Last week I discussed The Living Seas and it’s current incarnation, The Seas with Nemo and Friends. If you recall, my issue with this is not necessarily that Nemo was included in the attraction, but in how Nemo was included. In a second post, I spoke about Toonification, and how I believe that is can be done well at Epcot, and still hold true to the fundamental ideals that made Epcot stand out in the past. The problem with The Seas with Nemo and Friends lies in the fact that the attraction is sub-par, whether it has characters or not.
What I would like to present this week is an idea that might help make this attraction fit in more with the attraction’s great history of education and entertainment. I’ve not gone so far as to write a script for it, nor describe each and every turn. Disney would have to pay me a bit more than they do (currently topping off at around -$3000 / year based on my last few year’s financial records). That said, I think that I can give some broad strokes, paired with some hastily (and poorly) done art to try and get the idea across.
Let’s talk about why I think that Nemo can still be involved and have a strong pavilion. First and foremost, Finding Nemo was a brilliant film. It hit all the correct notes, heart, humor, drama, and beauty. It holds up now, 12 years later. There are scenes in this film that are film-making perfection. People do have a strong emotional tie to this film and it’s characters. Heck, I’m surprised that they haven’t just flat out renamed the Clown Fish to the Nemo at this point, because it’s likely that every child that visits an aquarium calls it Nemo.
So that emotional tie to the characters is a great foundation to build off of. I’ll mention again, having a strong emotional tie into the material being presented has a high impact on it’s effectiveness. We know these characters, we love these characters, so if they are talking to us (and especially our children), we’re more apt to think about it. It plays on already formed neurological pathways in the brain. Simply put, it can be more effective, if done correctly.
What that means though is that in order for this to fit into Epcot’s mission, it needs to have something to say. Book report rides belong in Fantasyland, and this is basically a badly done book report ride. It has no message to tell. It does not tell us why we are on a clamshell under the sea. It does not tell us where we are headed. It does not tell us if that is a seabase at the end, an aquarium, or something completely unrelated. We get on the ride, Nemo is missing (but he really is not), Marlin is going to find him by going through some of the exact same things (sharks, jellyfish), and then he’s found (even though he was never missing). Then we get off and look at some tanks. It does not cover anything related to undersea exploration, marine biology, the health of the oceans, the science of anything at all. Just “Hey look, it’s Nemo!”
What follows is just a refocusing of the attraction. Again, as stated in my On Imagineering post, this is not something that I feel is THE only answer. I loved the attraction as a kid. I didn’t need characters to get me attached to the pavilion, the science itself did this. But I know I was always a more science inclined youth as it is, so I cannot say that was the same for everyone. I understand that, I know Disney has invested in having Nemo there, so let’s work with it if we can.
Let’s start with a little stage setting. We’re going to keep Nemo’s friends involved in this pavilion, but let’s make the pavilion a cohesive story from start to finish.
We’re now going to be specifically calling out that we’re about to go to a sea base on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. This shouldn’t be that difficult. It could be specifically called out via some sort of map (below) or even just left to let the theme-making tell the story itself.
Heck, you don’t even need to change the beach portion of the queue. What you do need though is a modification that brings us from somehow being able to just walk/breath underwater, and make it into something else. As in the picture above, let’s have some storytelling that sets up that there is a research station, let’s call it Seabase Beta for fun historical feel, that has been built to allow scientists to study the Great Barrier Reef. We have the opportunity to go and visit this seabase and see how this research is done. In order to facilitate transportation of people and supplies to the seabase, they have built a pipeline to the seabase with transportation built in. We will be boarding this transportation for the journey out to the seabase.
Once we board the transportation, we’re greeted by a science-loving sea creature, Mr. Ray, who is outside the pipeline and wants to take us on a tour of the reef on the way to the seabase. Mr. Ray is exactly the kind of tour-guide that could mix science and entertainment together to make it both educational and engaging for younger children. Nemo could be with him as well. For a lot of this attraction, Mr. Ray / Nemo can be speaking to us over speakers, so we don’t have to overuse the Animatronic or projection technology. The highlight here should be the sealife, not the characters. The characters are just our tourguides. Mr. Ray’s enthusiastic presentation, Nemo providing some questions for him to answer (Nemo is our proxy, asking questions we may ourselves have, so that Mr. Ray can answer them).
The ride would be rethemed to resemble the inside of a large metal pipe, with windows out into “the ocean”. For practical application, I’d suggest just small tanks installed for each “window”, so that you could ensure sealife would be where you expect it to be. Want to show seahorses? You have a tank, themed to be a portion of the reef, with seahorses in it at the window that we see as we pass by the “window”. It should look like we’re travelling under the sea near a reef, with the ocean going off into the background, but done with a more targeted presentation.
I think that for Mr. Ray, it would be simple to come up with a reasonable looking simulation of him being under water, using water tanks and animatronic technology. I obviously can’t test this theory out, but I think if you put a small, narrow tank up front, a fully animated audio-animatronic figure behind it, and then behind that either another tank or a video screen, you could give the illusion of Mr. Ray being in the water, without having to build a water-proof AA figure which would likely be a nightmare for maintenance.
Along the way, we should learn about some of the things that scientists are discovering out in the oceans now. Studying ecological impact on the environment of various things, learning about algae’s role in the oxygen production for the entire earth, etc. Reinforce the fact that we are on the way to a research station, and inform people what kinds of things scientists are currently studying in the oceans. If we can tie this into exhibits we can see more about once in the seabase, even better. We also should see different pieces of sealife on our way. Instead of building jellyfish out of cloth, we should have a large tank that really looks like we are surrounded by a jellyfish bloom.
We should feel like we’re getting just small peaks of bits of the ocean on our way to a scientific observatory. The excitement for this research station should build as we go, and pique our interest for the pavilion to come. Nemo and friends should be our tour guides, our narrators, the method of telling the larger, more important story. The ride should play a part in the story, the pavilion continues that same story.
Once we get to the seabase, that should be the exciting part. I’ll cover some changes to the pavilion later this week.