Why I Love A Fairytale Theme

Having just returned from a couple of new theme parks this weekend (vlogs and blogs coming soon!) it's been reconfirmed to me just how much I adore theming in parks, in particular fantasy/fairytale style theming. It's something I've always loved - I have always been a obsessed with European fairytales, in particular the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson stories, and have a fairly sizeable collection of illustrated fairytale books on my shelf at home and they're often something I'll open and pore over the gorgeous illustrations for. I have books whose spines are literally hanging on by a sheer thread because I've read the stories over and over again, my brain scouring over every last word and detail of these infamous tales and allowing my mind to conjure up glorious images and far away mystical lands, magical enchanted woods and the creatures that dwell within.

I actually think it's one of the core reasons why my love of theme parks resonates so much with that part of my brain. I spent my childhood filling my head with these stories and theme parks are the places I can ever come closest to actually going to them for real. Today I wanted to spend some time looking at theme parks with a particular focus on fantasy and fairytale themed lands and attractions and trying to extrapolate what it is about them that sets off the huge heart emoji in my brain whenever I find myself in the vicinity of one.

Here's the big one I guess - as mentioned above, I grew up obsessed with fairytales, and not just the Disney ones (although they did have a part to play!) My parents would read fairy stories to me like the classics such as Sleeping Beauty and the Snow Queen (a personal favourite of mine). As I grew up my hunger for fantasy grew and I somehow stumbled across the stunning illustrations of Cicely Mary Barker's Flower Fairy series when I was younger to the slightly darker more twisted art of Brian Froud and his mischievous goblins and forest folk. With the internet I discovered that Brian Froud's designs were actually worked as a concept designer on Labyrinth so it all started falling into place for me why I loved all that stuff just as much. And then of course as we move into the noughties things like Lord of the Rings and even Game of Thrones gained prevalence and I once again found myself falling in love with these dark, mysterious yet magical fantasy and fairytale worlds.

It's in my DNA, basically, to love this stuff. Intrinsically hardwired into my brain as something I associate with positivity and fond childhood memories, so when I enter these worlds physically in person at theme parks I'm often overcome with an overwhelming sense of adoration, like I feel at home and nostalgic, often in a place I've never been before. I'm always in awe of the way memory works like that, it's fascinating to me! I especially love when I'm at a park I've never been to before that I haven't done a ton of research on, as was the case this weekend with Legendia. Their fairytale themed log flume had me making heart eyes and I was basically internally squealing the whole way round because I loved the theme so much. Mad how much some simple trees and woodwork can transform some metal and mechanics into a magical river adventure!

And of course, there's the magic. It's extremely hard for me to describe why magic resonates with me so much, because if you're aware of things like Brian Froud's work you'll be aware that his illustrations are very much in celebration of the earth and nature - the magic of mother earth or some such bullshit like that expressed in physical form in his magical creature designs. I guess my brain automatically associates those sepia toned fantasy movies like Labyrinth, Never Ending Story and even something like Don Bluth's Secret of Nimh with my early love of fairytale stories, and at the heart of all of those movies is a belief in magic.

When a park can truly pull of 'magic', truly convince you into believing that what you're seeing before your eyes is real, it's wonderful. Disney are obviously amazing at this - the magic mirror that phsyically morphs into a doorway in front of you eyes in Enchanted Tales with Belle to allow you to transport to Beast's castle had my jaw on the floor and the gems of the crystal grotto in the finale scene of Voyage to the Crystal Grotto at Shanghai Disneyland had me wide-eyed and begging for more.

And then there's rides like Droomvlucht at Efteling - I'll never forget the first time I took a ride on this wonderful thing, I got off feeling so exposed but at the same time warm, fuzzy and wholesome. It was like somebody had dug inside my child brain and pulled out my love of the flower fairies and Never Ending Story and all that good stuff and thrown it all together in one wonderful, magical dark ride. I swear to god the fact that I didn't cry riding that for the first time is proof that I'm dead inside because I promise you my brain was exploding the whole way around!

Of course, every great fairytale has a villain and I've never been shy of expressing my love of the dark side of fantasy and theme parks on this blog and today is no exception! I'm not one of those 'oh, I much prefer the villains' kind of people but let's face it they're definitely usually the most interesting characters when compared to the usually vapid and uninteresting princesses or similar. Incredible villains like Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty and Chernabog in Fantasia lend themselves to some incredible music and colour palettes to create some incredibly evil feeling scenes and shows (I adore the dragon reveal in Fantasmic and my heart always races excitedly on the fairytale boat ride at Disneyland Paris as you round the corner to Chernabog's scene as Night on Bald Mountain blares!) I also think visually you get a great chance from a set design perspective to really go all in with twisted thorny branches, dark castles, stormy nights and lightning flashes which really transfer well into theme park world to creating something truly immersive.

This even works with non-IP lead dark fantasy themes. Look at Klugheim and its dark theme of a rustic fantasy village trying desperately to protect their peaceful way of life from the dark forces of Taron and Raik as they soar over their houses (dragons?). It's incredibly dark, the IMAscore soundscape picks out all the details of the storyline perfectly and immediately sets the scene of what is taking place here and even without any specific mention of typical fairytale traits (goblins, magic, princesses, etc) it's obvious that this is a land of fairytale and fantasy from the timeless fantasy-Bavarian/Viking style architecture to the flagons of ale served in the tavern to the other-worldy landscape engulfing the coasters and buildings all around.

Following on from that point, if there's something I love about fairytales it's the variety of textured backstory and lore they can provide as grounds for building a wonderful theme park attraction on. You've got mermaids, pirates, princesses, witches, dragons, sword-fighting, unicorns, fairies, ogres, dashing princes and gallant knights and everything else inbetween. It's incredible how something so seemingly endless can all still remain under one umbrella and there are still key identifying factors that allows us to recognise something as of the fairytale genre. What's incredible about something like this is that is allows for a whole park to be 'fairytale' themed, as opposed to just a land like Fantasyland at the Disney parks, without ever coming close to feeling tired or out of ideas.

Look at Efteling - a park that celebrates that darker, stranger European take on the classic fairytale that doesn't shy away from the horror and evil but spends an equal amount of time celebrating the righteous and good whilst continuing to be representative of every sub-genre of fairytale inbetween. Mystical arabic lands explored in the Fata Morgana boat ride that imagines what magic lies on the other side of a mirage, Vliegende Hollander whose dark narrative looks at the fairytales of the sea to classic stories like George and the Dragon represented via a duelling wooden coaster. Each attraction feels totally unique and thoroughly thought out and explored yet somehow all works together under the umbrella heading of 'fairytale'. The great thing is that even with Efteling's tons of attractions they're not even close to approaching being out of ideas.

Fairytales are full of fantastic castles, stunning palaces, quaint woodland cottages and mysterious villainous lairs. To see these incredible buildings brought physically to life in theme parks as part of a ride or park's theming is always wonderful to see and I'm always in awe of how fairytale architecture is translated into real life in the parks. I think my favourite example of this is Disneyland Paris's Fantasyland. An absolutely gorgeous specimen and easily the best Fantasyland of all the Disney parks. I believe this was a Tony Baxter special and given that European culture and childhoods are steeped in fairytale lore and fable the Imagineers wanted to ensure they did justice to the rich heritage of France and the surrounding nations. I mean, when there are literally castles and cottages on riversides that inspired the stories themselves it really is a case of go big or go home.

They paid close attention to some of the most magical architecture found in Europe and gave it that Disney/theme park twist to pluck out all of the key details and intensify them to really extract and exaggerate what makes them feel most magical and the result is breathtaking. Stunningly detailed wood carvings, glorious spiralling pastel coloured turrets flecked with gold, delicate glass awnings and exquisitely painted wall murals, all set off against quaint and rustic cottages complete with thatched rooves and twisting beanstalks. Architectural styles from all over Europe are amalgamated to create a kind of European fairytale fusion with a plethora of tales from cultures found all over Europe and it just works so harmoniously and perfectly it makes you angry that somebody was clever enough to figure it out in the first place. Stunning.

And the best part of all of this? Fairytales are inherently the concoction of human fantasy and imagination, so as long as we're still dreaming of new adventures to go on and lands to explore there will always be new fairytales, meaning there will always be new lands for theme parks to bring to real life in physical form for us to journey to!

Talk later xoxo,