One of my favorite aspects of theme parks are the way they’re crafted to tell stories. In the best theme parks, each attraction, land and park tells a story. Of course, the attraction stories are more specific and the land’s and park’s story is more broad. All of these stories should feed off each other to make a cohesive park.
Animal Kingdom is one of the best examples of this. While the park was partially made to showcase animals, it actually tells the story of exploration, conservation, and adventure. Other theme park attractions take on passive experiences, sending guests through stories to watch. Animal Kingdom makes a point of putting you in the experience, not a passive observer but an actual participant. Whether it’s exploring a new planet, Pandora, or adventuring on a safari, all of Animal Kingdom is letting you be the star of the story. That’s why simply adding a ride based off an animal movie (Jungle Book, Lion King, ect.) might not work and why adding a land that isn’t really about animals (Pandora) can work.
This subtle idea is how both the park and attractions within the park were conceived. All of the lands are built to back up that idea, adding a back story to how you got to this experience. In Pandora, there’s a travel agency that gives tours of the island. Eventually that lands guests in the climactic experience of riding a banshee. In Africa and Asia, guests have stumbled upon old villages that have reverence for animals, both mythical and real. Discovery Island is exactly what it sounds like, guests have discovered this area and that’s where the park’s adventure begins.
DinoLand USA fits the park’s idea, as well. The area is an excavation and research site where dinosaur bones have been found. There has been a roadside carnival to attract guests as a tourist destination. A research facility houses the Dinosaur ride that sends guests back in time to retrieve a dino. The story is there, it fits the park’s active participant idea, there are great details that enhance the story and it ties back into animals. But, if you have been to this park then you know one of these things is not like the other. DinoLand, specifically Chester & Hester’s, is not an enjoyable or good land despite it executing the story.
Earlier today I was reading a Disney message board, a fairly dangerous activity. The topic du jour was a juicy rumor about an Indiana Jones area replacing DinoLand. I’m not going to address the Indy rumor until there’s more evidence of it coming to pass. A different blog post for a different day. What I was surprised about was the number of people who defended DinoLand. Many of them reasoned that the story was executed well and fun to follow, making it a good land.
I guess this is the part of the post where I should say that everyone is entitled to think whatever they want. If you think DinoLand is a great land then that’s your prerogative. The point here isn’t to pick on DinoLand specifically but instead pointing out that the story alone doesn’t make a land a good idea.
As I’ve already stated, DinoLand does execute its story and theme correctly. The problem is that it’s an eye sore that doesn’t fit in an otherwise gorgeous park. While I love themed lands and story telling, there needs to be a common sense approach to the aesthetic of an entire park. Going from lush plant life to the concrete jungle that is DinoLand is too stark of a contrast to enjoy.
More importantly though, the land has a good story but it doesn’t belong in a theme park. While there are exceptions, people go to theme parks to do something that they couldn’t easily experience otherwise. People want to go to lands that they see in movies. Going on a safari or a small village in Africa isn’t easily accessible. Sailing through the World’s most famous rivers or going back to the wild west is appealing because we can’t do it AND the aesthetic isn’t off-putting. These lands have to be somewhere that people actually want to go. At the very least, they need to be a place that is fun and aesthetically pleasing.
DinoLand doesn’t complete those objectives. What should be an easy task (who doesn’t want to go see dinosaurs?) was turned into an over-zealous back story simply because no one actually likes how roadside carnivals look. In other words, a big back story with details can’t overcome an ugly land. This is part of the reason A Bug’s Land is about to be put under. There isn’t a big interest in being the size of a bug and seeing the world from that perspective.
This is one of the biggest reasons why I’m tentative about Toy Story Land. While getting shrunk down to toy-size and visiting Andy’s backyard certainly fits the movie, it’s not something that excites me. I’ve been in backyards many times in my life, I haven’t been to the Cadillac Mountains, Africa, Diagon Alley or a number of more interesting theme park land ideas. Maybe I just don’t want to be shrunk down from my normal size?
Building and executing a theme park is hard and that’s an understatement. The point of this post isn’t too ridicule some lands that I perceive to be bad. Despite DinoLand, Animal Kingdom is my favorite Disney World park. Instead, the goal is to show that there are a number of factors that go into making a land good or great. Some people solely focus on attractions. Some focus simply on how good the theme and back story is. And, of course, some just take into account how the land looks. In reality, a theme park land has to have all of those things plus more.
What are your thoughts on what makes a good theme park land? Let us know in the comments. Thank you for reading Wandering in Disney, if you enjoy our content then please subscribe to the blog and like our social media accounts. You can do both of those things on the right side of this page. Have a wonderful day!