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4 Crucial Ways The Disney Parks Experience Has Changed Forever

Theming is more important than ever before

 christiantlambert, Flickr (license)

Image: christiantlambert, Flickr (license)

Disneyland became a cultural touchstone because of its commitment to intricate theming — designs used to teleport guests into the world of a story. That idea was so radical that it helped build the Walt Disney Company into an unparalleled amusement behemoth.

But, Disney’s house style viewed thematic immersion as something fluid. Guests didn’t need to always be overwhelmed by the thematic environment — rather, it was OK if some spaces weren’t as intricately designed. The eye sometimes needs a break, and more drab designs can make the more intentional architecture stand out that much more. That was why you had Tomorrowland’s aesthetic originally exist as a stark futurist vision. The goal wasn’t to make you feel like you were in a spaceport, only that you were in a place meant to feel like a spaceport. Once you boarded the ride, the immersion would increase — thereby heightening the anticipation.

But then, in 2010, that concept changed forever — and it knocked Disney on its butt.

When Universal debuted The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, audiences got a glimpse of a kind of thematic verisimilitude that had been unfathomable up until that point. When they finally realized it was possible not just to ride a ride through Hogwarts Castle, but to actually explore its hallways and wander through Hogsmeade, that changed everything.

Now, it’s not enough for Disney to simply build things like it used to. Now, there’s no time for visual rest. Even the bathrooms in Fantasyland need to have an immersive theme — thus, they’re now Tangled-specific. Guests are demanding more and more from Imagineering and, amazingly, Imagineering is delivering on it.

Pandora: The World of Avatar showed the tip of the iceberg for what Disney can do in this kind of thematic space. But in 2019, we’ll get to see just how deep that iceberg goes when Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge debuts.

But look how far we’ve come. If you showed the concept art from Galaxy’s Edge to a Disney fan back in 2003, they’d have laughed in your face at how unrealistic it all would sound. But here we are. And, perhaps most excitingly of all, we could just be at the beginning of yet another bold change.

Where will we be 15 years from now? I’m not sure, but it would probably seem impossible to us now.

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