There is no objective truth in art. Some people find the Mona Lisa to be dull. Others think the 1990s film BioDome is funny. But, despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of individuals disagree with those two points, neither cannot be proven to be incorrect. That is the great difficulty when dealing with art.
And so, when we do talk about art (and, yes, theme park attractions like the kinds you'd find at Disney and Universal are art), it's important to remember that there is no inherent “good” or “bad.” Attractions we think of as “bad” are merely perceived that way because a plurality of people, many of whom write words such as these on blogs such as this one, have deemed it so.
Yet, if you look at all of those attractions that we have, collectively, said are subpar, you begin to notice a few trends. It's those trends that I want to look at today – specifically, I believe there are five tell-tale signs that a theme park attraction is, for lack of a better, more American word, rubbish.
1. It will have a needlessly elaborate plot
There is a difference between plot and story. This is, perhaps, the most important lesson from classic Disney rides such as Pirates of the Caribbean and the Jungle Cruise. Good storytelling is about far more than conveying a sequence of events, but rather, the goal is to teleport guests to another world, let them inhabit it, and allow something amazing and fantastic to happen.
Seriously – what is the plot of Pirates of the Caribbean? Could you tell a friend what it is about? “Um, there are these pirates and they're plundering a village. I guess? I dunno.” Right.
But still, that attraction has endured as one of the best at any Disney park. Compare that to the oft-maligned Stitch's Great Escape, which features painstakingly detailed plot points about a prison transfer. And, lest you think this is a Disney phenomenon, Poseidon's Fury over at Universal is just as guilty of this problem – forsaking action and adventure for needless exposition about Poseidon and Darkanon and our milquetoast guide, Taylor.
My personal favorite attraction at Walt Disney World is Space Mountain – an attraction that offers little in the way of plot, but has as rich a story as any on Disney's property. Conflating the two is the sure sign that ride designers felt the attraction wasn't engaging enough on its own design merits and needed an extra level to keep guests entertained.
2. It will take place in an corporate office or training center
If an attraction is set in an office, training center, institute, or facility, it means that the attraction's designers don't trust that you'll be able to engage in a story that isn't grounded in a real-world setting.
The thing is, the best theme park attractions ignite your imagination on their own. They are so invigorating and so inspiring that you can't help but enter the world they've created for you. When an attraction is well-made, it could be set on the surface of mars or in the insides of a computer, and you won't need to be told how you got there for it to make sense. It just will, like in a dream.
While I mostly enjoy Mission: Space at Epcot, it is not without its faults and it deserves all of the criticism it gets. Most notably, the problems with Mission: Space derive themselves from this exact issue.
Presumably, Imagineers don't trust you to believe that you're really going on a journey into space, and so, they concocted a story about how guests would be taking a simulated flight to Mars onboard a simulated spacecraft.
You know you're boarding a flight simulator before you get on the ride, and, even if you didn't, the ride's story makes that fact abundantly clear. And, stunningly, such an aesthetic distance causes the ride to lose any illusory magic it might have possibly created. You're constantly reminded the ride is fake, so why should you bother imagining any different?
Of course, other attractions are also set in offices and institutes and training centers: Dinosaur, Terminator 2: 3D, Men in Black: Alien Attack, all of which pull this off to varying degrees of success. But, the point is, there was once a time when rides didn't have to tell you exactly where they were taking place, and if the ride you're on does this very intently, it's not a good sign for its quality.