Cars Land, The Little Mermaid and Always 1.0

Post date: Feb 14, 2017 9:19:40 PM

Yesterday I went to Disneyland for the first time in years. I’ve written quite a few blogs about how Disney ideals and practices can positively influence our classrooms. I’ve read a few incredible books about applying Disney principles to life and molded them to fit education. I love Disney and yesterday did not disappoint.

My major takeaway for the day (aside from fun of course) was the way that Disney is always pushing and improving their parks even when they clearly don’t need to. Disneyland has increased tickets prices consistently over the last FOREVER but especially lately with the intent of keeping the crowds manageable. They could just as easily let the rides age and lower demand for the parks but they do not. Three experiences stood out and really helped hammer home my new focus on “always 1.0.”

First, I finally got to go on the updated Star Tours ride. Star Tours was the first ride at any park that blew me away. When it first opened there was nothing like it. The mix of motion with visuals in a simulation was unbelievable. The ride remained popular for years but Disney redid it anyway a few years ago (before their purchase of Lucasfilm I believe.) The new version was just as amazing as the original. The ride is still essentially the same but the resolution of the screen is now unbelievably high. It looked stunningly real – even through 3D glasses. The motion felt similar but just by updating the visuals it felt like an entirely modern ride. We don’t have to completely reinvent the wheel when we update our lessons. We just need to add in the newest tools we’ve picked up in our kits.

The second thing that stuck out was Cars Land. I knew nothing about it other than the concept art I’d seen for it years ago. It is incredible. The attention to detail astounds. From the way the pathways are paved and painted like roads to the freeway railings using to line the paths everything just oozes Route 66. One can easily see that the Disney Imagineers put every single one of their tricks of the trade into this design. It is the culmination of 60+ years of park design (and has me doubly excited for 2019s Star Wars Land!) I’ve never even seen Cars but I was there, in that world.

Especially in social studies we should be seeking to create that same experience. Our students often have little to no context of the topics we teach until we teach them. The more we can immerse them the more quickly we can draw them in. What little things can we do to add to the story? What about the color-scheme we use for a given unit? What about changing up the font to match the culture? What about the sounds? Can you hang posters or little decorations in your classroom? We probably can’t create Cars Land but we can use our tools to set the scene.

The greatest effect on me came from the Little Mermaid ride in California Adventure. I really can’t stand The Little Mermaid movie. I think it teaches girls perhaps the worst lesson of any movie I’ve ever seen. (If you are physically attracted to a guy you should disobey your father and sacrifice your very self to pursue him… ugh.) Still, I wanted to see how Disney Imagineers updated their traditional Fantasyland “dark rides” like Snow White and Peter Pan’s Flight. I’ve been on their other recent ones (Monsters Inc and Winnie the Pooh) but they really didn’t have much in the way of advancement. I wondered if Little Mermaid would just be a simple, paint-by-numbers attraction as well.

It isn’t.

It’s quite amazing in fact. It opens with a simple light effect (it’s literally a projector shining on a mirror, I looked.) to simulate going underwater. Then you see Scuttle, the seagull, who looks like any of the other, much older, animatronic figures. It’s a solid opening to the story but is nothing special.

Then it just gets turned up to 11. You see Ariel who has a shocking number of points of articulation. Her hair, for example, despite being one big piece of plastic moves independently of her head giving it a sort of flowing motion (you are underwater after all.) Shortly after, you hit the main scene of the ride – a huge room of sea creatures performing Under the Sea. There is motion everywhere (it reminds me of a scene from It’s a Small World) and perfectly turned location-specific audio. You can hear specific animals playing specific instruments. When they do the sound originates from their spot in the scene. It isn’t just one audio track blasting – it truly feels like you are in the midst of the performance. It really needs to be experienced to be appreciated.

The ride closes with an extremely life-like Sebastian (his eyes are small LCD screens I think, they are far more expressive than plastic could be) and one last shot of Ariel and Erik and their incredibly articulated models. It really is impressive. Disney could have phoned this one in. I doubt the extra work they put into this ride sold a single extra ticket. Little girls who love Ariel would go and love the ride no matter how advanced it was. They could have cut costs and surely saved time but they went all in on making it the best ride they could.

Always 1.0 indeed. If Disneyland, who has little impetus to keep improving, continues to push the envelope further and further shouldn’t we do the same in our classrooms? Are you still delivering that awesome lesson from 10 years ago the same way you did when you first built it? Have you not learned any new tricks to spice it up? As I noted before, I’ve been very guilty of this. I’ve been shocked to see how much every single lesson I’ve done the last few weeks needed updating. I’ve learned a ton since I first designed many of my lessons and I haven’t gone back to apply those skills to them. I think we should.

I really want to get back to playing with location specific audio. I put together a lesson on Vicksburg a couple years ago that utilized Bluetooth speakers in various parts of the room to simulate cannons bursting all around. It worked well, especially for a first try, but I just haven’t tried it again. I feel like something as simple as having a hidden speaker playing random jungle sounds when I start the Mayans could really go a long way. Ultimately I want a multi speaker set up that I can manage from my phone. I want to be able to play a given sound from a given speaker on command. I’m a long way from that but that doesn’t mean I can’t do something with the concept (especially since I already have!)

Not everything has to be huge. It just has to keep getting better. Always 1.0!