Friday, August 21, 2020

Harold's Lost World of Snow

"It will be going the same speed it always has, but it will seem faster."
- John Hench, Disneyland Line, December 1977

In 2003, I took my first trip to Disneyland, and Disneyland is one of those places that rewires the way you think. Besides absolutely taking my head off and stuffing it back on in a new way thanks to their incredible Pirates of the Caribbean - still my favorite ride ever - I discovered one of the great loves of my life: the Matterhorn Bobsleds.

I've spent a long time thinking about the Matterhorn, and a long time riding it, and it's one of those rides where I find my ardor for the experience cannot be contained by a logically structured essay. I suspect many folks are the same way about certain things: they can't say why they like it so much, but they do. I probably have never loved a roller coaster more than I love the Matterhorn, which says a lot about my priorities.

For one, comfort isn't one of them. The Matterhorn was rough in 2003, and after installing new bobsleds apparently made out of pottery and saran wrap in 2012, it got rougher. Those 70s Arrow Development sleds didn't seem to sit as low to the track and had better shock absorption, but the 2012 bobsleds are like a gigantic speaker pushing vibrations right up into your posterior. I haven't really cared; I've kept riding the thing, my feet pushed into the nose of the car, my hands gripping the handle bars, body tense and ready to absorb the pain.

I do it not because the Matterhorn is a great rollercoaster, or even because it's a landmark roller coaster. The Matterhorn, along with the 1975 Space Mountain, shakes you like a rag doll, which modern coaster enthusiasts absolutely do not like. They prefer their terror to come from drops and g forces, not being rocked around like a dead cat in a barrel being sent over Niagara Falls. As I said, I don't much care for roller coasters. I love the Matterhorn not at all because it's a coaster, but because it's an amazing experience, and there's only one of them in the world.

It's hard to say how much I would have liked the 1959 Matterhorn, with its hollow interior. What can be said is that the decision to enclose a roller coaster inside of an artificial mountain is one of those Walt Disney ideas which has become so ubiquitous in our culture that it is almost impossible to imagine a world where it does not exist. I'm fairly certain Walt got the idea from the Rutschebanen at Tivoli, a sort of scenic railway that dashes in and out of a scenic alpine mountain (with a fake cow in a field on top!). But as usual at Disneyland, the scale of the effort and the decision to combine it with a world famous peak made all the difference. The Matterhorn turned the idea of a fiberglass mountain into a genre, and Space Mountain would make it into an institution.

There is also just something about the other-worldlyness of the Matterhorn that works in some impossible to articulate way. The way it rises up and hooks with the little shadow just under its peak added by Fred Joerger - the way it hangs there against the hazy California sky, seemingly always further away than it really is. You can walk all the way around it, something you cannot do with any other stateside Disney mountain. That fact, and its central location, transforms the Matterhorn into something that exists for the pleasure of everyone, even those who do not ride. This is landmark design for pleasure, and it's been repeated endlessly since - I'm certain that the size and dreamy unreality of the Matterhorn is the basis for the height and effect of Cinderella Castle in Florida, for instance.

And yet all of that is literally just on the surface, what was put there in 1959. What I really love is the 1978 version, which in my opinion is an absolute stone classic in how to perfectly structure a themed experience, and do it so simply it's almost subliminal.

Storytelling in three dimensions is hard, and even harder because it rarely needs to conform to dramatic beats. Instead it could be said that most successful rides need to introduce a dramatic situation directly involving riders, then build and riff on that situation in a variety of interesting ways. Riding bobsleds down a fake mountain is pretty interesting already, but the wrinkle of introducing a rampaging monster really pushes the Matterhorn over the top. The idea supposedly goes back to Walt Disney, but how easily it could have turned out wrong.

Lets begin on the approach to the Matterhorn from the Hub. As we draw near, there is a surprise: the trees part, and a huge waterfall comes into view. The waterfall instantly suggests that there is going to be more going on in the Matterhorn than we expect, yet the Matterhorn looks picturesque, inviting with its alpine trees and flowers. A mountain stream winds around the base of the mountain, which somehow looks like cold mountain water thanks to the contrasting landscape around it.

Yet thats not quite the whole story. The whole top of the mountain is open, effectively turning its upper echelons into a gigantic loudspeaker which bellows out the unearthly roars of its resident monster. Even less comforting is the whistling wind which can be heard everywhere around it. This is the introduction of the dramatic conflict of the ride; the Matterhorn looks peaceful, welcoming, and charming, but.....

For my money no other theme park deployment of this concept comes even close to the raw elemental energy of this juxtaposition - the Matterhorn looks welcoming and inviting while also warning you to stay away. In the 70s, WED did a lot of this sort of stuff, and perhaps the wolf howl that emenates from the Florida Haunted Mansion and the booming cannons which once heralded the facade of Pirates of the Caribbean are predecessors. But those were really just atmosphere, whereas the approach to the Matterhorn initiates the dramatic conflict which will inform your entire experience: what's gotten into the Matterhorn?

The 1978 Matterhorn operated on the principle of suspense, and so the dramatic thrust of the story (will I escape?) mapped perfectly onto the build and release inherent in all coasters. This was an experience where the physical sensations of being on a coaster really meant something. The slow approach, the cheerful yodeling music, the wait at the bottom of the mountain ready to be released into the pitch black interior all built up anticipation. Of course all rides create anticipation, but the cheerful gemutlicheit of the Alpine landscape had an edge to it thanks to those unearthly roars.

The fact that the ride was going to be scary was announced instantly by the lift hill's perpetual gloom. The long monster roars were interspersed with screaming sounds, supplied by a speaker. The suspense of the lift hill is briefly released once the bobsleds peak and slowly begin to head downhill, then replaced with another kind of suspense. One of the best Disney jump scares of all time - the glowing eyes in the dark - illuminate with a ferocious roar, and now the rest of the ride is a long downhill slide where you are never entirely sure where the Snowman will be next. I've been on the Matterhorn probably a hundred times and I still sometimes forget exactly where the second Harold is.

Harold is one of the best designed theme park monsters of all time. The original design is a perfect distillation of a monster; long white hair offsets his blue face and hands, defining a fierce looking body shape as a silhouette, instantly comprehensible as a threat. Long hair above the eyes de-emphasizes the forehead, making the creature seem less human. Two thirds of the face is an open mouth full of teeth, the white teeth highlighted against the dark scream of a face. The nose is tiny, almost invisible, and the eyes are asymmetrical, making the yeti seem fantastical, an appropriate resident of Fantasyland. Harold was literally reaching hands, a mouth full of teeth, glowing red eyes, and almost nothing else.

But the thing is, nothing else was needed. Under the best circumstances you could get maybe 5 seconds to look at him, and those key elements: mouth, red eyes, reaching hand read perfectly from a speeding bobsled. As Ken Andersen told the E Ticket in 1993:
"You didn't need a lot of animation because you were moving. You were moving so darn fast that what you did was supply the movement for the characters."
That was the brilliance of Harold: he hardly moved, but he looked and felt alive. The long downhill escape, as well as his sudden reappearance, caused riders to fill in with their imaginations far more than was really going on.  More than any mountain-dwelling monster who has suceeded him, Harold really felt like he was chasing you, popping through secret caves and dashing down rock wall faces in an effort to cut you off. The physical structure of the ride itself worked perfectly to put you off the wrong foot; was that roar coming from ahead of or behind me?

The Matterhorn was a long build of suspense, followed by a chase down to the bottom, the splash of the glacial pond the release of the tension. Compared to the Matterhorn, Big Thunder was one damn thing after another and Space Mountain was just weirdness, but the Matterhorn felt like real peril, and it was peril created with some light-up eyes and three figures that moved only just enough to create a sense of motion. It was, in its own way, brilliant.

I didn't really start to understand just how good the Matterhorn was until Expedition Everest opened at Animal Kingdom a few years later. I admit that the Matterhorn created in me false expectations of a suspenseful, "boo" kind of experience, which Everest really isn't. Beautifully mounted, the attraction doesn't introduce its dramatic conflict until over a minute into a three minute ride. It's nearly another minute until we see the shadow of the Yeti, who honestly seems more interested in tearing up railroad tracks than chasing riders, and there's a final confrontation mere seconds before the ride ends. But the real thing that I couldn't believe when I rode Everest in previews, the thing I walked off the ride saying, is that the multi-million dollar yeti was gone by so fast you could barely register that he moved at all. Fusty old Harold inside the Matterhorn gave just about as good of a show at a fraction of the cost, and his mountain had actual caverns inside it!

For my money, Disneyland's new Snowman figure has the same issue. He looks terrifically fierce, and he snarls and lunges at the cars, but the pure, streamlined, communicative power of that goofy 1978 figure has been lost. The new figure has a visible forehead, which makes him look a bit more human, and his mouth opens and closes, a detail often lost because you're by him way too fast. He seems almost realistic, and to me this makes the new Snowman less visually appealing, less like an appropriate resident of Fantasyland.

But really the biggest issue is that those reaching hands are gone. The new Snowman is grabbing the ice wall around him like he's climbing out of a cave, but that image of him reaching for the cars was really important. Look at the silhouettes; there's no comparison.

The new guy seems like less of a threat; when you pass him a second time, he's twisted around to the side as if he isn't even expecting you to come upon him. He's louder, and he looks meaner, but its harder to feel like he's really and truly out to get you.

The trouble is that the window of comprehension for understanding something you coast by in a bobsled can be measured in micro-seconds, and the new Snowman just doesn't cut it. Blaine Gibson had fully absorbed this fact of theme park life and was a master at sculpting figures just the correct side of impossible to read in a flash. Think of all the figures in Pirates of the Caribbean, sculpted in mid-smile or mid-scowl. Think of the Hitch-hiking Ghosts, with their hugely exaggerated extended thumbs.

Think of how much artistic skill it takes to correctly draw attention to something as small as a thumb.

Blaine sculpted Harold's scowling face in a permanent scream for a reason, and he gave him huge reaching hands for a reason, and grossly exaggerated their size so you couldn't miss them. That version of the Matterhorn's monster was fit for the job.

On a similar track, the same team in 2015 removed the ice crystal scene and replaced it with a new hoard of destroyed Matterhorn ride vehicles, like bobsleds and skyway buckets. The previous ice cavern scene was nothing amazing, but you could look over and see the crystals and hear the music and instantly understand that you were looking at some crystals. The new scene just looks like some random stuff, and you're past it before you can figure it out. Worse, nobody going into the Matterhorn fresh in 2020 (2021?) is going to understand what they're looking at, making it a weird in-joke that doesn't really look like anything. That's a shame, because most of the Matterhorn is spent looking at snowy rocks, and anything to make it feel a bit more like a real place was a help. Like the Snowman figure upgrade, it was a great idea on paper, but in practice is a misfire.

From This 2014 Video
But the change that really stings me is moving your initial encounter with the Snowman to the lift hill. This makes some sense, but those glowing eyes were truly a perfect jump scare, and set the tone for the rest of the downhill chase. The slow ascent up the mountain in the pitch darkness listening to the wind howling built up terrific suspense, increased by the fact that Disney pumped in occasional scream sound effects to this scene. Was it another rider on the coaster, or was it....?

Then, the lift hill crested, and the first few moments of the ride were gentle. You relaxed. Then Harold's eyes lit up in the darkness and scared the tar out of you. I screamed on my first ride. And then you spent the rest of the ride on edge, expecting Harold to come bounding out at you again at every turn. That was the moment the ride had been building towards since you first laid eyes on it with its beautiful flowers, glistening waterfall, and baleful whistling wind.

I'm sure new riders enjoy the Matterhorn plenty, and I'm not here to make some absurd claim like Imagineering "ruined the ride". It's still lots of fun. But the previous version changed the way I look at theme park rides because of how much it was able to do with so little. That 1978 refurbishment, when you get right down to it, was a lot of rock work, three figures that only barely moved, some sound effects, and light-up eyes on a stick. But they totally transformed the tone and feeling of the Matterhorn, and gave it unique shape and rhythm. And they did it without changing the track.

And that's what the Matterhorn became for me, a kind of yardstick I use to measure all other rides: did the designers get the absolute maximum out of what they chose to build? I find this useful because it de-emphasizes the tech and the design density that Disney and Universal tend to get caught up in and looks simply at effect. Does what they spent money on really work?

The Matterhorn brought Harold to life with the simplest means, and did so in a way that was straightforward, understandable without words or preshow videos, and easy to maintain. The new version is flashier, but in sacrifing that elemental sinplicity of what was done in 1978, it is in my opinion significantly less powerful.

Because that's something that maybe gets lost in discussing the Matterhorn; it is one of the great scary Disney rides. Harold was designed to startle jaded 70s teenagers - who may otherwise have brought their business to a place like Magic Mountain - and did so in a way that was not so intense you couldn't still bring a six year old on the ride. Harold has moved out now, and try as I may, I've never quite warmed up to the new guy. The Matterhorn I fell in love with at 18 is now another resident of Yesterland, and I miss it dearly. That hollow wind still blows in my heart.


While I have your attention!

I thought I'd take some time to answer a few questions I've been getting recently about this site and to explain what the future holds for it.

I should probably begin with some context: this site, and text-based blogs generally, are enjoying a fraction of their old readership.

Time was, I could spend 2 weeks writing and editing a post that would reach an audience of over 20,000 people. Today, my posts are averaging about 2,500 people and capping out at around 7,000 on the high end. And the fact is, I haven't met a single person under the age of 25 who is a self-professed retro theme park fan who learned about them reading sites like this. They've learned everything they know on YouTube. It's fair to say that the time of the informational blog seems to have passed. 

Which is why I wrote a book. That book is one reason I began posting shorter form pieces (like music loops) in 2015. The past few years have been weird for this blog, and this year has been a desert. This is because I've been seriously perusing getting the thing published since last November and the complexities of doing that have taken up all of the spare time I used to devote to writing blogs.

The good news is that the book is coming out this year; my next post will be its announcement! The bad news is that given the time commitment of writing blog posts vs the work that goes into writing a book, it makes more sense to write more books. I've already begun work on my second book, and now that I have a publisher, I hope to get it done in 2-3 years instead of 5 years this time.

This site has seen a spike in readership since the pandemic began, and its been wonderful seeing old readers and new coming back to enjoy my writing. I never wrote a word on this site for money or fame, and I have no intention of stopping writing. I actually have about four unfinished pieces right now that have been either delayed by work on my book or other issues. 

So basically: more content is coming! I thank everyone who has stuck it out with me or has just recently discovered my stuff. It is amazing to me what this little writing exercise has turned into, and I want to keep it going as long as possible.

So till next time: stay cool, my friends.


patsie said...

Well, I am a long way from "under 25.“ In fact I'm a long way from under 50. I've been a Disney fan for 70 years -- serious enough to have a large collection of reference books -- and remember clearly falling in love with a California park at 10 that I wouldn't get to visit for fifteen years. I don't remember how or exactly when I discovered your blog. I do remember spending lots of time back reading your work. Now I look forward to each new post and miss the days when they came more frequently. I enjoy your intelligent approach and will admit you've made me see some aspects of Park design in a different way. (As a random aside, one of my most-admired Epcot attractions was the multiscreen preshow at the Universe of Energy. Maybe because I was a filmmaker and for many years produced audiovisual multiscreen presentations, I was always blown away by the design and execution of that show. Yes, there are a few not great YouTube videos to remember it by, but none does justice.) I have been fortunate in my various careers to visit Disney Parks for business and pleadure many times, although sadly my last visit is now a full decade in the past. So blogs like yours help me recall and relive my own experiences. I do hope you'll continue to post and truly look forward to reading your book(s). Thanks. Rod Eaton, Minneapolis

Chris said...

I never got to experience Harold, so I appreciate your vivid recollections here. Sounds like I missed something special!

I wonder whether you feel about Matterhorn the way I feel about MK's Snow White's Adventures... I loved the scary goofiness of the original :-/

FoxxFur said...

Yeah, I'm a huge fan of original MK Snow White... for a kid into scary stuff that was pure bliss!

John Holdun said...

What a treat to read a classic Passport article right after it’s been published. I’ve always found Matterhorn to be just *fine*, but the next time I see it (whenever that may be) I will he giving it some overdue attention.

Can’t wait to hear about the book!

Lucky said...

First, thank you for new insights into the Matterhorn! It's amazing how something that seems so simple has so much to it. And I absolutely agree with the assessment of DLR as a place that rewires you; I felt the same way when I finally got to visit for the first time.

Second, for what it's worth, I'm 23 and definitely a child of the Millennium Celebration and the 2000s Disney parks. But I did discover my love of Disney parks history through your blog and the others I found when I was Googling Horizons after reading my mother's 90s parks books, way back as a preteen in middle school. P2D in particular has been my absolute favorite for at least a decade now, and I would not be the old school Disney parks fan I am today without your always insightful posts. I get so much more out of my visits to the parks with everything I've learned about the history and design from bloggers, even if so much of the best stuff was lost before my time. I don't think old school EPCOT in particular would have affected me the way it did without all the blogs out there that pay tribute to Disney parks history, and I certainly don't think I would have done my recent stint as an EPCOT CM without these blogs as well. I'm not a big YouTube person and will probably never be able to sit through video essays, but I get that it's become the thing now vs regular blogs. I still get excited whenever I see my old favorite Disney blogs posting something new, and I'm even more hyped that you're putting out a book. I can't wait to read it!

jeffk said...

A book from Foxxy! (Books!) Sign me up—I don't even care what they're about, I'm sure they'll be great reads. Congrats!

mgf said...

I’m along-time resder and so excited for your book. Also glad to know you’ll still be writing here because I love reading the articles and then diving into more and more articles.

Andrew said...

I'm 16... and while YouTube was where I first learned about Disney theme parks, sites like this have allowed me to absorb more than is ever possible by watching a video. Thanks for all of the great posts that you've written over the years.

John Lynch said...

Honestly, this is great. I actually used sites like this as a rabbit hole back to my childhood passions. I will still be writing on my blog and I am also in the middle of a book project myself and can attest to the split up between the project and the site.


Tim said...

I never quite thought about the simple effectiveness of the 1978 Matterhorn before. The tendency for theme park design to be overwrought and fussy is one of the more unfortunate things to emerge in the last 15 years. Seeing lights-on pictures of the sets and props for Haunted Mansion, an iconic ride dripping in atmosphere and mood, is always an eye-opening because you realize how much of the scenery is suggested by painted theatrical flats and crafty lighting. I don't know if current designers have the courage to put that much faith in the mind's eye of the guest anymore. There's a reason Haunted Mansion and Pirates have endured for decades...they crawl into your brain and live there as almost a waking dream.

Ben Lytle said...

I can't wait for the book!

EJ Farr said...

Great article! Can't wait for the book . I just turned on some new folks to your blog earlier this week .

Justin Ruka said...

Looking forward to your books - and other additional blog posts! Keep up the great work.

Mark Hille said...

It's another testament to old school Imagineering. Sometimes less is more.

Andrew Bradt said...

Congrats on the book—can’t wait!

Another thought about the Matterhorn: it has about as barebones a queue as you can get but it works because of the atmosphere, sounds, and music.

Unknown said...

I'm a 23 year-old "retro theme park fan." I started learning more about the parks through a combination of YouTube videos and blogs like this. I discovered your blog several years ago (2015?). Your blog posts reveal an incredible knowledge of Disney history and a wonderful ability to discuss themed design in a visceral, direct way. You capture the essence of an attraction, land, etc., superbly distilling why something works (or doesn't) and perfectly relating the way the design makes spectators feel. You are a very perceptive theme park critic (if that's the right term).

Your writing has increased my knowledge and appreciation for these places while intensifying my enthusiasm for themed design. Furthermore, your work is far more substantial than most YouTube videos, most of which I find superficial and/or tendentious anyway. I'm glad you plan to keep writing.

Unknown said...

At least once a week I eagerly log on hoping to see a new entry. The time you take to delve seep in tot he subject matter is second to none. Looking forward to the book!

Mouser said...

Haven't ever posted, but just wanted to say that I've been reading your articles from 2007,I fit that under 25 crowd, and I love it. I always enjoy coming and seeing a new article posted, because you delve into things that many people simply don't cover - and no YouTube video ever quite clears that hump for me. I may be the odd one out, but there are people like me who enjoy it and appreciate your eloquent way of discussing these topics (music being my personal favorite!).

Keep up the good work, and I look forward to reading your books (and more blog posts) in the future. Best of luck and have fun with it, Foxx!

Garrison said...

I second everything about this. Well put.

Stephen said...

A heartfelt thank you from a longtime reader. The long stretches of time between posts in recent years have always been more than made up for by the depth of your research, the quality of your analysis, or even just the joy you brought to publishing a music loop or cocktail recipe in between essays. Passport has been one of my happiest online destinations for 13 years and I'm thrilled to know you've been working on getting your work published. Something for all of us to look forward to. Congrats!

mike_ch said...

The Matterhorn also had a role in the kinetic architecture of Disneyland's east side. The bobsleds rolling around the outside and the sky buckets inside all complimented each other well. Time was, you could look out a Skyway bucket and see the overlapping nexus just after the first Harold.

I only can experience Disneyland through streaming video today, but another loss in the ride was the exterior roars, which were iconic IMO. There's one, an almost painfully throaty "Baawhooooooooo" that is forever part of the Fantasyland soundscape in my head. Though I did not ride the Matterhorn as a child, you could hear it on the exterior part of Alice and Wonderland. You could hear it coming back from Small World. You could hear it in line for Storybook Boats. It was just always there.

Ultimately, I'm torn on the Harold-era Matterhorn. As a gullible naive child, even the pictures of Harold and the scream I just mentioned was enough to keep me off the ride. Though my parents probably kept me off it because they knew what "eyes in the dark" effects did to me, making even the Disneyland Railroad an uncomfortable ride due to their appearance near your feet in the tunnel behind the Mansion before being replaced with a bright light and a root that's there now. Without a gentle "ice-breaker" coaster like Matterhorn to make me comfortable with something like Space Mountain, I simply didn't get to ride coasters at all until I bought my own ticket in my mid-20s. I was glad that at the very least I was able to enjoy it with the same elements that I dodged experiencing as a child, and only wish I could have seen it looking up at Skyway buckets instead of looking down from a bucket at sleds.

tamajinn said...

So so excited for your book. I will treasure my copy and buy a few for Christmas gifts. I understand your woes that blogs are falling by the wayside. But yours has been my favorite for a long time and I thank you for sharing your gifted mind with us. Glad you have more books and writing in the works.

One thing I hope you will continue is the annual "state of the parks" report. Those have been some of my favorite posts and I look forward to them every new year. When one arrives, it's like a holiday.

Steve the Pocket said...

Hold up - is that first photo just old and faded or was that actually the castle's original color scheme? Also, I had no idea that the height restrictions that forced it to be so puny were relaxed so soon after it was built. I bet that cheesed some people off.

As far as Everest, you ain't kidding about the Yeti having been a waste of animatronics. The first three times I rode it, I managed to not even see him. At all. Even with a strobe light shining on him. Only after someone told me exactly when and where to look was I able to catch a fleeting glimpse as the train sped past. You really have to wonder how it was possible to screw that up so badly.

JND said...

I love this post and your blog as a whole. As a 26 year old theme park and design fan, your blog has been an invaluable tool to teach me how to view, understand and analyze a themed experience. My first and only ride thus far on the Matterhorn was in 2018 after I graduated law school. I was struck by how interesting the mix of joy in the queue was with the dread and anxiety on the ride. I think something that should be noted is for half the ride I was fearful the bobsled would go competently off the tracks, more then I was fearful of the new Harold AA. I wonder if the ricketyness of the ride track is part of the rides immersion and raising of the risks of the ride experience

Aaron said...

Foxxy, congrats on the book. As a longtime fan, I'll say this: it's about freaking time! I've been waiting for a full book from you for ages. (Four Decades of Magic just didn't cut it.) I've been reading your site since the early days. In fact, I've been an obsessed fan of Disney history since I was little. I frequented many of the old school Disney sites. My library is a mess of Disney history books. And despite all of that, I truly think you are one of the best witers (if not the very best) on the subject. I'm not saying you know everything about Disney (none of us do), but the amount of effort you put into every post has always impressed me. (As someone who has tried to blog, I have no doubt one of these posts would take you weeks.) I've always appreciated the careful word choice used, not to mention the immense historical detail you have presented. I never thought I'd learn so much about the history of classic country/western music from a post about singing bears. I didn't expect a lecture on the historical accuracy of the lamps at WDW, of all things! You've set a high bar for other historians of themed entertainment. A bar that, as a so-called self-published author myself, I may never live up to. Never stop writing, filming, or editing audio compilations, because your talents are a high mark in the creative pool that is the Disney fan community.

Douglas said...

I rode the original original Matterhorn during the first few years after the park opened. I remember it as a giant tin can inside, where you could see all the tracks all the time. I did think it was fun, more in the spirit of a tall wild-mouse than a roller coaster. After that my family shifted their attention to Florida and I haven't (gasp) been back to Disneyland. So I never saw the version you loved, which makes me especially grateful for your detailed descriptions. Thank you!

Pecos Bill said...

Happy to see others leave similar comments, so I just want to join in saying that I'm 23, began reading your blog when I was in high school, and I haven't stopped since! Toontown Fair of all things made me aware of the existence of themed design, and your writing about attractions I never got to experience made me aware of how powerful and effective themed design can be. You continue to be my favorite writer on the subject and I can't wait to read your book!

simoneyes said...

I'm also a Matterhorn stan and it's weird to me how underappreciated it is. It may be my favorite ride in the park, if I'm honest. I can't justify that at all, but I love it. I love its queue that breaks every rule of modern queue design...the Swisska polka...and the way it used to be such a great ride to ride with some special someone with big plans to snuggle up and then get jostled all to hell and not get all that much snuggling done. Though to be fair it hasn't really been all it used to be since they shut the Skyway.

I'm so thrilled to be about to purchase your book!!!

Kelly L. said...

I always enjoy your deep dives! As someone who would much rather read a longform article than watch a video, I have some old-fart mourning to do. I will definitely buy the book!

Cory Gross said...

Congratulations on the book! Putting effort into writing an actual book instead of on a blog read by, gosh, literally dozens, is one of the reasons I quit my old Disney blog. But I'm glad to hear that you're continuing with this... It has always been a fantastic blog and I'm glad it's not going anywhere.

This is another great piece too... The technical quality of the new Harold is superlative, and I like the in-joke, but you're dead on that modern Imagineering doesn't have the same skill at storytelling and experience-building as old fashioned WED. We could endlessly speculate on why (Too much specialization? Those old WED guys came from film, whereas the new breed are specialists in certain professions of industrial design), but the end result is something less than their predecessors.

To me, the perfect example is the new auction scene in Pirates. Dismissing the politics of it for the moment, the fact remains that the new scene itself doesn't work. Nothing about it makes sense. Nothing is communicated through it. The ostensible jokes are just awful. It only exists because an auction scene was there, so they felt they had to keep it. But nothing about the current scene is as engaging, or funny, or subtly layered yet immediately intelligible as Marc Davis' brilliant tableau. It exists to rectify a political incorrectness, but its entire existence is predicated recalling that political incorrectness. They should have just taken the damn scene out altogether and put an entirely new scene in. Or just left it alone and, if they wanted a make-work project that badly, improve the animatronics.

We see the same phenomena in film... Reels and reels of disingenuous, decades-later sequels, sequelboots, reboots, and remakes that regurgitate the imagery and tropes of classic film franchises without understanding how they worked to make those films so beloved (or even understanding the basic principles of effective storytelling). Star Wars, Star Trek, Jurassic World, Doctor Who, you name it. I'm not even talking about politics here either... That discussion more often than not distracts from the fundamental problems that these are bad stories poorly told by people who don't know or love these franchises that are trying to exploit the nostalgia of audiences who do.

So yeah... The new Harold is okay... He's a technological accomplishment. But it's not as visceral as the old Harold. They could have built on the old Harold and improved the animatronics, but they went further to showcase their technical skills and want of storytelling skills.

Harryhenry said...

Hey, long-time reader of this blog since I was a kid (I'm 21) and avid watcher of theme park youtubers. I've been reading these kinds of blogs since I was a kid/teen in the early 2010s, back when "theme park youtubers" were only people like Some Jerk With a Camera and his friends. They were funny (and still are!) but they were largely comedy videos. Your blog and others like it gave me the indepth, heavily researched content I was also interested in.

And that depth, that notion of digging deeper into things others would consider just simple entertainment have helped current-day theme park youtubers out so much. Your research into what Western River Expedition was I STILL see cited in descriptions of videos about it, since it's effectively the definitive account on what it could've been.

It does feel a little sad that now bloggers are only supporting YouTube videos that reach a much wider audience, I do still remember those halcyon days when places like this WERE the content people were looking at. But I'm at least glad that people who care about this are still reading, and that you've been able to keep your research going through the new book. The Disney park sphere would be much poorer without your voice.

Director_Guy said...

Have you considered a podcast? I feel like a well-produced reading of your essays with music and sound effects that emphasize your writing would be really interesting to listen to and I feel would reach a wider audience. Even if you didn't feel comfortable reading it yourself, I'm sure there would be some well-spoken voices for hire.

Anyway, I'm very excited to read your book. This website has been a favorite of mine for years.