Death and Storytelling in Themed Entertainment

In an earlier post I demonstrated how to make a Pirate Skeleton.  Why do we, as theme park guests, find these props and images fascinating and entertaining?  At last count I found over 48 corpses and 3 cemeteries on display at various locations throughout Disneyland in California.  They help set the mood of the attraction by sparking our curiosity and playing to our basic human emotions.  We at FRCH set the mood of every project with our design work.  With clients like Disney, Seaworld Parks & Entertainment, and Herschend Family Entertainment, we need to understand every aspect of great storytelling.

Death and conflict has always been part of storytelling and helps us achieve a level of excitement and fear.  At Disneyland, Pirates of the Caribbean currently has 12 corpses on display while the Haunted Mansion  has only one (not counting ghosts).

In Pirates, they represent the consequence of greed and excess, while the Mansion’s corpse sets up a story of tragedy and murder.

In the case of the Jungle Cruise, death is used to set the stage for danger and fear.  We see a boatload of skulls and wonder if we will meet the same fate.  It helps to establish the Jungle as a dangerous and threatening place.

The cemetery at the Haunted Mansion brings forth an atmosphere of the macabre while making us uneasy and in tune with our own superstitions prior to entering the attraction.  In other words, it gets us “ready” for the experience.

 The cemetery on the island in Frontierland tells a different story.  One of the sacrifice and the hardships of early frontier life.

This last image of the settler and his burning cabin (no longer themed around death) scared the #@!! out of me when I was a kid, but it added to the experience by enhancing the history and mythology of the west and helped to bring it to life (at least for a seven year old kid).

Thanks to Daveland and his wonderful photography.

About PhillipFreer
Draws, paints and builds stuff. Designs Theme Parks, places and family destinations.

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