Ten attractions that will convince skeptics that theme parks can be art

November 26, 2017, 7:04 AM · Are theme parks an art form? Joe Rohde made that case during this month's IAAPA Attractions Expo Legends panel, and I take up the cause in my Orange County Register column this week.

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 Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley

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.

Fortress Explorations
Tokyo DisneySea

Fortress Explorations

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

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

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.

Mystery Lodge
Knott's Berry Farm

Mystery Lodge

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

Revenge of the Mummy

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.

Animation Academy
Disney California Adventure

Animation Academy

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?

Read Robert's column:

Replies (15)

November 26, 2017 at 8:01 AM · I always say that theme park attractions are the nearest to a Gesamtkunstwerk we have as of now
November 26, 2017 at 8:30 AM · I don't get the other side of the argument. The same pretentious bougie hipsters claim video games aren't art.
The Tree of Life is a free form collage sculpture.
Expedition Everest is a pastiche of The Himilayans.
Finding Nemo the musical is a visceral experience produced by more artist than your local gallery.
That's just Animal Kingdom.
Everything that theme park's do is the definition of art. Mood, atmosphere, tone, brevity, and celebration. Anything can be art if the art defines itself as art.

Museums= high brow entertainment
Theme parks= Something for everyone, Shakespeare
Carnivals= low brow entertainment

November 26, 2017 at 8:48 AM · Surely the whole of World Showcase is the best example of all....?
November 26, 2017 at 11:38 AM · I don't think copies (in whatever form) are art. So actually nothing on the list should be considered art. It are all masterful executions but that's about it. Even Anton Pieck called his drawings a craft and not art. That doesn't make it any less fun or worthy.
November 26, 2017 at 11:56 AM · I dunno prof plum. Its a nice place to sit... but it is at best a tribute to the real art - the buildings that inspired them.
November 26, 2017 at 3:09 PM · Art is the expression or application of human creative skills coupled with imagination. I dare say that almost anything touched by Humanity, from theology, philosophy, law, you name it, is art. Why not a theme park or amusement park, movie, song, etc? A theme park as a whole is an enormous example of many forms of art. it is, to be sure, a "collection" of many art forms. And in so doing is, indeed, an art in itself.

When it is gone well we even dare call it "Genius".

November 26, 2017 at 4:50 PM · Carsland or Pirate cove at Shanghai Disneyland
November 26, 2017 at 6:55 PM · I mean architecture is considered art so I would see theme parks falling under this...

I would also ad Spaceship Earth (at least the outside)

November 26, 2017 at 7:25 PM · We might be missing the point. The art of theme is not in the architecture, or the music or the robotics or any other physical aspect of the park itself - or any of its attractions. Themed attractions aren't about the park... their product, their result lies wholly in the guests' physical, intellectual, emotional and psychological response to their experience. The true show is not 'The Haunted Mansion'... it's "Your EXPERIENCE of The Haunted Mansion". If the medium is the message, the audience is the medium.
November 26, 2017 at 9:17 PM · The Yeti is a work of art. It’s a statue.
November 26, 2017 at 11:18 PM · I'd add Hogsmeade / Hogwarts to the list
November 27, 2017 at 3:15 PM · These are good examples, although there are plenty, plenty more. Any well executed theme park attraction or land that creates emotion and experience is a work of art. You have to be a snob to deny that. And they, and the skeptics, can stay home.
November 28, 2017 at 2:41 PM · Pirates of the Caribbean, of course. Where else can you travel INTO another time and place? What "amusement ride" does a better job of creating a "mood"?

If the sublime is a feeling that can't be expressed in words, then surely the mood created by the first 7 minutes of PotC Disneyland can only be called sublime.

November 29, 2017 at 10:08 AM · Art is in the eye of the beholder.
November 30, 2017 at 4:43 AM · The Bali-Indonesian temple mount, in Pairi Daiza animal theme park (Belgium) So imaginary complex and exciting authentic at the same time.
As an outdoors set (It's a theme zone in the park) it's unsurpassed worldwide, IMHO :-)
The feeling visitors get there, when climbing it along the terraced rice fields, the running water, the lush but cultivated jungle from which this temple is rising up REAL high (no forced perspective tricks in here) to hold a temple dance square on top and treasure grotoos inside, all in genuine sculpted natural stone (no concrete sculpting here) is a wonder-of-existence. It exists. Go see it !

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