The Storyteller’s Corner
The Storyteller’s Corner is a place for anyone who loves, well, stories! I am working to analyze the ways that Disney’s Imagineers work to recreate the worlds built for movies and books into the Disney parks as well as the effects that work has on park-goers. I use and compare literary terms and traditional storytelling techniques with the physicality of the parks and literal nature of a real place to show readers like you why you should appreciate the freighing ropes in the queue for Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid or the peanuts stuck in the ground in Storybook Circus. I hope that by the time you finish one of my stories, you not only have gotten your Disney fix, but you’ll also learn a little something about writing and how traditional storytelling techniques can be applied to real life situations!
How to Hook a Human
Ariel greets guest from Prince Eric’s massive ship at the beginning of the queue for Under the Sea ~ Journey of The Little Mermaid in MK. Picture taken by Natalie Koch
I don’t know about you, but diving into the sea with Ariel is one of my favorite things to do in Magic Kingdom. This magical, slow and steady, yet all encompassing ride has aspects to appease all senses. I had the opportunity to go to Disney World right around the time that Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid had its grand opening (I was in 8th grade) and, of course, the lines were crazy. I think we waited for an hour or more, but I thought it was worth it.
Of course as a young thirteen year old, I didn’t realize it then, but I know now that part of what made the ride worth the wait was the incredible queue. As soon as you even walk towards the start of the line, you’re fully immersed in Ariel’s world. You are greeted with Prince Eric’s grandiose castle and a larger than life Ariel statue at the front of his ship. Once you get into the queue you’re led into a sort of cave with seashells pressed into the floor and a huge roaring waterfall (ropes make sure no guests fall in). I could write sentence after sentence and paragraph after paragraph describing the amazing world, but there are plenty of YouTube videos for you to watch for that (click here for one of my favorites). What I really want to tell you, through this piece and all the others you’ll find in my column, is what world building does for your audience, why it’s important, and why it’s a little tricky.
A roaring waterfall awaits the guests as the travel back towards the middle of the queue for Under the Sea ~ Journey of The Little Mermaid in MK. Picture taken by Natalie Koch
Every good story has a hook–a line that captures the audience’s attention and makes them want to stay in the world you’re creating in front of them. Immediately immersing the guests, the audience, into Ariel’s world acts as a hook would in a story. By presenting big story points–what we already know to be true about the Little Mermaid–up front, the audience is brought back into a familiar world. We have instant reminders of important facts: Ariel is our protagonist–main character–and Prince Eric is an important secondary character to her story.
The further you travel into the queue, the smaller the details get, yet they’re just as, if not more, important than the big details. No matter where you’re looking, you feel as though the further you get in line and closer to the ride, the deeper you’re diving into Ariel’s universe. The way the rope is or isn’t freighed, the grooves along the rocks, the gems and thingamabobs in the cove all add to the story without adding any details that aren’t already in the world as the movie(s) canonically built it.
Seaweed adorned chandeliers hang from the ceiling in the queue of The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel's Undersea Adventure in DCA. Picture taken by Abbey
Disney Imagineers have a tricky job when building rides and attractions like this: they have to build a world that already exists while making sure the content is new and engaging, without creating any new story or plot lines. For example, once you’re in the part of the line that’s within the cave, there are a series of windows with little interactive crabs inside. While it would be super entertaining for us to have met new characters with a real story, it would have furthered the plot of The Little Mermaid after the credits have already closed, so we play around with little crabs who are taking different knick knacks and moving them around. There’s a tough balance between new content that changes the story and new content that adds nothing new.
The amount of world building done within the queue sets guests up perfectly to step into their clamshell and enjoy Ariel’s journey. It reminds us of some background information (setting) that we wouldn’t get in the actual ride and gets us out of whatever story we had just been immersed in prior (maybe Seven Dwarfs Mine Train or Enchanted Tales with Belle or Dumbo). Plus, it’s fun! If guests want to experience the queue, they will suffer through a longer line.
While I have no data that says there’s a direct correlation between the cool queue causing a longer wait time, I do know that I haven’t ever had to wait for less than about half an hour for Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid in Magic Kingdom, while the wait for Ariel’s Undersea Adventure in Disney California Adventure, which is almost exactly the same ride and track with a queue supposedly modeled after an aquarium, is always a walk on. While the queue at DCA does have some fine details–seashells in the floor, seaweed-looking metal on chandeliers, sea urchin toppers to the rails–it’s certainly not as over the top as the decor in the queue of the ride in MK.
Seashells displayed in the cement in the queue of The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel's Undersea Adventure in DCA. Picture taken by Abbey
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover,” and while we can all probably agree it holds good sentiment, it’s rare we don’t put back a book at the library if we don’t care about the cover. Well, think of the queue as the “cover” for the ride, the “book.” Without being hit in the face with a world, why would a guest choose to spend their probably limited time in the parks on that ride?
So next time you’re at DCA or MK (or watching ride videos on YouTube), allow yourself the time to dive under the sea with Ariel and notice these details, or maybe lack thereof, for yourself. Look for part of Ariel’s world in our very own and pay attention to the way you feel in each queue. Which one gets you more excited?
Have you noticed any interesting details around the parks that you think are a good example of world building like the queue for Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid? How did it affect your experience? Let me know in the comments below!