Disney Invites Fans to Peek 'Behind the Attraction'

July 17, 2021, 8:01 AM · Go watch a magic show, and you can find two types of people in the audience: those who are content to be entertained by the magician's illusions and those who want to learn the magician's secrets.

For theme park fans in the second camp, Disney Plus is offering another behind-the-scenes look at the making of Disney's parks. "Behind the Attraction" debuts July 21 on the streaming service, but don't expect The Imagineering Story, Part Two here.

Director Brian Volk-Weiss brings a different tone to this series, crafting a brisk, snappy style to explore the creation and social impact of one Disney attraction (or attraction family) per episode. The first five episodes that debut Wednesday will feature Haunted Mansion, Jungle Cruise, Space Mountain, Star Tours, and The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.

"We try to really to get into the fun," Volk-Weiss said in an online press conference earlier this month. "We went away a little bit from the history and the protocols of building these attractions and just really went for these fun nuggets that helped build the pop culture that we live in now."

"I've always had a problem with is docs that are dealing with fun and happy and light subjects but treat them like it's the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. I've never understood that," he said. "We're making a show now about amusement park attractions. So why wouldn't it be fun?"

Narrated by Paget Brewster, "Behind the Attraction" features quick cuts and sharp retorts that keep each episode moving briskly. That can give some moments in the series an irreverent feel that one typically does not get from Disney.

"I find people or shows or things that take themselves too seriously don't get the respect that they would if they're just being honest and saying, listen, we're not gods," Volk-Weiss said. "We haven't made a perfect amusement park. What we have made changed amusement parks forever. If you look at what amusement parks were before Walt Disney did what he did in Anaheim, it's night and day. But it's a show about something made by humans beings watched by humans beings. How can you not be self-deprecating?"

All this is meant to help engage viewers with what can be a complex process.

"Attractions are like icebergs," Volk-Weiss said. "And what I mean by that is, to the public, you're only seeing maybe two percent of the attraction. If people knew the infrastructure that they don't see, that make these attractions work, I mean, they'd be blown away."

"For once we don't have to bite our tongue," Imagineer Dave Durham said. "We get to share with the viewer some of those cool inside stories, some of the history, some of the challenges, and a lot of the fun."

For long-time Theme Park Insider readers, there actually won't be much new to discover in "Behind the Attraction." Many of the Imagineers featured in the series will have told their stories in posts here from Disney media events, my interviews with them or coverage of industry panels such as Bob Rogers' annual IAAPA Legends event.

But just because I know how Pirates of the Caribbean ends doesn't keep me from wanting to ride it again and again. And so it is with the inside stories of Disney's theme park attractions, too. The direction and editing of "Behind the Attraction" gives the series a unique rhythm that Disney is hoping viewers find as entertaining as it is informative. It's part of a new openness at Walt Disney Imagineering, which is trying to raise its voice in the fan community.

"We wanted to create magic for our guests that they experienced, maybe without really understanding the backstory that went along with it," Imagineer Jeanette Lomboy said of Disney's past attitude. "We wanted our guests to come through our parks and enjoy a ride for the magic that we intended to create. But now with social media being out, we realize that half the story is the story that makes up the story that we deliver" in the parks, she said.

Disney allowed me to watch seven of the 10 series episodes, including all five from the first drop. Future episodes in season one will feature the Disneyland Hotel, Hall of Presidents, It's a Small World, the castles, and Disney's transportation systems.

Of the seven I previewed, I most enjoyed the Haunted Mansion episode, in no small part because that attraction's development was by far the most chaotic of any successful Disney attraction. The episode captured the turmoil of Haunted Mansion's nearly decade-long development, while paying appropriate respect to the many different talented voices that contributed to Haunted Mansion's unique and wildly successful tone.

On the flip side, the Jungle Cruise episode missed not including mention of the recent updates, though it found plenty of time to plug the upcoming Jungle Cruise movie. (Dwayne Johnson is a producer of "Behind the Attraction.") The episode even included multiple (and non-critical) shots of the now-removed Trader Sam animatronic that the company redesigned the attraction to eliminate.

Still, the Jungle Cruise episode tells well the story of the attraction's development as a "True Life Adventure" nature documentary recreated in three-dimensional form for park guests. And it connects the dots to the ultimate expression of that goal - Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park.

"The truth is, [Disney's] Animal Kingdom is a fulfillment of Walt's vision of Jungle Cruise," Lomboy said. "He wanted to deliver guests into Africa with animals, and that's what we did years and decades later. That connective tissue runs strong, and we don't get to talk about that enough. We just get to show our guests what the end product looks like. So it was a lot of fun to talk about."

Despite all the many insights, anecdotes, and archival imagery that made it into the series, Lomboy said that were many more stories that Imagineers wanted to tell in "Behind the Attraction."

"It was a very, very hard process to shortlist it because there were only 10 episodes. So, my hope is that there is a season two, maybe a season three, maybe beyond that, because there could be an episode for every single attraction if we really wanted to go down that route - small and big - because there is a lot that goes into every single thing that we do."

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Replies (6)

July 19, 2021 at 6:49 AM

It sounds terrible. There's already enough material online catering to the current five second attention span.
I was considering re-activating my Disney+ subscription for this series but thanks Robert for the warning.

July 19, 2021 at 10:01 AM

I’m looking forward to the series, even if I do end up hearing stories I’ve heard somewhere else. I wish that Disney+ had just decided to premiere the entire series at once, but I guess that’s better than having to wait a week for the next episode.

Disney+, while we’re waiting, how about releasing more episodes from the anthology series featuring the parks? I mean, Disney already had to remaster a bunch of them for the Walt Disney Treasures series, and not all of us really want to see “High School Musical: The Musical The Series”.

July 19, 2021 at 10:37 AM

Brian Volk-Weiss does the Movies That Made Us, Holiday Movies That Made Us, and The Toys That Made Us on Netflix. They’re pretty solid and yeah, a bit snappier and fun. Looking forward to this series.

July 19, 2021 at 12:50 PM

Yes we’ve seen the info on YouTube before, but the combination of it being direct from Disney and with Volk-Weiss directing, it should be a fun. The YouTube vids are good, but lack the polish of professional documentaries. Whether it’s the sound quality, the flow of the episode, or the actual visuals, this should be significantly better than YouTube.

July 19, 2021 at 2:44 PM

That Imagineering doc was great openly talking on the mistakes from Euro Disney to California Adventure and quite frank on the company's problems so this should be good too.

July 19, 2021 at 11:56 PM

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