Weird is Good

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Unlike its largest competitor, (which may or may not be closing the gap creatively) Disney is not known for capitalizing on a property in their parks until it has proven legs. This is likely because WDW is a place that stays largely unchanged over long periods of time. Attractions are considered permanent with few exceptions. New attractions are few and far between until the past few years. This is an understandable business model when it comes to the parks, but sometimes the company needs to strike while the iron is still a bit hotter. They are devastatingly slow to introduce walk-around characters into the park, even though these are very cheap opportunities to increase guest capacity and keep queues at a manageable level, while being crowd-pleasers as well.

Consider Frozen. The highest grossing animated film of all time. 1.3 billion in world-wide box office revenue. Taking into consideration marketing and production costs, that film still made the company in the neighborhood of 1 billion dollars. It was released in 2013. 3 years later, there is no Frozen attraction in any park that is what could be considered permanent. Sing-alongs, parade floats, and character meets have been everywhere, but an actual attraction befitting a film of this cultural magnitude? No. The attraction that is coming later in 2016 (supposedly) isn’t even a new attraction. It is essentially a glorified overlay of the beloved boat ride, Maelstrom, at the Norway pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase. This, for the highest grossing animated film of all time?

Despicable Me, an average, but solid animated feature was released in 2010 to a surprising $543 million box office haul. By 2012, an attraction based on that film was opened at Universal Studios. A film that made less than half of what Frozen would eventually make had an attraction up and running in two years. Its sequel was released the same year as Frozen and nearly doubled its predecessor, and the third entry, while easily being the worst of the franchise, crushed the box office with $1.15 billion. Universal took a chance on a sleeper hit with Despicable Me, and now has a firm hold on that franchise and its marketing power in its parks.

I fundamentally disagree with Disney’s approach. Many of the attractions in Disneyland were built on films and properties that were not considered successes at the time, and were certainly not thought of as lasting, iconic characters when they were introduced (at least by the general public). Alice in Wonderland, by most standards was a commercial flop, yet it spawned not one, but two attractions at Disneyland, one of which that made its way to WDW as well. The strange characters and bizarre storyline of the film fell flat with moviegoers, but the company believed in it enough to push it into the parks into 2 attractions that are still in operation today. A film doesn’t have to be a box office sensation to warrant addition into the parks.

The questions that should be asked (among many others) regarding theme park viability are as follows:

  • Does the property (plot or characters) lend itself to an original attraction?
  • Do the characters in the property have merchandise potential?
  • Is the attraction being considered appropriate for any of the existing parks?
  • How will the attraction affect guest flow, logistics, and sight lines?
  • Is there an attraction that could be replaced by the new attraction, or is a new attraction the correct route?
  • How much will the attraction cost to build?
  • What is the projected timetable and is it too long to take advantage of the property’s early success?

Now to the point.

It is high time Disney took a gamble on an interesting, critically successful, but somewhat unproven IP in their parks again.

Gravity Falls is that IP.

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The show’s pedigree and tone is perfect for what Disney needs at this point. It has won 2 primetime Emmys and 3 Annie Awards. It enjoys an 8.9/10 rating on IMDB and currently holds Disney XD’s top seven regular animated telecasts of all time. While Disney has dominated the market for young girls with the princess and fairies franchises, and tweens have enjoyed the multitude of shows and made for TV movies, young boys and older teens have always been a difficult demographic for the company to hold on to. Adding an attraction that appeals to this group would go a long way toward reclaiming a demographic that Universal has essentially owned in the theme park market.

Some would argue that the acquisitions of Marvel and Star Wars have solidified the boy demographic, but Marvel in the parks is non-existent for the foreseeable future as Universal (there they are again) still holds the theme park rights to those characters east of the Mississippi River, and barring a massive (think billions) buyout of that contract, WDW will be Marvel-less for years to come. Star Wars is absolutely a brilliant move towards solidifying the teen market, but that will be one park, and lines there will likely stay insanely long for quite a while. It would be a smart move to spread the teen appeal around the parks a bit.

While the show has recently ended, it enjoys a massive cult following to go along with very solid critical and commercial success. There are 40 episodes of the show which means there is nearly 14.5 hours of content to pull from, and the content from this show is ridiculously rich with clever gags, memorable characters, and outrageously detailed settings.

The big question is where to put this attraction. It doesn’t belong at the Magic Kingdom or Epcot, so the natural options are Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. With the coming changes to DHS, that park will be shifting significantly and Gravity Falls seems a little bit out of place. Animal Kingdom would be a better fit, even with the addition of Pandora, the World of Avatar. DAK never got the Beastly Kingdom area of the park filled with legendary and mythical creatures that was teased in concept art, so between Pandora and the Gravity Falls creatures, that long awaited type of attraction could be fulfilled.

Currently Asia and Africa are the only continents with a presence in DAK. That should change with a land devoted to the animals of North America. While to most, this doesn’t seem all that spectacular, a focused, heavily wooded section with animals from the great Northwest would be a great addition to a park filled with people who travel from mostly equatorial countries and do not have many opportunities to experience animals of a more northern region. Imagine moose, bears, elk, foxes, wolves, and more roaming through forested lands themed to resemble mid-1800’s-era Oregon, a land that was truly still a frontier, wild and untamed but for a few brave settlers and trappers which, not so coincidentally happens to be the setting of the delightfully wacky Gravity Falls, only sometimes more modern.

The animals would be in an attraction of their own (think Pangani Trail), but that’s an article for another time.

It has been far, far too long since WDI has crafted a classic dark ride that is worthy of the name and the legacy. Some would argue that Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is a dark ride, and admittedly, it does have elements of a classic Disney dark ride, and those parts are wonderful. The entire attraction is one of the best attractions (although too short) of the last 15 years from Imagineering, but it is not a pure dark ride. The last true dark ride has to be Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid in 2012, and aside from the spectacular queue, the ride itself is a below average dark ride. Too short, a simple retelling of the film, and it falls flat after the brilliant buildup of the queue, the best parts of which, most people don’t get to experience due to the lack of wait time. Had this attraction been built in the mid-to-late 90’s, it would have been massively popular, but seeing as how it took 20+ years to build and rarely has a wait, it is just a reminder of why Disney decision makers should strike early.

The attraction to be built for Gravity Falls would be an homage to the great dark rides which have been the foundation of the parks for the last 60 years, while also using advancements in technology and storytelling to deliver an all new experience. Imagine Haunted Mansion meets Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride with some new twists thrown in for good measure. While most dark rides are either a floor track, or an overhead track (Peter Pan), this attraction would make use of new technology (possibly trackless) to enable the ride vehicle to move in any direction, including appearing to move up stairs, fall down holes, spin around, and even drive on the walls.

Nestled among the trees, in a clearing, is the Mystery Shack, home to Stanford Pine and summer home to Dipper and Mabel Pines. Housed within the shack is Mystery Shack Madness, Stan’s latest get rich quick scheme that he has roped his great nice and nephew into. Taking a tour of Gravity Falls on a golf cart seems like a great idea, especially when the shack has a copier that can make unlimited copies at no cost to Stan, until they realize the copies are just a bit off, and something is causing the golf carts to behave erratically, taking guests on a zany spin around Gravity Falls…and beyond. It doesn’t bother Stan though, as long as the customers keep lining up to pay. Welcome to Mystery Shack Madness.

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The attraction is a comprehensive celebration of all things Gravity Falls, incorporating elements from both seasons of the show. Guests would enter through the doors of the shack, and the queue would be a winding path through a couple of the locations on the ground floor of the Mystery Shack. The living room would be featured, with a TV running a loop of many of the shows that the characters in the show watched as well as commercials for the fictional soda Pitt Soda, a mainstay of the show. Parts of the Museum section of the shack, along with the soda machine that doubles as the entrance to the basement in the show would be seen as well. The details in the queue would be immersive like the show, which is well-known for its use of easter eggs and clues littered throughout the backgrounds of scenes.

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The load area would be in the copy room, where the machine that created an army of Dipper duplicates in the show has been enlarged by Dipper’s shrink/enlarging ray in order to create a fleet of Mystery Shack golf carts.

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(credit for this image goes to  cshep99 on DeviantArt)

Guests would board, 4-5 guests per cart, and begin their journey into the weird. Each ride vehicle would carry 4-6 guests, similar to a car from Mr. Toad or a Honeypot from Pooh. The front seat would be forward facing and the rear seat would face the back, giving the two seats a different perspective and thus, adding to the re-rideability. Certain gags and hidden easter eggs would only be visible from the back seats.

An animatronic Stan, like a carnival barker, sends them on their way into the unknown. As the cart rounds the corner, it ramps out the shack window and the adventure begins.

The first two scenes guests encounter are the lovable (and ultimately creepy) gnomes, and the giant bigfoot print from the opening sequence. From there, as will be the case between almost all rooms/scenes, a weird portal will open in the wall and the golf cart will drive through into a new scene, which could be inside or outside, day or night, or even another time. Imagine the brilliant effect from Enchanted Tales with Belle where the mirror on the wall becomes a door.

Next comes the wax museum and an encounter with the boys from Sev’ral Timez.

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Followed up by a speedy dash through another section of the Mystery Shack’s museum, and a quick corner onto the stairs to head up. This is a first in a dark ride, that the ride vehicle actually changes elevations.

The top of the stairs brings a hallway of weirdness bubbles through which carts will drive, seeing the inhabitants weird reflections in the hallway mirrors, ending in a drive through Dipper’s shrink ray, allowing the cart to pass through a keyhole and then become large again on the other side.

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In a sort of Disney park, self-depricating kind of way, the scene from Hoo-Ha’s Jamboree at Pizza Time would make use of some wacky, and somewhat creepy animatronics, chasing the guests into…

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…the giant western themed Pinball game, which is the perfect place to introduce the carts’ ability to spin, bouncing off flippers as the cart careens toward the open mouth of the skeleton cowboy…

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…that leads to Mabel & Dipper’s Room, a calm interlude for a moment, albeit a highly detailed and Easter-egg filled recreation that fans of the show will no doubt enjoy, until the cart ramps up and out of the window, through a bright light, landing in …

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…Lil’ Gideon’s Tent. The hilarious, pint sized antagonist of season one is holding court here in his church revival-esqe tent, amazing the weak minded with his metal powers, perfectly styled pompadour, and delightfully cute dimples…

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Through a flap in Gideon’s tent, riders find themselves in McGucket’s Junkyard, a twisting, turning labyrinth of Gravity Falls debris. The cart smashes through another portal…

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…and the cart is back in the woods, hurtling toward the infamous Bottomless Pit. The cart flies off the edge of the pit, and guests find themselves floating through darkness, being passed occasionally by an odd piece of Gravity Falls mythology until they are coughed back up, seemingly at the side of the pit again.

Here begins a section of the ride that allows for some re-rideability. Using a system similar to that of Tower of Terror of Star Tours, the attraction computer would select from several possible paths that the cart might take, beginning with a branch into either…

… the Alien Spaceship or Northwest Mansion.

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From either of these locations, all carts enter the Society of the Blind Eye Spin Room and could enter any of a number of combinations of the following rooms…

Manataurs, Fight Fighter, Carpet Room, Blendin’s Game, Stan’s Office, Cave of the Multi-Bear, until all guests end up facing…

…Summerween. A quick dash through the Summerween Superstore and an encounter with the candy monster is followed by a trip through…

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… the Vommiting Gnome Rainbow. Similar to the “waterfall” in Pirates of the Caribbean, guests will pass through this gross, but hilarious rainbow into..

…Mabel Land, the dream prison that Bill Cipher used to hold Mabel captive during Weirdmageddon.

After passing through this sickly sappy wonderland, guests will be faced with a dire message from a combination projection/animatronic Bill Cipher before they reach the unload. The attraction would house two tracks that are mirrored to increase guest capacity. The show building that houses the ride would be hidden behind trees and rock work.

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The attraction of course empties into the Mystery Shack Gift Shop where guests will be able to purchase such goodies as:

  • Dipper’s Pine Tree Hat
  • A series of shirts that look like Mabel’s sweaters
  • Grunkle Stan’s Shriner Hat
  • Waddles plush
  • garden gnomes (puking and non-puking versions)
  • the mysterious journals
  • remote control Mystery Shack golf cart
  • Soos’ question mark shirt
  • Kitty Fists
  • Lil Gideon talking doll
  • Society of the Blind Eye Memory ray gun
  • Pitt soda
  • other various plush and figure sets

Outside the shack, there is potential for an inside-the-parks putt-putt course themed to one particularly zany episode of the show, which would be rife with gags, animatronics, and classic miniature golf gameplay.

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Also hidden in the woods would be an interactive mailbox like the one Dipper and Mabel encounter. Guests could ask it questions and get strange responses. A small detail like this, similar to Push, the (now gone) Talking Trashcan are always fan favorites.

The possibilities for this property in the parks are virtually endless, just as the show explored so many strange and wonderful subjects during its run. The creator has an exceptionally quirky, but relatively family-friendly sense of humor, and an attraction of this nature would heighten the experience of every guest who experienced it.

Perhaps it is too much of a niche kind of show and wouldn’t appeal to everyone, but it is no stranger than Alice in Wonderland, a now-beloved film and set of attractions and characters that at first befuddled audiences and critics alike. Gravity Falls has a cultural impact beyond its two season run and the Disney parks are the perfect location for the series’ life to continue.

Come on Disney, get weird.

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