The Effect of the Narrative: Choreographing Spectacle in the Disneyland Dark Ride


This paper addresses the issue of architecture and its relationship with narratives and effect. More specifically, the effect of spectacle produced in the context of the Disneyland dark rides and its narratives. Most dark rides found in run-off-the-mill amusement parks are designed with the main aim to scare riders in the form of ghost trains. The Disneyland dark rides however, make use of the narratives from Disney films as its main draw. The dark ride is a form of entertainment like the cinema; it however being the immersive, three-dimensional versions of the cinema.

It is not the first time architecture has been manipulated to cause effect and meaning within the observer. In the eighteenth century, picturesque gardens were also designed with allegorical associations through picturesque landscapes, objects and architecture. This will be used as a primer to show how objects can have effect and meaning within the minds of the observer, through association. The picturesque garden of Stourhead will be discussed to illustrate how its narrative can be read only through this process, with the help of the garden stroller’s inherent knowledge.

With regards to the dark ride’s narrative, this paper will show how the spectacle is produced and how it facilitates in the ride’s storytelling process, just as how films use the choreographed spectacle to help the audience understand its narrative. This effect of spectacle in the dark ride will be expanded on the premise of Yi-Fu Tuan’s essay, Disneyland: Its Place in World Culture. He defined the spectacle as a product of the movement of the ride vehicle interacting with the landscapes within the dark ride. This paper will attempt to expand on Tuan’s definition and show how the spectacle within the dark rides is produced. More importantly, how the choreographed spectacle facilities the process of story-telling. The spatial experiences of the dark rides will then be discussed in parallel with how the spectacle is choreographed in film and how similar principles are applied through the analysis of three different narrative categories of the dark ride – the non-narrative, familiar narrative and original narrative with familiar characters – in order for riders to piece together the plot of the narrative.
This paper will be concluded by touching on the idea of immediacy in architecture. The dark ride will be shown to be more immediate in terms of the how the observer is able to grasp its inherent narrative as compared to the picturesque gardens. Thus, this paper hopes to challenge the possibilities of what can architecture be as well as the importance of the observer in terms of understanding the emotive and narrative meanings behind architecture.

Year 5 Masters Dissertation