehouse is a pastoral which flatters both itself and the areas it views, especially at Walt Disney World where the Adventureland Veranda loop of facades were built to be viewed from on high. It has its visual interest but the primary focus is on the view and the privileges it presents.
The Treehouse is also unique and interesting in that it is the most complete example of the “phantom population” – the debris and signifiers of a “local” population Disney goes to great lengths to suggest inhabit its’ parks, going about day to day business, which of course never exist. The Treehouse, remarkably, is an open house for a house literally inhabited by nobody, but the emptiness is never uncanny thanks to Buddy Baker’s “Swiss Polka”. For an attraction with only one moving part – the fascinating water wheel – it feels very little like a static tableau.
This quality is thanks to the fact that the Swiss Family Treehouse is really part of Adventureland, and although is may be “gated”, the life it has is the life of Adventureland’s shops and attractions and walkways. It does not answer but it once again invokes the essential question of whether the themic unit of a
“Type B” of the self-guided attraction is best typified by
The free-roaming nature of the
Those caves, in particular - self-contained Type A walking sub-attractions placed in a Type B environment - are the dark heart of
This pattern, of course, is the pattern which the Disney parks emulate – one is presented with labeled choices through which one may wander. The illusion, however, on
The earliest in Disneyland history – the Penny Arcade – begat increasingly complex versions, and the mode of Type C self guided attraction which has most repeated itself arrived with the 1967 New Tomorrowland, with its’ Bell Telephone preshow to the Circle-Vision America the Beautiful film, and especially the Monsanto exhibits at the exit of the Adventure Through Inner Space, an area with a fashionable 1967 look and feel quite removed from the Claude Coats stark dark ride which ostensibly prefaced it. The most exhaustive use of the Type C walk-thru attraction occurred in 1982 at EPCOT Center, where nearly every Future World pavilion had an adjoining exhibit at its’ exit as well as a sponsored space in Communicore. The most influential may have been Image Works, a free-flowing digital playground which was the template for many a children’s science museum nationwide, but the most complete and complex execution of a Type C attraction was and is Communicore, which has a poorer modern-day equivalent in Innoventions.
Communicore represents the total integration of varying types of attractions within a unitary whole because each self-guided attraction was an extension of the traditional attractions ringing it.
Ironically as the number of self-guided exploratory type attractions has dwindled, the definitions and rules governing such non-traditional attractions has exploded open. Under the A – E ticket system Disney defined anything requiring a ticket to be an attraction. With the disbanding of this system in 1983 (following, ironically, the walking attraction’s greatest achievements), many different areas can now sport the title “Attraction”, such as Walt Disney World’s minor Fantasyland Pooh playground, or EPCOT Center’s loud but benevolent Club Cool.
And yet the variety of things available at
The ultimate problem with trying to classify the successes or failures of a walk-through attraction at Disney is that, on a certain level, everything begins to resemble one. Particularly with Disney’s constant attention to detail does something like