From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Disastrous Genre Theme Parks

Is it a coincidence that when you combine the words Imagineering and Edutainment you get Imaginerdutainment, a word with “nerd” at its heart? I think not.

Disneyland will be updating their Star Wars ride, and Universal Studios has recently opened an entire Harry Potter-themed area in addition to their Terminator, Jurassic Park, Scorpion King and Spiderman rides, to name a few. From Tomorrow Land to the Creation Museum, Fantasy and Science Fiction have proven excellent sources for the special effects, the futuristic or fantastical backdrops, and the sense of adventure that fill children and adults alike with sensawunda and “what if”, regardless of whether they are genre fans or not.

But the theme parks have tried a number of fantasy and scifi attractions that failed horribly, and were dismantled without ever being revealed to the general public. Until now.

Yes, this attraction was an exhausting, winding maze where all routes would lead you inevitably back to the gift shop. But that pretty much describes any attraction. The real problem with the attraction was the central gimmick.

The children were taken from their parents at the attraction’s entrance by Jareth, the goblin king, to be entertained by singing and dancing puppets in the castle at the labyrinth’s heart. The thought was that this would give the parents a break and a chance to shop in the maze before reaching their children. Unfortunately, it was discovered that by the time the parents had gotten to the attraction, and then experienced a moment of freedom, they were more than happy to simply exit the maze and leave their children behind, claiming an inability to find the labyrinth’s center.

Most of the children have been successfully placed in homes, although some remain working the food stands.

This “attraction attraction” was simply comprised of two lines – one down the Team Edward tunnel, one down the Team Jacob tunnel, where you could stare at statues of the respective characters, and enter angst-filled declarations of love on a touch screen. Each entry was rated on an “Ennui Meter”, and if it reached the red then Edward would sparkle, or Jacob would flex.

The problem arose that the park guests would either refuse to leave, or could not figure out how to exit the attraction on their own, and kept asking the Edward and Jacob statues to help them find the strength, or the directions, to leave. The park attempted to add attendants who would direct the guests out and keep the lines moving, but the young girls in particular would lash out and shout things like, “You couldn’t possibly understand how lost I feel. Only Edward/ Jacob truly knows my heart, shares my pain!”

This ride was closed down after a two week trial for violation of child labor laws when it was realized the park was having children sort actual packages for a major shipping company under the pretense of a “sorting game.”

An alternative to taking out a second mortgage in order to afford feeding their children while at the theme park, parents could instead leave their children in a giant enclosed obstacle course to compete for food using non-lethal objects like padded staves and water cannons. Unfortunately, most kids were confused by the concept of having to earn their food, or indeed of going hungry for more than 30 minutes, and soon collapsed into sobbing heaps until their parents came and bought them treats.

Couples would set out in a golf cart-style vehicle and could drive around the set of a quaint, idyllic town with many romantic shops and vistas. The gimmick was that the town was a maze of streets with locations and events repeating both in different parts of the set and on an hourly schedule, and the exit was hidden until the couple performed any of a number of activities demonstrating “true love.”

The divorce rate for participants in the ride was 97%.

Clearly, if done wrong, fantasy and science fiction theme park attractions, much like movies, can be horribly scarring and emotionally traumatic events. But also like in the movies, they can be the most successful and exciting options as well.

Are there some horrible examples that I missed? Or genre books, movies or video games that you would love to see made into a theme park ride? Please, imaginerdutain me with your thoughts.

Randy Henderson stays crunchy in milk. He is a speculative fiction writer, a Clarion West graduate, a relapsed sarcasm addict, a milkshake connoisseur, and master of a robot meerkat army. Most importantly he has won the prestigious “Fantasy Friday Blog for a Beer” award five times (to date). For his further genre-related musings, go to his blog or find him on facebook.

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