22 November 2008

More powerful shrinking machine

My friend George calls them Soft Resets, the places in between the marquee attractions where children can let loose, get a little crazy, and reboot themselves. The fountains and water play areas in Epcot, the Frontierland Shootin’ Arcade in the Magic Kingdom, and The Boneyard in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. As a preschool teacher, I couldn’t agree more that children need some time to be free in Walt Disney World. For while the attractions seem freeing to most adults, the queue lines and structured ‘sit here’ rules, not to mention touring plans, are all a little too rigid to the free-spirit energy of youth.

That being said, when designing one of Soft Resets, the visuals and personality of the area must be timeless. It has to be appealing, or at least recognizable, to children. Water sprouting sidewalk? Children are only halfway out of their clothes before their in the water. Becoming a Skipper and piloting your own Jungle Cruise? Kids will be spinning the wheel before you even put coins into the slot. Carnival games themed to dinosaurs? You’ll go broke trying to win a stuffed dino, but your children will ecstatic. Running around in Wayne Szalinski backyard while you are the size of an ant? Wait, what?

The Honey, I Shrunk… audience has grown up and moved on. The last time this franchise had a presence in any sort of outlet, aside from the theme parks, it was in the television show that ended after three seasons in 2000. That means that a typical ten year-old child would have been two the last time the show aired. How many of you out there have an abundance of memories from your second year? The Movie Set Adventure was great when I was a ten year-old boy, but, I would imagine it has lost a great deal of its appeal to the younger generation these days.

Take some of the other similar play areas and compare. Though we could bemoan how Pooh’s Playful Spot is situated on a parcel of land that once housed one of the coolest attractions this side of Vulcania, Winnie-the-Pooh is a childhood standard that continues to attract tons of toddlers to the silly old bear every year. Similarly, fascination with dinosaurs never wavers, and the ability to excavate one of these creatures is an idea that would leave many children wide-eyed. The Honey, I Shrunk… name does not jump the generational gap with the same resilience.

Another point to consider for this ill-fated adventure is its location. The Boneyard is large and visible as guests make their way through Dinoland U.S.A. Likewise, Pooh’s Playful Spot, on the edge of Fantasyland near the crossroads of Tomorrowland, Fantasyland and Mickey’s Toontown Fair, is in a perfect location to draw in pint-sized guests. Couple Pooh’s location with sporadic character meet-and-greets and it has everything a parent could ask for to reset their frazzled youngster. Meanwhile, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure in tucked away behind a fa├žade on the Streets of America and the Studios Catering Company Flatbread Grill restaurant. While the play areas in the Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom could be stumbled upon, they are in prominent locations, a guest would have to specifically be looking for the Disney’s Hollywood Studios Movie Set Adventure or be very lucky to chance upon it.

I love giant Legos and grass slides as much as the next guest, but I think this attraction needs to be refreshed. A playground of Wall-E’s junk collection, as much as I love that little robot, would not be a long-term fix for this area. A Fantasia prop storage area might perform better, complete with giant broomsticks, a sorcerer’s hat to climb under, unicorns to climb on for a photo spot, and slides made of ballet slippers. Maybe this isn’t the best idea, but it certainly has more long-standing appeal than the currently out-dated motif the Honey, I Shrunk… story offers. In the end, children like to recognize their play environment and discover new experiences and details in that environment. A new story, or more accurately, an old story is needed to refresh this hidden Soft Reset and make it a viable, and vital, pit-stop for the pent-up energies of the smaller guests.


Princess Fee said...

I love the name 'Soft Resets' - very nicely put! As for Honey I Shrunk The Kids Play Area, I never loved it, as giant bugs just aren't my idea of fun! I do like the idea of a Wall*E themed area, but totally agree that it wouldn't be long term.
I've heard about A Bug's Life being the theme, but I don't even know if that would work...

Ryan P. Wilson said...

I've heard about A Bug's Life too. In fact, for a while, there was a figure of Flik in the Flatbread grill next to the Movie Set Adventure. I don't know what the answer is, but there certainly has to be a more appropriate, and timely, answer than what we currently have.