Tuesday, June 05, 2007

"Finding Nemo" Submarine Ride: A Sneak Peek!



Spoiler Alert-- stop reading if you don't want to discover the secrets of the new ride!

The following peek is for our land-locked readers unable to make the trek to Disneyland anytime soon to see the park's latest "E-ticket" attraction.

Hollywood Thoughts
got a spot on-board the newly renovated subs as a part of an industry premiere this past Saturday night (the press preview is tomorrow, Wednesday, June 6th... and the ride opens to the general public on Monday, June 11th).

The sub attraction originally debuted in 1959, but has been mothballed for nearly a decade-- so it was an oddly familiar feeling climbing down the sub's twisting stairwell; a true time machine for a favorite ride of my L.A. childhood.

We had two rides that lasted approximately 12 minutes each. The subs themselves are largely the same-- only minor tweaks to the exteriors (a different shaped skipper's "sail"), and all of the craft have lost their gray paint scheme to share a bright yellow livery.



The inside cabin sports a wire-mesh lining that houses a new sound system that keeps the water-bound action in synch with the view of each rider's individual porthole. The re-jiggered subs accommodate two additional passengers-- and the biggest change involves the installation of electric motors. No more nauseous gas fumes filling the interior from the old diesel engines.



For The Record:

The fleet of nine subs allowed the Disney theme parks to boast that they were the world's eighth largest "navy."

Some Things Never Change:


Yes, you still sail through a curtain of bubbles to make your first "dive" into deep waters. First stop? The film's Darla character (the dentist's bratty brace-faced niece) in scuba gear bagging an unfortunate little fish.



The subs still have a narrator in the form of the skipper and his (now female) first mate-- both sporting breezy Aussie accents.

The storyline quickly shifts to include a view of undersea vents... volcanoes... and an ancient "lost" civilization. Both times through this section we had slow downs-- including one full stop. I later spoke to a cast member who confided that the boat drivers still "needed practice"-- hence the unscheduled delay. The subs are on tracks, but each "driver" controls the speed of your ride (I guess busy days might result in a slightly faster trip).

In truth, the "ancient ruins" are the weakest portion of the journey-- the art direction seems thin. Pretty soon, though, the ride earns itself an "E Ticket" value for its technical bling factor.

The gang at Disney Imagineering has the entire animated cast of "Finding Nemo" joining -- via high-definition video projection -- each sub along its journey-- and it's a pretty impressive effect.



The animation techniques used on "Nemo" are not new-- but they are employed in an incredibly fresh staging. Additionally, the structure of the ride (and it up-to-date sound system) allows for "Nemo" to be one of the few attractions (aside from Star Tours) to employ a true storyline with dense -- but easily tracked -- dialogue.

The ride is packed with action: there are explosions... sub eating whales... snaggly-toothed sharks... shipwrecks... and deadly explosive mines.

Yes, there are several "old school" underwater animatronic figures (scuba divers, chomping eels, a forest of jelly fish, blue whales and swimming sea turtles) with the rote movements of their 1950's predecessors. The new animated figures come into play once the subs enter the lagoon's covered "cave."



Hollywood Thoughts has learned that inside the "cave," the subs are separated from the animated characters by a giant wall of invisible plexiglass. Behind the plexiglass -- in the center of the cave -- exists a "dry" control room where the various characters are hi-def images projected onto glass to give the impression that Nemo & Company are swimming alongside the sub's portholes. Set pieces - also in the dry environment -- mimic those placed near the sub to heighten the illusion that all of the action occurs underwater. Pay attention to the "lava flow" scene. GREAT STUFF that'll leave you shaking your head in respect of the imagineer's efforts!

Some other stand-out scenes:

A hyper-realistic recreation of the film's shipwreck scene where Nemo first meets Bruce the shark. The underwater lighting and art direction here is fantastic-- and creepy. You won't believe how much depth there is to this location.

It's also fun watching Dorrie (the Ellen DeGeneres character) bounce around a massive forest of jelly fish (a nice use of mirrors) and trying "whale speak" (yes, we get swallowed by one-- though this effect doesn't really work since our "exit" isn't represented in an anatomically correct fashion. I'll let you figure that one out). There's also a vibrating run through a field of explosive mines. Less impressive is the depiction of Crush the turtle's less-than-wild-ride on the EAC (Eastern Australian Current).

Hollywood Thoughts can't confirm this, but it doesn't seem that Ellen DeGeneres or Albert Brooks actually reprise their (voice) roles for the ride.

Look for a tip of the hat to the old ride's sea monster-- he's towards the end of the run and now a permanent part of the surrounding corral reef.

The Bottom Line:


"Nemo" physically straddles the boundry between Disneyland's Tomorrowland and Fantasyland... and this latest version of the popular ride is the perfect metaphor for a part of the park that represents both technology and imagination.



6/6: NEMO UPDATE:

To help with the expected crush of summer crowds, Disney has just announced that beginning June 11th, the day the subs resurface, guests will be allowed to join the queue until official park closing-- with the subs will continuing their voyages for up to 2 1/2 hours after park closing. While in line, guests will also be armed with a special Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage activity guide to aid them in search of “Hidden Nemos."

The park is also debuting Nemo-themed food creations, such as a snack pack with cheddar fish crackers mixed with an “East Australian Crunch,” popcorn buckets, cupcakes, and apple juice throughout Tomorrowland.

:::

On Other Fronts:


Hollywood Thoughts
reliable sources indicate that Fort Wilderness on Tom Sayer's Island will be demolished in the next several weeks. Its "foot print" will remain, but in the place of a WOODEN fort, a STONE one -- similar to the version found inside the Pirates of the Caribbean battle scene -- will rise.

There's a chance this space will become a storage facility for the "Fantasmic!" river show, but there's also a possibility that a small store and some sort of pirate stunt show will come to exist at this location.


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