As I write this, Snow White's Scary Adventures (SWSA) at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World is preparing to close forever. For anyone familiar with me and my family, you will immediately understand why this is such a significant event in our lives. I will undoubtedly write a blog post this weekend specifically about my son's last visit with Snow White, but before that I wanted to write a little bit about what makes SWSA so remarkable (at least to me).
If you are not
familiar with my son's story, I would encourage you to go and read this series of articles:
At the time that series was done last year, my son had been on the ride nearly 3,200 times. As of this past weekend his ride count is up to 3,451. Our family will be at the park all evening tomorrow right up until closing, so that Ben can say goodbye to the ride and have some kind of closure. I know that Disney is going to have some kind of special moment for him earlier in the evening, which may or may not include a personal visit from Snow White herself. Disney has been very, very good to my family and we appreciate that very much.
After ten years spent with an unbelievable amount of time on that ride (I did the math, and I estimate that I have spent the equivalent of a week and a half non-stop on that ride - all in 3 minute increments), I have come to realize that the ride means something special to me above and beyond it's importance to my son. In fact, I think ultimately I might actually miss it more in the long run than he will. In a lot of ways Ben is a creature of the moment, and while he certainly doesn't embrace
change he at least rolls with it pretty gracefully. I'm not sure that in the end I will be quite so stoic.
So what makes a silly little fairy tale dark ride so important? Well, pull up a comfy chair and let's talk about it.
As a film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is one of the most significant movies in the history of the medium. It was the first feature length animated film, and was considered by many to be a folly. There was no way that audiences would be willing to sit through an animated short stretched out to 83 minutes. It's easy to forget now just how significant an achievement it was to create, requiring the invention of several new technologies and several new creative disciplines. It was a visionary film by a visionary man, and invented an entirely new genre out of whole cloth.
Of course when Disneyland was built, it simply had
to include a ride based on Snow White. The interesting thing is that what the Imagineers built for that opening day ride was not a happy, girly, child-friendly fairytale ride. Instead, Snow White's Adventures was a re-imagining of the classic funhouse spook ride. Snow White herself was nowhere to be seen in the ride, instead the riders were cast in her role and the entire ride consisted of a terrifying chase with the evil Witch hunting them down and jumping out at them at every turn.
Once again from a modern perspective, it is easy to forget that the whole "Disney Princess" marketing concept really did not exist until the last two decades. In the 1950's when Snow White's Adventures debuted in Disneyland, right up through the 70's when it debuted at Walt Disney World, it really was designed to be a spook ride - a thrill ride not quite on par with a roller coaster, but only a few notches down. Have a look at this ridethrough video of the original version of Snow White's Adventures at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World, and just tell me if it wouldn't make you scream:
The quality of the video is poor, and it is almost impossible to see anything inside the ride, but just listen to that audio track -- the witch's cackling, the constant rattling of chains, all of the other scary ambient noise... Honestly, the inside of that ride does not sound much different to me than what I hear in the haunted houses at Halloween Horror Nights. Is it any wonder that children were coming off the ride screaming in terror?
By the 1990's the whole Disney Princess branding was in full swing, and the company decided it was time to make the ride less scary. At the same time they also added the word "scary" to the title, leading to the paradox of Snow White's Adventures having been terrifying, whereas Snow White's Scary Adventures was actually pretty kid-friendly. Still a few spooky bits, but nothing too awful.
There are currently four operating versions of the ride throughout the world. Of the four, three of them run at barely over two minutes while our version here in Florida runs a full three minutes.
Snow White's Scary Adventures - Disneyland - Current:
Look at that exquisite exterior design and the fantastic set work. Oh, those pretty pretty glowing and sparkling gems in the mine. Wow, the lighting effect around the mirror when the Queen transforms into the old Hag. And yet, for all of that artisanship and craft work, the ride is lacking a coherent order or a satisfying ending.
Blanche Neige et les sept Nains - Disneyland Paris - Current
Modeled very closely after the California version of the ride, this one follows the same script very closely with a few tweaks here and there. I absolutely adore the rain effect at the climax with the Witch on the cliff, and this version adds a happy ending that Disneyland is sorely lacking.
Snow White's Adventures - Tokyo Disneyland - Current
Oh, Japan, how I love you so. And I mean that with absolute sincerity. This is the only version in the world that does not have the word "Scary" in the title, and it is also the one most likely to require a trip to Underpants Crafters afterwards to replace your soiled shorts. I don't speak any Japanese, so to my Gaijin ears I swear that I literally hear the old hag scream "booga booga booga!!!" as she spins around. You get about ten seconds of happy respite while the dwarfs sing their silly song, but other than that it is nonstop thrills and chills. No happy ending for you, no sir! You don't finish that ride, you escape
it. Ben would hate it, but I just have to give Tokyo Disneyland several billion points for style. Bravo.
Snow White's Scary Adventures - Walt Disney World - Current
There she is, that's my girl. Can you see what makes the Florida version so different? It's longer running time allows it to have a more leisurely pace. Where California and Tokyo lack any kind of resolution, and where Paris gets a very short (albeit pretty) happy ending, Florida gets complete closure to the story. The old Hag falls to the lightning, and then the young and handsome Prince Charming awakens Snow White with the power of Love's First Kiss. He leads his love away from those dark mines and oppressive forests and carries her away on his valiant steed across a beautiful stone bridge to his castle shining in the distance as the dwarfs wave goodbye.
Even beyond the much higher quality of story, have another look at those sets and special effects. I will grant you that the other versions have much more modern, sculpted sets with lots of sparkly bits and bobs. But look how the Florida version is able to wow you with pure 19th century stagecraft. The coolest effect on the ride is when Snow White appears running through the forest. She is right there in front of you, and you don't see her until the lightning flashes to reveal her frightened figure. That is low technology at its finest, deliciously effective in its simplicity. The effect of the Queen transforming into the old Hag is a simple optical illusion, two figures on a turntable, and it works simply and beautifully. The magic mirror on the wall is quite literally smoke and mirrors - if you look behind you as you pass, you can see how the effect is achieved with a simple light, some colored gel, and a little bit of refraction. I can understand how many (most?) visitors to today's theme parks expect a high tech extravaganza with amazing special effects, but the simple truth for me is that the Florida version of Snow White's Scary Adventures honors the movie by honoring the stagecraft and parlor tricks of its era.
Also, there is something to be said for being an Opening Day Ride. I know that Walt Disney never wanted his theme parks to become stale. He envisioned them as constantly changing and evolving, and that is a good and necessary thing. But there is also something to be said for heritage. Disney fans and historians will always be happy to tell you that '...it all started with a mouse", and that is true. But the real legacy of the Walt Disney company is its treasure trove of feature length animated films. They invented the genre with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and in the 75 years since they have followed it with dozens of other successes. I honestly believe that without Snow White there would be no modern day Disney, they would have fizzled out in the 40's when they were conscripted by the United States military to produce nothing but training and propaganda films. Yes, Snow White holds a special place in my family's heart for very personal and immediate reasons, but on a larger scale Snow White should hold the same kind of honored position within the Disney pantheon.
She was the first and the best, and the Florida version of Snow White's Scary Adventures was the fairest of them all. I will be there tomorrow to say my last goodbyes, and I will undoubtedly shed a tear. She has dominated the last decade of my son's life, and in the process managed to warm her way into my heart as well. She will be greatly missed.
FOOTNOTE: If you want to learn absolutely everything there is to know about Snow White's Adventures in all of her incarnations, please visit KenNetti's "Snow White's Scary Adventures: A Tribute"
. There is literally no better resource on the web.