I’m sitting in the airport after a girls weekend in LA with my mom, sister, and my sister’s good friend. It was a wonderful weekend, filled with food, sleep, and quality bonding time. We also went to Disneyland and Universal Studios, which I always enjoy because I believe you are never too old to play. Since I think of everything through the lens of performance, being inside these elaborate, over-the-top parks inspired me to think of their world-building attractions in a different light.
Disneyland and Universal Studios (as well as their affiliates in Orlando and beyond) are more than theme parks – they provide a peerless immersive theatre experience. Consider the neurotic attention to detail that Walt Disney put into the creation of his idyllic little metropolis. Who hasn’t had a director like this: “Detail was made; if Walt Disney didn’t like what his studio designers came up with, he’d do it himself.” And this painstaking specificity still shows more than sixty years later; the park is a pristine (if problematic…see the “natives” in Jungle Cruise) vision of Walt’s imaginary paradise. Their employees are referred to as “cast members,” a hint at the performativity of the place. Main Street conjures a nostalgia of a time you’ve never lived through, and Adventureland’s charm stems from a time where so much of the world still felt new. Though clogged with far too many children, you can’t leave Disneyland with out a trip through its iconic Fantasyland, which makes even a cynical adult feel like they might still believe in magic. (Tomorrowland and Frontierland, while just as elaborate as the other sections, get a hard pass from me. Sorry).
Walking through different “lands” of Disneyland and Universal Studios is like being inside the most complex set-pieces imaginable. This is unsurprising, considering they are designed by the very people who brought us some of the biggest blockbusters in film history. Universal’s newest crown jewel, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, is not only a giant playhouse for fully grown fantasy nerds, but is also committed to a full immersive experience. The employees are dressed in whimsical garb that is charmingly impractical in the Southern California heat, the bathroom has Moaning Myrtle sound effects piped in, and even the credit card scanners are covered in a antique gold plastic cover to replicate a more old-timey mechanism. And inside the huge, incredible version of Hogwarts is literally the most elaborate, exciting simulation ride I’ve ever been on. It combines the typical 3D screens and car-on-a-track system used throughout Universal with real-life effects — think giant floating dementors shrouded in mist. These theme parks are committed to making you part of the story, something you never get on a run-of-the-mill rollercoaster.
And those traditional loopedy-loops make me sick anyway.
Love and theatre (and a wish upon a star),