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The new season of “Behind the Attraction” deconstructs more Disney rides
The second season of the “Behind the Attraction” docu-series drops tomorrow (November 1) on Disney+. As with its initial run, the show takes another deep dive into marquee attractions, including Pirates of the Caribbean, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and Indiana Jones Adventure. The series also targets broader topics such as Disney’s nighttime spectaculars and the food served throughout the parks and resorts.
For anyone who loves theme parks–and as ATP subscribers, I’d imagine that’d include you–it’s must-see TV. It’s fascinating to learn, for example, that Tokyo Disneyland’s version of the Main Street Electrical Parade is a super-duper-sized 45-minute procession and that imagineers at Shanghai Disneyland had to develop a water pump system on the fly to accommodate the prototype magnetic boat vehicles shortly before the park’s next-gen Pirates ride opened. Having said that, the tone of the show can be off-putting. It’s delivered in a whiz-bang style with a barrage of verbal, visual, and audio puns and gags along with zippy editing that distracts from the material.
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Case in point: On the nighttime spectaculars episode, there is much ado about whether Walt Disney ever actually uttered the phrase, “kiss goodnight,” to describe Disneyland’s fireworks extravaganzas. To accent this and other points, there are intentionally awkward pauses, the sounds of crickets, soundtrack scores that grind to a halt, and other post-production tomfoolery. Interviews with legendary imagineers such as Tony Baxter and the late Marc Davis, who is shown in archival footage, are sometimes edited in ways that make them unwitting butts of throwaway jokes. Even Walt Disney gets the wink-wink treatment in “Behind the Attraction.”
Perhaps I’m being an overly sensitive fuddy-duddy. I’ve got nothing against puns (as anyone who has seen my headlines surely knows). But the nonstop silly patter from narrator Paget Brewster gets annoying. It is as if the content can’t command attention on its own merit. When the content is about something as beloved and iconic as Pirates of the Caribbean or fireworks exploding above Sleeping Beauty Castle, there’s no need to gussy it up for the twitchy, short-attention-span crowd. By their very nature, imagineers are great storytellers. Just point a camera at them and let them tell their stories.
I much prefer “The Imagineering Story,” the six-episode Disney+ series that traced the history and evolution of Walt’s merry band of magic makers. It strikes a more agreeable tone with a blend of whimsy and reverence that befits the topic. That probably has much to do with that show’s deft director, Leslie Iwerks. The daughter of Don Iwerks, who was at Disney for 35 years and worked on such innovations as Circle-Vision 360, and the granddaughter of Ub Iwerks, who worked alongside Walt Disney and helped develop Mickey Mouse, she brings an insider’s knowledge and heartfelt appreciation to the topic. It’s like a love letter to her father and grandfather as well as to all imagineers and fans of the Disney parks.
“Behind the Attraction” director and executive producer Brian Volk-Weiss, however, brings a comedic sensibility to his Disney+ Imagineering series. That’s the right stuff for his work with standups such as Kevin Hart, Jim Gaffigan, and Howie Mandel; not so much when Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is in the spotlight. Interestingly, Moana’s buddy, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, is also an executive producer of the series.
Still, there are loads of compelling moments throughout the episodes. It’s wonderful seeing former Disney imagineer and nonagenarian Bob Gurr explain the simple, but clever and convincing technique fellow imagineer Yale Gracey developed for the fire effect in Pirates. Now that I’ve discovered Momentous, the Hong Kong Disneyland everything-but-the-kitchen-sink castle show that mixes pyrotechnics, projections, fountains, mist screens, and more, I’ve got another item on my burgeoning bucket list. And who knew that it was clean freak Walt Disney’s idea to create the now ubiquitous swinging trash can lid so that Disneyland guests wouldn’t have to see the trash in the cans?
There are some curious omissions in some of the episodes. How can there be a show about the food at Disney parks without mentioning Mickey bars, for instance? For that matter, how could the episode overlook the food-centric festivals at Epcot, Disney California Adventure, and other parks?
Despite the often tongue-in-cheek narration, talking heads such as Becky Cline, director of the Walt Disney Archives, and imagineers Tom Fitzgerald and Bob Weis lend authority to the proceedings. It’s great to see younger imagineers such as Jeanette Lomboy get the opportunity to weigh in on Disney’s attractions as well.
By all means, tune in “Behind the Attraction.” But you might want to tune out some of its silliness.
Are you looking forward to the second season of “Behind the Attraction?” Am I being too protective and reverent of imagineers and the Disney parks?