In short, I argue that art is a creative work that passes the tests of time and thought. It's not just a pretty facade. Nor is it an incomprehensible painting or musical work. It's something that engages you on a non-superficial level and continues to engage you whenever you experience it.
Plenty of theme park creations pass that test, IMHO. But which are the ones that might make even a skeptic of theme park artistry say, "Hmmm, I guess you have a point?" Here are 10 theme park attractions that I believe would convince even a skeptic to agree that theme parks can be an art form.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley
Universal Studios Florida
The Legends panelists kept coming back to Diagon Alley as the paragon of artistry in modern theme park design, and all one needs do is to sit on the steps next to Gringotts Bank and watch the expressions of people as the enter the land to understand why. Both grandly scaled and intimately detailed, Diagon Alley captures the imagination and touches the soul even of people who don't know the Harry Potter canon.
Pandora - The World of Avatar
Disney's Animal Kingdom
Joe Rohde's masterwork evokes the pro-environmental spirit of James Cameron's Avatar without referencing a single character or location from the film. Its centerpiece attraction, Flight of Passage, delivers an ethereal experience that leaves many visitors crying from its emotional intensity.
The heart of Anton Pieck's theme park endures, some 65 years after its opening. You will need at least an hour to walk through this impressively-crafted installation of 29 classic European fairy tales, which offer moments from whimsy to awe.
Stand in the Chamber of Planets and turn a handle that will make the heavens move above you. This Citadel is the home of Disney's Society of Explorers and Adventurers and its exhibits help bring the art and science of the Renaissance alive in the hands and imaginations of its visitors. If that's not art, I don't know what is.
Perhaps it's that the Observatorium reminded me of the Chamber of Planets, but Symbolica offers many more sublime moments of beauty in its tour of King Pardulfus' palace. Like other works of art, this installation demands your attention for multiple viewings in order to appreciate all it has to offer.
It's a Small World
The song takes a lot of crap from people, and yeah, Disney plays it at an absurd tempo for a work that was written as a hymn. But it is a beautiful tune with a wonderful message. Yet that's not what makes Disney's attraction a work of art. That is thanks to Mary Blair's stunning visual design, which creates a template that unifies the world's cultures as it also celebrates its diversity.
The American Adventure
Can a single, less-than-30-minute work capture the complexity of more than 400 years of American history? This stunning production might come closer than any other. The "Two Brothers" sequence alone is unquestionably a work of cinematic art, but The American Adventure represents what might be the most impressive amalgamation of media in a single theme park attraction, provoking thought about America's story.
Knott's Berry Farm
Bob Rogers' masterpiece uses a century-old theater trick to animate a classic Native American fable, making it appealing to modern audiences looking for impressive effects while also rewarding those who appreciate the insight of an enduring story.
Revenge of the Mummy
Universal Studios Singapore
Universal's final go at its Mummy roller coaster stands behind what might be the company's most impressive facade for a single theme park attraction. But it's Universal's willingness to embrace a darker theme and tone for this installation that helps keep this Mummy in your thoughts for long after your ride.
Disney California Adventure
This is literally an art class. What more do you want? Okay, it's step drawing, so maybe you might argue that the class doesn't challenge anyone's creativity. I would argue that's a ridiculously misguided view of art, which demands craft mastery to endure. Animation Academy empowers its participants to create by showing them that anyone can make magic on a page with nothing more than a pencil. This is the first step toward making art, which makes it a treasure for anyone who loves art and wants to see it prosper.
What would you add to this list?
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Walt Disney World