7. The Dancing Dining Room

Image: Disney

Attraction: Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast (Tokyo Disneyland)

A decade after Magic Kingdom experimented with the concept of a “Wizarding World-esque” New Fantasyland of immersive mini-lands dedicated to Disney Renaissance films, Tokyo Disneyland took the concept a step further. Similarly remaking just a portion of its existing Fantasyland, Tokyo’s version is wholly dedicated to Beauty and the Beast, anchored by an E-Ticket attraction that’s truly one of a kind.

The new Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast is a trackless dark ride that’s quite unusual. Rather than an adventurous dark ride darting through the woods, the attraction is practically a new genre of experience: it’s basically a ride-through show, consisting of only four major scenes, each lasting the length of and playing nearly the full version of one of the film’s songs. Guests’ trackless teacup vehicles focus on dancing and spinning around spectacularly sophisticated Audio-Animatronics rather than retelling the story or emphasizing its action.

If Twitter reception is to be believed, many American and European fans aren’t sure what to make of the ride that’s so unlike the Beauty and the Beast ride-through they pictured. That said, the dance-along musical ride seems like a perfect fit for the entertainment-obsessed Japanese audience. As for the role of projections? The ride's opening scene – “Be Our Guest” – relies heavily on them. During the full two-minute scene, the room is transformed from a dark dining room into a crescendo of spinning lights, swirling streamers, falling bubbles, dancing plates, and popping champagne.

Projections return toward the end of the attraction, too, complementing the Beast's return to human form and the breaking of the spell on the castle.

6. The Star Destroyer

Image: Disney

Attraction: Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance (Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios)

Bar none, the world’s most in-demand theme park attraction must be Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The more-than-an-E-Ticket attraction is a true experience, whisking guests through an epic escape from a Star Destroyer. The attraction is truly next generation, using trackless ride technology and a story that’s deeply embedded in the land’s massive mythology and its original “world.”

In many ways, Imagineering fans talk about Rise as a sort of “best of” attraction, taking bits and pieces from Disney’s most astounding E-Tickets in the last quarter century and combining them into one massive, larger-than-life experience. To that end, projection effects are one of many tools Imagineers pulled out of their toolbox. Its use is pervasive, but subtle. 

In fact, if you ask any Imagineering fan to discuss their favorite moment once on-board, it's likely that projection plays into it... even if it's merely to sell a larger illusion. Projection creates the astounding realism of the ride's "interrogation" preshow (and we don't mean the Musion screen bringing Kylo Ren and General Hux to life); it pairs with physical effects to show 'damage' from blasters and missile strikes; it's integral in an iconic effect on an elevator; it's part of the ride's captivating encounter with one of the best Audio-Animatronics on Earth. Yep, choose a moment and watch... No wonder fans clamor to ride this anchor over and over... It's so filled with detail, you can't take it all in in a single ride.

5. Fantasmic Dreams

Image: Disney

Attraction: Fantasmic! (Disneyland)

Speaking of Star Wars, there was no shortage of trepidation when – to squeeze Galaxy's Edge in – Disneyland dammed up its Rivers of America in 2016. A major rerouting of the waterway (and a reshaping of Tom Sawyer Island) led to an 18-month closure of the river, and the show that takes place on it every night, Fantasmic! In true Disney form, Imagineers took the opportunity to "plus" the nighttime extravaganza. And while in some cases they might have taken their calling a bit too far (we're looking at you, unnecessary-Pirates-of-the-Caribbean-scene-replacing-a-much-better-Peter-Pan-scene), the massive renovation also brought in projection mapping.

For better or worse, all of Tom Sawyer Island is in on the act, transforming the Mississippi waterway into a straight-up abstract representation of Mickey's imagination. The greatest example of the new capabilities introduced by projection must be the show's first moments, when Mickey awakens in his dream and slowly, gradually recognizes his power to shape the imaginary realm he finds himself in.

Watch as Mickey notices that the lights obey his command, spinning, fanning, and rising as he gestures... Then, how a point of his finger launches fireworks. As the Mouse gasps and looks at his own hands in awe, the show really comes to life. In any adorable moment (at about 1:40), Mickey looks over his shoulders as randomly-pointed beams of light and with a wave – left and right – pulls the lights onto himself. Meanwhile, projections of glowing energy grow around him, focusing into a singularity and – with a musical crescendo – exploding outward in Technicolor waves, kicking off Mickey's control of water. (In a poetic reprise, Mickey calls the same lights back in the finale, at about 26:00 above). 

The Fantasmic projections are far from subtle, and it's true that at times, they overwhelm the visuals (or worse, are used to replace expensive pyrotechnics). But if you can manage to watch the show with a specific eye to the newly added texture mapping, it's clear that it was done lovingly and cleverly, with hidden details and surprisingly meaningful allusions. (For example, Maleficent's shadow is projected on her dragon form's stomach, turning into the flames which race up its throat and erupt from its mouth!) 

4. The Tropical Trick

Image: Disney

Attraction: Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway (Disney’s Hollywood Studios)

Though the closure of the Lost Legend: The Great Movie Ride may have caught many Disney Parks fans by surprise, few would argue that its demise was in vain. Quite the contrary, its replacement – Minnie and Mickey’s Runaway Railway – is a modern wonder itself. Billed as the first ride themed to the iconic star, the ride whisks guests into the modern Mickey Mouse shorts for a wacky ride through the whimsical cartoon world.

Appropriately, nearly the entire cartoon world is brought to life through projection. Mickey’s world is supersaturated, kinetic, and aglow with such amazing detail, it’s difficult to be sure where the physical world ends and the projected one begins. In fact, projections build out each scene to almost unfathomable levels of detail. And it’s not just the “main action!” Projections add depth and detail to static props, “flowing” water, and more.

Still, one of the ride’s most talked about tricks is also one of its simplest. Utilizing the ride’s “black box” design and texture-based projection mapping, guests’ runaway train cars proceed into a tropical jungle of ferns, rocks, and waterfalls, only to have a rushing river sweep them away (and into individual screen-based pods) and into the ocean. Amazingly, behind guests' backs (literally), the room is transformed! Once guests have plunged into the ocean in solo projection pods, they return to the physical space that had been the jungle scene... only to now find themselves underwater! It's an absolutely astounding moment entirely powered by projection (and showing the technology's capacity to have two scenes in one space...)



I hate to be "that guy", but there's a typo in the first paragraph:
"For more than six years, Disney's designers have been assembling an industry-leading toolbox of storytelling tricks. "
Wow, a whole 6 years? That's amazing. ;)

I think that should read:
"For more than SIXTY years, Disney's designers have been assembling an industry-leading toolbox of storytelling tricks.

Thanks for the heads up, apologies the typo has been corrected! Thanks for reading TPT.

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