What happens when reality doesn't live up to our memories?

August 19, 2016, 8:50 AM · If theme parks are in the business of creating emotional connections with their guests (and I believe they are!), then they need to provide some touchpoint, some reference, to which guests can connect. If you come into a park cold, not knowing what's there, and you don't find any characters, settings, tastes, smells, or physical experiences with which you are familiar, it's going to be tough for that park to elicit any warm feelings from you.

That's why parks spend gobs of money to obtain the rights to external IP. Or they put up buildings designed to look like fanciful or exotic places that many people want to visit. It's also why theme parks so often play to nostalgia. It's all about creating an emotional connection — stirring up the feelings that make you want to spend your money to fully experience the park, time and time again.

But each attempt at forging those connections brings risk. IPs fall out of style. (Who reads newspaper comics anymore, Universal Orlando?) An interconnected world can show visitors just how cheap your cheap approximations really look. And nostalgia? Well, play that wrong and you can end up making people feel worse about their history with you instead of better.

That's the risk I address in my Orange County Register column this week: Is Disneyland overdoing its nostalgia?. In it, I look at Disneyland's decision to end the Paint the Night parade and bring back the old Main Street Electrical Parade in its place. But the column is about more that that. It addresses the way we create and process nostalgia, and what happens when we actually go "back to the past" and confront again the thing we'd become so nostalgic about. Sometimes, that doesn't turn out to be the stuff of warm and pleasant dreams.

Read Robert's Column:

Replies (8)

August 19, 2016 at 9:22 AM · Main Street Electrical Parade is an interesting case of theme park nostalgia because it was supposed to "glow away" 20 years ago. I remember the Farewell Season of 1996 very well -- and I have the commemorative light bulb on my shelf to prove it. The parade simply shouldn't still be around, yet here it is again, making a return appearance at Disneyland. Nostalgia is often viewed with rose-colored glasses, though. I think guests who enjoyed Paint the Night will be shocked by how "old-school" MSEP is in comparison. Had the parade received more updates over the years, like Tokyo's incredible Dreamlights, it might've been better able to hide its age.
August 19, 2016 at 9:35 AM · Here's an idea...replace all the light bulbs on MSEP with new flashy LEDs and add some special effects, bring back old floats like Pinocchio and others. I've seen a Youtube video of a float with rotating neon panels that reminded me of the Monsters float in Paint the Night. And put back the name 'Main Street' on the big drum instead of the generic 'Disney Electrical Paraade'. But they probably won't upgrade it due to budget.
August 19, 2016 at 10:33 AM · If you need an example of how nostalgia is a bad thing, just look at Captain EO.
August 19, 2016 at 10:45 AM · Agree with Disfan and Matthew. While I'm pleased to hear that the MSEP is returning to Disneyland, I feel like the only reason I'm actually excited to see it return is because it's very nostalgic to me. Looking at the MSEP from an outsiders perspective, I'd probably see the removal of PTN with MSEP as a step back in progress. Like Matthew said, the parade is severely outdated, and can never match the awe of PTN. What Disney should have done is completely redo the floats with newer lighting and newer effects, while still keeping the orginal story line.
August 19, 2016 at 1:36 PM · We've seen both parades, and still prefer MSEP. You can't beat the charm of that parade with high tech effects and LED lights. I strongly disagree with those who say that MSEP should've been shelved long ago; just look at the enthusiastic crowds enjoying the parade every night at MK.

They should install one parade at each resort. It makes little sense to have the MSEP do a nostalgia tour at DL, and have PTN show up on "selected nights", while the MK has bupkus. Who came up with that plan??

August 19, 2016 at 1:43 PM · Nice article. If you're interested in the idea of memory and its attachment to emotion and perception, check out some of the works of Gene Wolfe, he deals with these themes in incredibly complex and subtle ways.

Also, I have to call you out Robert, but A Wrinkle in Time is far and away a superior children's story to HP. =)

August 19, 2016 at 3:19 PM · I know this would never happen... but I would spend a good amount of time and money if Kings Dominion turned it's kid land back to "Hanna Barbera Land"!! Return the "Scooby-Doo" name to the now "Woodstock Express", and I'd be in nostalgia heaven!
August 21, 2016 at 5:04 AM · I love the MSEP, and for me, it is and will always be way better than Paint the night. That does not mean it should never be updated - Dreamlights is proof that it can be done without ruining the essence of the original. But all that "everything must go, final clearance sale" - nonsense is really becoming annoying. I love my little lightbulb and would not trade it for annything in the world - but I certainly was not expecting to write comments about the MSEP 20 years after I bought that bulb...

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