Theme Park Ride Narrative Plot Points I'm So Done With

I love an immersive storyline when it comes to my rides as well as the next theme park enthusiast. Nothing delights me more than a fantastic narrative that sends me tumbling down the rabbit-hole, completely engulfed in whatever fantasy the designers have concocted for me. That said, I do think there are some instances where theme park designers get too in their head about the whole 'immersion' thing, leading to long pre-shows stuffed with so much exposition and contextual explanation that your brain hurts before you've even boarded the thing. And that's speaking as an enthusiast who actually likes and wants to pay attention to this stuff - god knows what this is like for non-enthusiasts! 

So I wanted to spend some time today counting down some of the worst offending tropes we see time and time again where designers are just overthinking things that in reality, are no big deal and easily forgivable as part of the 'suspension of disbelief' we all have to buy into a little when entering a theme park. And FYI, this article might feel like I'm deeping it a little too hard at times, but please know I'm being entirely tongue in cheek when writing this and being over the top for dramatic effect (for the most part) so please don't get too upset with me.

Every single time I grab a pair of 3D glasses to board an attraction I wish I had a note in my phone somewhere listing all the different reasons we're given to explain away the hardware. Bug-vision, ogre-vision, protective goggles, night vision goggles, etc, etc, etc. Do I really need a reason as to why I'm wearing the glasses? What about the screen? That is usually never explained, because we're not meant to 'see' it, so why explain the glasses? In my opinion it makes us 'see' the glasses more, if that makes sense? If we didn't draw attention to them with mad narrative-linked over-explanation I feel we'd draw less attention to them and in a way, that feels more immersive to me. Really, has anybody ever gone into an attraction that requires 3D glasses and demanded an explanation? I don't think so. 

Worst offender: Shrek-4D's 'Ogre-vision'. The Shrek franchise is the master of breaking the fourth wall, so I'd have respected it a lot more if they were just like yh, it's a theme park ride. Put on the glasses, sit down and shut up!

Look, as much as I love Optimus Prime kneeling down to my level and thanking me personally for my service, it always feels like a flimsy attempt at evoking a sense of active rider participation without actually building an active rider experience. Take an escape room, for instance. When you complete an escape room that actually warrants a thanks from whatever fantastical being you were serving in solving the puzzle, because your actual brain power and physical interaction meant something. But usually on these rides where we're thanked for our help, we're just helpless passengers at the mercy of the ride vehicle. We all get the same ride experience, having done nothing worth thanking except sitting gormlessly for a few minutes. 'Because of you the city is saved?' Is it? Is it really?

Worst offender: Sorry Transformers, but it's you. Poor EVAC, he did all the hard work and we're the ones being thanked at the end?

You've been brought here today because we're going to show you the very latest in some sort of technology! You've been brought here today because we have a secret mission! You've been brought here today because time is running out! OK? Does me knowing that really add to my experience or immersion? Is this something that could have been spelled out to me through clever theming in the queueline? Did I really need to stand in a box before the ride itself and have somebody literally spell it out for me? Something like Expedition Everest does this incredibly - the queueline itself is like a museum and oozing with details of the legend of the yeti, what the vehicle is and why we're boarding the train today, no pre-show required! 

Worst offender: It's got to be Flight of Passage. That pre-show feels like torture from start to finish, it's agonising both in length and obvious exposition. And worst of all it's not even fun, it takes itself so seriously!

This is probably my biggest bug bear. I can't remember where I saw it, but I watched a Disney Imagineering documentary a few years ago and somebody said realistically there are very few real world things that have a cart that sits on a track, like a roller coaster, that you can successfully narratively explain away. It's why mine train themes are so popular, because mine carts literally go on track so it makes sense. The minute you try to move to something a little more avant garde with an explanation, where do you draw the line? How do you narratively explain away restraints, or track if we're meant to be on a space ship? If I'm being shrunk down to be a mouse in Remy's Ratatouille Adventure, then why am I riding in a giant mouse with wheels?

Again, I think it's one of those instances where we do not need the vehicle to be explained, we can just be expected to reasonably suspend our disbelief because ultimately - we all know it's a ride even if the narrative is trying to tell us it's not.

Worst offender: Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. Admittedly looping in Arthur Weasley, who canonically has an obsession with muggle contraptions, is a stroke of IP genius, but did we really need the replication spell to explain away why the vehicle is just multiple versions of Hagrid's motorbike? It's just not needed!


I guess what I'm saying is I much prefer a narrative that is a lot more open to interpretation? Something like Taron, or Klugheim in general? There are clues all around the land to uncover to piece together the story of the land and what has happened, but at no point do you sit in a room and have someone waffle a load of exposition at you. Instead, you're just let loose and left to figure it out for yourself, and can take away as much or little from it as you like. That to me feels endlessly more immersive than something like Flight of Passage where I'm so bored in the pre-show I actually consider leaving before the ride itself.

What do you think - do you love a bit of exposition or do you find it exhausting like I do? Would you prefer more things to be left up to interpretation or for designers to rely a little more on suspension of disbelief? Let me know in the comments, I'd love to have a chat!

Talk later xoxo,