Insomnia has kind of ruined my brain this week, but let’s see if I can manage a coherent thought or two. It’s only about Disneyland; it’s not like it’s important or anything.
As I discussed last week, the DisneySea park in Tokyo has a ride that is vastly superior in scope and technology compared to its American cousins. The Auctioneer in Pirates is touted as the most advanced animatronic in Disneyland (well, except for the new Lincoln, but that’s a different episode), but there are fifty robots like him in Sindbad, all singing and all dancing. Why would they bother spending all the time and money? Well, weird thing about the two Disney parks over there: neither of them are owned by the Disney company. Instead, the rights to all those intellectual properties and the talent pool of Imagineers are leased out to the Oriental Land Company, who are the ones that actually foot the bill. And they tend to be willing to spend way more money their parks than Disney usually does. Which leads to certain instances with two rides, one in Anaheim and one in Tokyo, both based on the same IP, where one is a cheap, desperate attempt to cash in an a lucrative franchise, and the other is an impressive achievement as a fun dark ride.
I’ve never really been into Winnie the Pooh. Well, not since I was six anyway. So it’s a little strange that the best ride in the Tokyo Disneyland park ended up being Pooh’s Hunny Hunt. I mean, I like kids’ rides as much as the next adult with stunted maturity, but they’re not exactly thrilling. You cruise along in a little themed car through cute reproductions of scenes from animated movies. If you’re lucky, some of the cartoon figures move and yell things at you. They’re worth a laugh, especially if the line is short and you’ve had a few. Pooh’s Hunny Hunt is so much more. It is exquisite Pooh.
The Japanese Version: You climb into a honey pot, and off you go, along with two other honey pots filled with other people. These are your ride buddies, and they’ll be with you throughout the entire trip. As soon as you round the corner from the loading station, the three pots break formation and each takes their own route completely independent of the other vehicles. How is this possible, you might ask if you cared enough to know that all Disney dark rides are on tracks? Well get this: THERE IS NO TRACK. I hope you can find all those pieces of your mind since it was just totally blown. I’m not sure how they do it—lasers! or something—but it’s a neat surprise the first time. And depending on whether you get the first, second, or third honey pot, you get a slightly different ride experience.
So you follow Pooh as he uses a balloon to try and get honey. I think. Again, the ride is in Japanese but that seems to be the gist of it. It’s a nice touch that all of the robot characters look like stuffed animals; it’s the small things. So far the ride is pleasant but pretty standard, and then you move into the Tigger area where the whole room bounces along with him. Cool effect! But then you get to the section where the ride really displays its quality: The Heffalumps and Woozles nightmare. You move into a huge surreal room, and now there are, like, eight honey pots! All of them spinning, sliding backwards, and interacting with each other and the various surreal cartoony horrors. There’s even a roaming honey pot that has some huffleheezy and lumples or whatever in them dressed like tourists. What the hell was that honey laced with?
The American Version: Sort of similar but not nearly as endearing or as advanced (despite being newer). For one thing, the vehicles this time are hollowed out bee hives. For some strange reason, this makes less sense. Traveling around in a honey pot I can understand, but this…? I can only maintain my childlike sense of wonder for so long here. And they’re on a track. Tracks are for chumps.
The story is roughly the same, in which Pooh attempts to aquire honey and has a crazy drug trip. Except that the characters appear to be made of fiberglass and they barely move. There’s no animation; they just rock back and forth with less personality than one of the dolls in Small World. The charm is gone. The nightmare room is lifeless. Instead of being surprisingly delightful, the ride is boring. The worst theme park crime. The best thing I can say about the ride is that the outdoor queue is nice, and woodsy.
The Bottom Line: Once again, the Japanese have shown us up with their willingness to throw lots of money at theme park dark rides. Their American counterparts are apparently too cheap to splurge beyond the mediocre.