Are Theme Parks Too Perfect These Days?

As much as a lot of my love for theme parks is rooted in childhood nostalgia, I've personally never been one of those enthusiasts who pines for the 'good old days' whenever a park dares to remove an older attraction in favour of adding something more up to date and new. I absolutely appreciate a classic attraction, but I also understand that parks have a finite amount of space, and I'd much rather something exciting and new to enjoy rather than watching something rot into an almost unrecognisable version of its former self. 

But, despite my praise of innovation and new product development, there is something I've noticed of late. Everything feels just a little too polished and perfect. With the development of technology, theme park designers now have the ability to 'build' attractions in a virtual space using architectural progammes and such to physically see exactly what is going to come to fruition in real life. And whilst that's fantastic from a spend, efficiency and planning perspective, what it does do is remove any opportunity for happy accidents or whimsical little imperfections that add a depth of character and personality about a place. 

There's charm in weirdness. There's intrigue in animatronics whose faces slip into uncanny valley territory, whose janky movements evoke a feeling reminiscent of a more humble period of themed attraction development, where creators were more 'hands-on' and could physically pour more of their own heart, soul and passion into creating something. A step that the perfectionism that comes with tecnological advancement has largely left a lot of modern attractions devoid of. 

My number one example of this that comes to mind is Marvel Avengers Campus at the Walt Disney Studios park in Paris. The land is crisp, modern and flashy, with chrome and mirror wall details, punctuated with subtle neon lighting. It also looks like it wouldn't be out of place in a new build shopping mall, or real life college campus. It doesn't feel like magic could happen around any corner, and even when we do meet Spiderman and the Spider-bots, or see Dr. Strange open a portal, it somehow doesn't feel like we're witnessing the impossible because the setting itself is coded as real world modern architecture as opposed to something other-worldly and wonderful. It feels like we're in something created by boring old humans because it's designed to look as such. And isn't that inherently the opposite of what the point of theme parks is?

It's not all bad news though - parks where fantasy and fairytales are at the heart of their brand DNA seem to have finessed the craft of creating new attractions that take advantage of modern theme park technologies whilst maintaining a classic style that retains a lot of that nostalgic oddness we all seem to assimilate with. Of course I'm talking about Efteling, first and foremost here. The park are very protective of their specific brand style, inspired by the incredible Anton Pieck, and as such there's a vein of consistent weirdness that travels through each and everyone one of their attractions. 

At Efteling, you can see rides that are decades old next to rides that are still fairly new, and one can easily identify that these are part of the same parcel. Symbolica, for example, contains characters with bizarre and almost grotesque, contorted faces that feel classic and old-school, but the ride tech and special effects are high-tech and new (comparatively). It's the perfect example of an attraction that blends all the benefits of modern theme park design and technology without forgetting their brand essence and classic theme park magic and tricks that people fell in love with in the first place. 

And that's where I think we're starting to fall down. Theme park SHOULD be weird. They should contain things that make you go 'what the hell was that?' Because its amusing to be slightly weirded out. It's amusing when things are slightly odd and off kilter. It makes us smile because it's unusual and unexpected, and there's such joy to be found in attractions that do that. Theme parks should be full of hidden nooks and crannies for us to discover, filled with hidden characters and effects, little moments that populate the inbetween spaces with moments of wonder and opportunity, and that utilise tech to amplify that amusement as opposed to just because the tech is cool and new. 

Ultimately, I believe in order to achieve truly timeless attractions that will appeal to theme park goers decades later as those old, janky things still do for a lot of us now, we need to ensure that we're creating attractions that utilise the entire toolkit available, not just the shiny new tech. A blend of classic tried-and-true techniques combined with new tech in instances where it amplifies and enhances the product as opposed to just using it for the sake of it, combined with honouring the park's inherent brand style and DNA seems to me a sure-fire way to avoid more soulless Avengers Campus style theme park additions in the future, protecting the weirdness and whimsy of our most beloved parks for decades to come. 


What do you think? Do you love all things hi-tech and new or do you appreciate a crusty old animatronic that doesn't move quite right like I do? Let me know in the comments, I'd love to have a chat!

Talk later xoxo,