Watch This DVD: The Little Mermaid, Disk 2

I know what you’re thinking: “Dude, that’s a kids movie!”Yes, it is and it’s actually a quite notable one because it was the last feature film produced by Disney that was completely hand drawn and it returned the company to its musical roots, ushering in a string of successful films in the early 90s reminiscent of the kind of work not seen since Walt himself oversaw production. That’s not why you should get your hands on Disk 2 of the 2006 Platinum Edition DVD (Amazon, Netflix), though.

Like a lot of the DVDs that catch my eye, there’s plenty of creativity in the bonus material. Specifically, there is a featurette entitled, “Behind the Ride That Almost Was” that discusses a designed, but never constructed, ride based on the movie. The footage not only demonstrates the process Disney Imagineering uses to turn a movie into a 3D ride experience, but also has a computer animated rendition of the attraction you can virtually go on. In all, there is about 15 minutes worth of material that gives insights to some of the challenges their team faces to create rides like this and the steps they use, including:

  • Cropping the story line of an 83 minute movie into a 4 minute theme park attraction.
  • Incorporating scent and touch elements that cannot be experienced in a movie theater but can in a dark ride, but in a way that is consistent with the storytelling that the guest is accustom to since they have likely seen the film already.
  • Taking riders from a land environment to an undersea one in a believable way without getting them drenched.
  • Using conceptual drawings, paper cutout models, and fully sculpted models during the design process to approximate the experience as much as possible so that changes can be made inexpensively.

Whatever your creative process might be, it’s always a good idea to study someone else’s to look for ways to improve and there’s few places that do it better than Disney Imagineering does. The people interviewed come across as passionate and extremely knowledgeable about what they do for a living. Normally, the resulting attraction needs to endure millions of riders over many, many years, but in the case of this project, it was canceled and only lived on in this DVD form.

Until two weeks ago, that is.

The Pixar merger has changed the structure of the Disney corporation pretty significantly. Most notably, hugely successful director John Lasseter is now the creative head of the theme parks and, as a former Jungle Cruise skipper, understands why an influx of new experiences is crucial to their profitability. As part of a huge overhaul of the underwhelming California Adventure that Disney announced on October 17, a Little Mermaid dark ride is set to replace the Whoopie Goldberg narrated “Golden Dreams” attraction.

While you can find behind the scenes footage of existing attractions on the Travel Channel on almost any given weekend, because this was a project that was stopped and restarted, it is the first detailed look at a Disney ride prior to it being constructed. Aside from the insight to the Disney creative process, that’s what makes this Disk 2 footage extra exciting.

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