Should Theme Parks Use Live or Recorded Narrators on Attractions?

May 29, 2015, 11:27 AM · Walt Disney World this morning unveiled the changes to its Great Movie Ride that we told you about earlier this year. The centerpiece attraction in Disney's Hollywood Studios has a new sponsor, Turner Classic Movies, and the channel's host Robert Osborne is now featured in recorded spiels in the ride. That means less spieling for the Disney attractions cast members who previously had narrated the entire ride.

Great Movie Ride

As @midnightsky82 reported on Twitter, "So Robert Osborne and the live CM co-spiel. Osborne fills in the technical information and the live CM does the color commentary/quips."

This is not the first time that Disney has replaced live hosts with recorded narration, in full or in part. In 2006, Disney removed cast members from the boats on Epcot's Listen to the Land, replacing them with a recorded narration. Disney World lost another live-spieled attraction in 2001 with the closure of the Mike Fink Keelboats. Disney continues to use live spieling on the Jungle Cruise and, at Disneyland, the Storybook Land Canal Boats. But you'll find recorded narration on the Liberty Square and Mark Twain riverboats, and perhaps most famously, by the "Ghost Host" on the Haunted Mansion.

What do you prefer to hear on a narrated ride? Do you prefer the consistency of a pre-recorded narration? Or would you rather hear a live spiel, as unpredictable as that might be?

Sure, sometimes you get a bad spiel with a cast member on the mic, but a recorded spiel can't interact with guests. A Jungle Cruise skipper who's tuned in to his "crew" and going off-script to joke with guests can be cringe-worthy, or a magical highlight of your day. Many Great Movie Ride cast members helped raise the entertainment level on that attraction through their energy and creative spieling. With a recorded Robert Osbourne doing a good chunk of the narrative work now, the experience changes — for better or worse, depending upon your history with the ride and point of view.

Here's a recording of the new clip montage from the end of the ride:

What is your favorite attraction narration? What makes/made it so great? Tell us about it in the comments!

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Replies (29)

May 29, 2015 at 11:43 AM · The correct answer for best narrated attraction is, of course, Tom Sawyer Island. ;^)

Of course, that's always the answer to *any* question involving "best attraction."

May 29, 2015 at 12:21 PM · I prefer live spiels to narrated ones. I have worked on many attractions that spiel. The most similar one to the GMT is the Knott's Berry Farm Calico Mine Ride. The mine ride used to be a live spiel, but ever since the rehab, it is now a recorded spiel. Personally, I liked the live spiel for the interaction, but the new recorded spiel is easilier heard since it has a consistent level
May 29, 2015 at 12:26 PM · That's true about Tom Sawyer Island. I would say the live supersedes. I always find Jungle cruise a good time. With that being said not all rides can or should have a live element.
May 29, 2015 at 12:33 PM · Normally, I'd prefer live narration, so long as the cast members were given some freedom with their script. However, since The Great Movie Ride had the same spiel every time, this change doesn't feel any different. Since the Jungle Cruise features ever changing jokes, that gets my vote.

As for the montage at the end, the use of Monsters Inc music certainly felt off. Didn't they have any other stronger music?

May 29, 2015 at 12:31 PM · The Orlando Studio's Jaws skippers were fantastic. They made that attraction memorable. Generally I prefer a live spiel, as long as the narrators are permitted to interject some of their own comments into the presentation. But, if a park attraction doesn't permit deviation from the script, then I'd rather have a professional prerecorded narration.
May 29, 2015 at 12:35 PM · I had a lot of trouble hearing one of the narrators on my last ride in January, but I think that had more to do with the actors enthusiasm level than anything else... I guess it gets rid of some of the human error, but sometimes that's half the fun
May 29, 2015 at 12:50 PM · There is no contest ... Live is ALWAYS better ... Obviously the Jungle Cruise (MKP edition) tops the list as best narrated attraction ... Second place is Rhino Ralley at Busch Gardens Tampa
May 29, 2015 at 1:13 PM · Rhino Rally was good until Cheetah Hunt closed the water half of it 3 years ago and the rest closed last year. I think Jungle Cruise is the best because you can interact with the Skipper without messing up the spiel.

May 29, 2015 at 1:23 PM · Although I personally prefer live narrators I think that having it recorded introduces the possibility to have the script translated into several languages and available also for international guests.
May 29, 2015 at 1:34 PM · I would say that out of 10 live cast members doing a live spiel on a ride, I've enjoyed 3 of them. It's just hard to compete with a recorded voiceover that is guaranteed to be of the highest quality every time. The few times that live CMs have been great it has added to the experience, but if the rate of success is not that high then what is the cost for the theme park as far as the guest experience?
May 29, 2015 at 1:38 PM · The GMR should be compared with the Universal tram ride that already uses lots of pre recorded video segments with Jimmy Fallon. The video segments don't take away from the trip. It mostly adds more filler instead of painful silences throughout. What is more painful on GMR is the tour guide switch at the Indiana Jones segment. Makes for an inconsistent trip with the discontinuity.
May 29, 2015 at 2:00 PM · I think there is a huge caveat to this poll since it has a lot to do with the Cast/Team member on the attraction. And to further go into it, The Great Movie ride is in serious need of a new script and better audio equipment for the Mugsy character, I can never hear them.
May 29, 2015 at 2:24 PM · I can't decide because I have had exceptional live narrators and I have had horribly bad ones.

My one and only ride on GMR, the narrator was so bad that it really ruined the ride for us. I would love to do it again with the Robert Osborne version and see how much better we like it.

On the other hand, I have ridden the USH tram ride many, many times over the last 20+ years, and the narrator seemed to me like the world's most awesome job (until I found out how little money this job paid, that is). They were always so good at it - entertaining, interesting, knowledgeable, funny. I was pretty shocked this last time I went and saw the Jimmy Fallon version. Not hating on JF - it worked just fine, but I did miss the all-live narration. That job must be considerably less desirable now.

May 29, 2015 at 2:45 PM · I think it really depends on what the attraction is. I really like the live narrators on some rides and recorded on others. In the case of the Great Movie Ride, I'm all for the pre-recorded version. That ride is in desperate need of some kind of fresh air and the live cast member script is a little corny and just not that funny.
May 29, 2015 at 6:24 PM · It depends a lot on the attraction. If the narration is intended to be factual, such as the USH Studio Tour, a recording is better. If it is intended to be humorous or the narrator is supposed to be a character in the attraction, such as the Jungle Cruise, then live narration is preferred. A ride at one of my local parks that recently switched from live narration to recorded narration is the Calico Mine Ride at Knott's Berry Farm, and although I understand why it was done that is literally the only component of the recent overhaul I'm not a huge fan of.
May 29, 2015 at 7:27 PM · It depends. Mostly, I prefer recorded because it causes a more consistent ride experience. However, I like when live is used on rides such as Jungle Cruise.
May 30, 2015 at 5:24 AM · I am Heart Broken - I know its currently mixed feelings from the Cast. A lot of the old timers feel like part of them is missing with this new set up

That being said - Change can be good - I just think they missed a lot of chance to make the Voice Over and The guides and Gangsters/Bandits interact and breath life into show

I do love the Pre-Show and Finale

May 30, 2015 at 5:25 AM · I am Heart Broken - I know its currently mixed feelings from the Cast. A lot of the old timers feel like part of them is missing with this new set up

That being said - Change can be good - I just think they missed a lot of chance to make the Voice Over and The guides and Gangsters/Bandits interact and breath life into show

I do love the Pre-Show and Finale

May 30, 2015 at 7:06 AM · Love the updates to the finale. Never really liked the most recent version of the ending... This one seems to have the right pacing, ending on a high. Also think the Monsters, Inc. music works--it's bouncy (would have been an ideal score to a live action buddy picture), so it fits the comedy section of the montage.

I would love to say that live spiels are better, but I've been on too many poorly performed versions of the Great Movie Ride to say that recorded is likely better.

May 30, 2015 at 8:27 AM · The new script for the tour guide and characters was primarily written by a group of in house cast with input from some leadership and imagineers. As far as what the ride is capable of, the writing of the cast spiels is lacking and not creative enough for the ride. Do we need a snarky comment about Gene Kelly "literally" Singin' in the Rain? No. Bring back the commentary about him co directing the film, or filming the scene with a fever, or even the fact that he inspected his animatronic before it went in. Some of the scenes within the ride reference moments that make no sense. And why the comment about "get to tha choppa" is in the ride, I will never know. It was useless and choppy and served to detract from the ride. Things that were cut, timing fillers and the like... I miss the subdued narration over Casablanca. Did I dislike Robert Osborne? No, but it did seem like he was talking to hear himself talk, which is always interesting. There's no need for awkward commentary about the gangster/bandit character going to steal the priceless jewel. It ruins the show rather than supporting it.
I did enjoy the preshow and finale. They were well done and it is good to see the digital update that has finally come to the ride. I just hope that someone rethinks the cast spiels, because most of them don't make sense on the tour guide side, and the characters are okay but could be better. You have to get a real showman/woman (in the case of my bandit, she was incredible and she made the bad spiel sound somewhat interesting.) to have it play out appropriately.

In response to the person who said that the tour guide/character swap is unnecessary: you are incorrect. It is a staple of the ride and taking that away takes away some of the classic fun of it.

May 30, 2015 at 9:48 AM · Even though I voted live, it's a toss-up for me. Both have their benefits. With recorded narration, you don't have to worry about the script being screwed up. But that basically means that you're going to hear the same thing over and over. A good use of recorded narration is the Ghost Host at The Haunted Mansion. He is the heart and soul of the ride. He is creepy, morbid and always seems to be hinting at some sort of sinister idea cooking up in his mind; yet he's witty, not exactly scary, and strangely charming. A bad use of recorded narration is the Seuss Trolley Train Ride. Instead of commenting on the impressive scenery he instead sings some dumb song and tries to get kids to make all these cartoonish sounds (not to mention his voice is just annoying.) With live narration, the narrator can throw in his own personal touches to the script and interact with the guests so that it's not the exact same experience as last time. But they can also screw up the script or just be flat out boring. One good live narrator I've had was on Rhino Rally. He pretty much stuck to the script almost the entire time but put lots of emphasis on his words and in a pretty humorous way. It really made up for the fact that they had taken out that cool part at the end where the jeep turned into
A raft. The one change I believe he made to the script (it's been a couple years since I was on this ride so correct me if I'm wrong) was a little snarky comment he made about them using actual live animals unlike a certain someone. A bad narrator I've had was the last time I was on Jungle Cruise. The guide pretty much recited the entire script flawlessly, but he didn't add anything new, didn't interact with the guests, and sounded like he was bored out of his mind. This, in turn, made all of the special effects seem more obvious to me, leaving me 100% disillusioned and asking myself why I thought this was a good idea.

As for making parts of the Great Movie Ride narrated...I'm just glad the live narrators are still there, and for a personal reason. One time, me and my family went on the ride and it got stuck so frequently and for such long periods if time that it took about 45 minutes until the ride was over! Luckily, my family and I were sitting in the front row and got to have a nice conversation with the tour guide, who was a very nice person (she even gave me and my sister the microphone and had us sing Small World to the rest of the tram). So here's to hoping that the live narrators stick around for a while!

And just one last thing to say: I FREAKIN LOVE THE NEW FILM MONTAUGE! It still has a lot of classic films but also a lot of new films that appeal to all demographics! Perfect!

May 30, 2015 at 12:13 PM · What is next? The Magic of Disney Animation has the Drawn to Animation show, which is nothing but a cast member interacting with a video. They already got rid of Backlot Tour after making it a mere shell of what it was originally, and now, even some of the attractions that have only a little cast member interaction are getting changed. I understand, from a logistics standpoint, that less CMs mean less paying them, but still...Disney is turning into just a giant recording narration. Remember how awesome Living with the Land was? What is it now? We sit on a boat and listen to a pretty recorded narration. Eventually, it is gong to be like this all around the property.
May 30, 2015 at 3:36 PM · Of course I would love to ride any attraction that features a recorded narration presented by Richard Kiley. But that would only happen at a theme park that would spare no expense.
May 30, 2015 at 3:41 PM · This was difficult to answer because the Jungle Cruise would never be the same without it's live hosts. With that said, I actually voted that I prefer the recorded voices better. I enjoy it on Jungle Cruise and Storybook land, but I wasn't feeling it on The Great Movie Ride. I'm sure back in the rides' earlier operating days the hosts and narrators were MUCH more enthusiastic and interesting. But definitely in the last few trips I've taken to Disney World I will say they ruined the ride. Dry, hard to understand, sluggish, not believable. Also ever since they've introduced the prerecorded voice on Living With The Land, I had always wanted this change on The Great Movie Ride. Glad it happened.
May 31, 2015 at 2:45 PM · The best live narration is on the Safari in Animal Kingdom. I have been to Africa in safari. It wouldn't be realistic to have recorded spiels.
May 31, 2015 at 4:52 PM · I think that the GMR should remain live where as HM does much better with a canned spiel. GMR part of the appeal is the interaction of the cast members for the show and can adjust to a crowd better than a recorded spiel.There are few rides that I can say that live is better than recorded but GMR and JC are two that definitely work much better live.
June 1, 2015 at 11:21 AM · If a Cast/Team Member isn't permitted to improvise, I'd rather hear a professionally done recording, but certain attractions work better with one type of narration than the other. In 40+ years of WDW visits, I've never had a disappointing ride on the world famous JUNGLE CRUISE, but I never cared for the use of live hosts on The Great Movie Ride. Not only could they never vary from the script, but one time we got a host whose accent was so thick we could have used subtitles. I'll take Robert Osbourne's expert and well-placed narration over what I've experienced on the ride previously. Down the road, the late, great JAWS attraction boasted some of the greatest live skippers this side of Adventureland; not only the delivery, but the facial expressions were priceless. If any of you guys are out there, thanks for the memories. "We're gonna need a bigger boat."
June 2, 2015 at 1:35 PM · They can use Gardians of the Galaxy in an attraction? I know they can't use the Avengers/Spiderman because of my favorite park down the road, but because this Guardians clip is in an attraction with a MOVING vehicle, that is questionable. Check out the Marvel contract your self.

"Amity 6, we're commin home!"

June 2, 2015 at 2:30 PM · My preference would be to have live narrators for attractions like this where interaction helps to carry the story. However, these days it's so difficult to find cast-members who enjoy the attraction and are enthusiastically engaged in a way that's enjoyable. Many simply mumble their lines or just give a half-assed performance that ruins the attraction.

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