“On Cinema and Theme Parks” (part 9)

My BookIn order for the creative teams at cinema-influenced theme parks to understand what the public is going to want months, sometimes years, ahead of time, they have to understand the past attractions, the present ones, and what to look for in the future. Over the years, the attractions at these parks have undergone many changes. And, with the way the trends are going, the “behind the scenes” and nostalgic movie-based attractions are going by way of the dodo, and glorified IMAX® simulator interactive multi-dimensional rides are taking their place. Some of the prominent attractions in the vein of “behind the scenes” and robotic movie or television show attractions were located at Disney’s Hollywood (MGM) Studios and Universal Studios (Florida and Hollywood). Although a few of the park-opener attractions are still around, most have been replaced by other attractions.

MSW_SoundstageOriginally Universal was an excellent theme park for learning about the magic behind the camera and the, mostly analog, technology that enabled directors to become magicians. There was a clear educational component to the theme park experience. And, to some extent, Disney’s Hollywood Studios was the same way. But, with the movie technology changing as rapidly as it is, some of the more nostalgic legacy attractions are going away. Many of the original Universal Studios attractions were about taking you behind the magic, revealing the secrets of movie and TV making. From 1990-1996 at Universal Studios Florida, there was a Murder, She Wrote: Mystery Theatre with sound stages that showed the audience about video editing and foley sound generation based on the hit series starring the incomparable Angela Lansbury. On the tour, the audience would get to watch scenes from the show, talk to industry professionals (played by actors), and volunteers would be used to interact with some of the equipment. But, probably, the most prolific and inspirational attractions about the magic of movies was the Alfred Hitchcock: Art of Making Movies attraction (1990-2002) and Bates Motel and House set from Psycho IV (1990-1998), both located at Universal Studios Florida. (I am actually going to write a separate article on this specific attraction after this series of excerpts is completed).

Psycho_SoundstageThis was a main attraction at the theme park until its dismantlement in 2002 to make way for the Shrek: 4D experience. From the aforementioned explanation by one of the producers of the attraction, the audience was completely immersed in the magic of bringing a Hitchcock thriller to life, and got to witness the most famous single scene in all of cinema history. This was all done with practical effects, just as Hitchcock would have done it. But, with the advent of computer-generated imagery and incredibly accurate and time efficient non-linear video editing, most of the effects can be generated in other ways. Although it remained one of the most popular attractions at the theme park until its closure, Universal saw the future of attractions and decided to do away with nostalgia and pave the way for digital simulated attractions (Singer, 2013). Doing away with cinema and television nostalgia wasn’t the sole prerogative of Universal. Although Disney World is famous for holding on to the nostalgia of the past, especially at Magic Kingdom (Singer, 2013), its parks, too, have learned to adopt new attractions for what they feel the guests want. On the (now closed) Studio Backlot Tour, guests would take a walking and tram tour through a special effects water show on the set of Pearl Harbor, featuring volunteers from the audience, and ride a tram through the production houses where props and costumes were made. Also on the tour was a special effects sequence in an oil refinery canyon that burst into flames and was also flooded. This put the guests in the middle of the movie-making action.

Disney_GG_HouseUntil 2003, there was a street called Residential Street on the tram tour. Here, park guests would come face-to-face with some of the most famous houses in Buena Vista/Touchstone Television shows. The most famous of the houses was the upper middle class home of the Golden Girls. The house was a replica of the North Saltaire Street house in the Los Angeles area that Disney used for the exterior shots during the first few seasons. From 1989-1992, Disney used the replica at then Disney-MGM Studios for shooting the exterior shots of the house. In 2003, the houses were torn down to make way for an epic car stunt show, featuring how car action sequences are filmed in the movies. Keeping with the over-all theme of the park, this was staying with the concept of learning about the magic of making movies. As of October 2014, the Studio Backlot Tour was closed (History of the Backlot Tour, 2014).

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Cinderella (2015)

Cinderella (2015)Bibbidi Bobbidi Bomb! That’s precisely what the most current adaptation/remake of the timeless classic is. Watch as everything you loved about the original Disney Classic is sucked out of this version. But, after this same tired story has been remade again, and again, and again, and again, what can you expect??? From the casting–with Cate Blanchette being the exception–to the writing to the over all poor execution of the famous fairy tale, you will understand why Disney had to add the Frozen short film prior to the opening credits just to get people to see this travesty unfold. On that note, it too was poorly produced and shoved down the movie patrons’ throats. After the tragic adaptation of the beloved Into the Woods, laughable revisionist Sleeping Beauty/Maleficent, and this year’s flavor of Cinderella, I am fearful of the upcoming live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast.

Ordinarily, this is where I summarize the plot; however, this story has been remade so many times that I won’t bother. But, I will tell you that in an effort to add some new zest to the story, Disney does modify some of the events and adds in additional backstory. And, I will say that I liked the modifications and additions. So, I suppose the whole thing wasn’t a total flop.

One of the cardinal rules of filmmaking: don’t remake a classic and virtually change nothing! Your audience will most likely be bored to tears. It was Cecil B. DeMille who said, “the greatest art is the art of storytelling.” Unfortunately, the storytelling in this movie was not artful or original at all. And I use the term original lightly. I’m aware that many films are based on other works of literature or plays. However, it is vitally important that, when adapting a work of fiction, adding something new is required. Nobody wants to see the same thing over and over. Good examples of creative twists on the Cinderella story were Ever After, with Drew Berrymoore, and the funny, entertaining Cinderella with the beautifully talented Bernadette Peters. Both these versions took the familiar story and created something new. Speaking of Ms. Peters, I have yet to understand Disney’s blatant aversion to casting her in roles that are made for her, such as the witch in the recent Into the Woods and the role of Godmother in today’s Cinderella. Another excellent choice for Godmother would have been the incomparable Michelle Pfeiffer.

On the note of casting, I am overall very disappointed with the performances. I will directly point out that I am very happy that Disney chose Lily James for the iconic role of Cinderella, because she boasts a very natural beauty that is not typical of those ordinarilly chosen to play–or drawn to play–Disney princesses. She is someone girls could look up to and not feel like they could never measure up to the unrealistic Disney princess image that often graces the screen. Another positive casting choice was Blanchette as Lady Tremaine (stepmother). She played the role with excellence and truly brought the character to life. At first, I wasn’t too sure about her when the cast was initially announced; but, I stood corrected when everything from her look, to her tone of voice, to her attire screamed ‘I am the evil stepmother.’ She took the Disney villain to a whole new level with the addition of taunting and belittling. As far as the rest of the cast, yes–including Helena Bonham Carter (as Godmother)–I am very disappointed and was constantly thinking of who else should’ve been cast in the various roles. 

Pacing is very important to the structure of a screenplay, and the pacing was way too quick for this story. There were many times that it felt like key turning points or plot twists were just glazed over for the sake of runtime. Another area that structurally suffered was the very ridged narrative. It’s like we jumped from scene to scene without well-crafted transitions. An example of this is when Lady Tremaine has Ella’s glass slipper. We are never even given any clue as to how she thinks to look for the iconic shoe. One of the elements that made Ever After such a hit when it came out was the writing and casting. It took a story most people are familiar with and came at it from a whole new angle. This angle allows the storytellers/filmmakers to include what was loved in the more fictitious fairy tale and build upon it to being the story as close to reality as possible. Between the narrative structure and the casting, this live-action Cinderella still remains a favorite by many. Likewise, the (also Disney, by the way) movie musical adaptation of Cinderella in 1997 made its mark on the classic tale/broadway show by giving it an impeccable cast and adding new musical numbers (“Falling in Love with Love” being a fantastic addition). As you can see, both these movies (as well as Into the Woods and the other Cinderella adaptations over the years) often put their own spin on the story to essentially create a new experience for the movie audience. I find that this version of Cinderella failed to create something new and simply rehashed poorly what has already been done.

Note to Disney: Disney, you need to try something new! Please stop your current trend of creating live-action versions of your beloved animated movies that made you the king of the industry that you are, because you are losing sight of the art of storytelling. I really hope this live-action adaptation of the animated movie is not a foreshadow of what we are to expect with Beauty and the Beast. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if they do not cast Angela Lansbury as Ms. Pots–and no one can play that role like she can. Movie go-ers beware: this is not your childhood Cinderella.