Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Over the weekend, I traveled to Orlando for a friend's wedding (Allison LaForte, of WJC fame). My wife and I, as recovering Floridians, promised we wouldn't end up at Walt Disney World.
Last day of the trip. Three hours to spare. Where did we end up? Disney.
Disney thrives on what media theorist Henry Jenkinscalls "environmental storytelling"--creating an immersive environment of images on every side so people get the sense that they are "there." By immersive, I mean that you are drawn into it. You can't go through adventure land without running into wild-west themed rides or seeing Clint Eastwood-esque saloons. And, of course, all those places feature characters from Disney lore.
We ended up at Downtown Disney (I've been there a million times, but how can you go to Orlando and not do something Disney? We just gave up). As we walked through the LEGO area of Downtown Disney, I began spouting incomprehensible dork language at her: "Don't you see how this is environmental storytelling? Look at the all the figures! See how they add to the immersive experience!" Luckily, she's used to this by now. But sure enough there was a statue of a tourist family there, designed so they looked as if they were made of legos. There was a shark statue coming out of the water, also designed to look like it was made of legos. Further in, there was a sea dragon coming out of the water that, yes, was also looked like it was made of legos. It made it almost impossible to get through the area because so many people wanted to take pictures with the different lego statues.
Granted, this is just the Downtown area, and it features nowhere near the images one experiences in the main disney parks (you even eat your lunch/dinner in places themed to fit the area of the park you're in).
If environmental storytelling is an art, Disney's got it under wraps. Consider an ad campaign they did a few years ago with the help of Annie Leibovitz (she of half-naked Miley Cyrus fame).
And the message of these advertising pictures is written right on the photos. All of them are variations of the phrase: "Disney is the place where dreams come true." In other words, if Scarlett Johansson can be Cinderella, you can too--at Walt Disney World.