Fantasy vs Reality Theming

I’ve had this debate a few times with friends (an insight into the riveting conversations we enjoy): is theming that is based on actual structures and places technically proper theming? Is it a cop out?

Because it’s kind of odd isn’t it: you have this blank canvas to create literally anything you want in the world. The most magical, creative and inspiring fantasy brought to life through the medium of the theme park, and for some reason quite a lot of parks make the choice to theme rides and areas to real places that already exist. So I wanted to explore that a little today.

(Source - the World Showcase at EPCOT gives you a taste of the actual wonder of the world!)
In a way, I get it: escapism. Theme parks are a place to escape to, and form many the jungle ruins of India or the ancient pyramids of Mexico are out of reach travel-wise, but a trip to somewhere like EPCOT at Walt Disney World is something much more within their grasp. And EPCOT is actually quite a good example here: around the world in 8 hours for a fraction of the cost, almost a taster buffet of what the world has to offer in everything from food and drink to architecture. Yes of course it’s not ‘truly’ experiencing these things, but it’s close enough to it for some to feel like they got the proper experience. Personally it’s not something I would do in lieu of actually visiting the countries represented in the World Showcase, but I can get down with the fact that for some it’s enough.

(Source - Europa Park representing German architecture that can be experienced down the road outside the park gates in real life)
Where it gets a little weirder is when theme parks do what I’m calling ‘reality theming’ representing architectural styles that could be experienced for real literally within the same country. I’m talking about things like the Berlin area in Phantasialand, the Parisian square where the Ratatouille ride lives at the Walt Disney Studios and Germany at Europa Park. Why would you recreate something in a theme park that can easily be experienced in real life for just a short train ride away?

Of course, these are fantastical caricatures of these real life places. Theme parks make these areas the best versions of themselves: they’re prettier, more idealised, more ‘perfect’. Maybe it’s a sense of national pride? The theme park representing their country in its best light and giving guests the chance to experience their perfect perception?

(Source - Venice is beautiful but it can't compete with Mt.Prometheus)
But then, compare these lands directly a fantasy style of theming. I’ve been wracking my brains and I honestly can’t think of a ‘reality theme’ that is in any way better than any ‘fantasy theme’. The closest I could think of is the gorgeous Venetian area around the entrance of Tokyo DisneySea, but even then when you compare that with the glory that is Mt.Prometheus it pales in comparison. The best ‘reality theme’ is more comparable to an average ‘fantasy theme’ in terms of impact and beauty.

I guess you could argue we’re just not as awed by something we know exists for real because we’ve seen actual footage and photography of the places represented so our brain automatically makes the comparison to the actual thing, and for the most part the real thing is likely going to look and feel better than the theme park representation.

(Source - historical representations of reality are the exception)
The only exception to this rule is the representation of a real place but from another era: I’m talking 20th Century American Waterfront at Tokyo DisneySea, I’m talking the Victorian London streets of the London Dungeons. These work better than on a thematic level for similar reason to fantasy theming – they cannot properly be compared to real life. History is as idealised as fantastical designs, and so we can never hold these thematic representations up against the real deal accurately, and so there is an air of artistic license allowed and our judgement is softened.

That’s not to say some ‘reality theming’ isn’t excellent. EPCOT is one of my favourite parks in the world for the World Showcase alone, and anybody who says the theming at Europa Park is substandard is lying to you. But I do believe these places lack the magic and awe of something like Klugheim or even the diamond mine tunnel on Alpenexpress at Europa Park.

If I’m going to a theme park to ‘escape’ the real world, then I want to escape it completely, not be whisked away to a caricatured version of the same planet.

Talk later xoxo,