The Illusion of Fantasy: Part Four – Sounds and Smells compress image l

May 1, 2020

Written by: Jim Smith

Welcome back to our series on Disney’s use of illusion to bring us the fantasy we love on film and in the theme parks. Part One and Part Two of our series were focused mostly on the use of forced perspectives on film and in the parks. Part Three explored some of the hidden magic that powers the parks.  In this final part of our series, we’ll listen and sniff our way through the parks, as we open our senses of hearing and smell.

Say What?

As you walk through a Disney park, there is no doubt that what you hear, whether consciously or subconsciously, plays a big part in getting you in the mood of your surroundings. 

When you’re in Pandora…listen…

These sounds, whether they be music, performance, or just the ambient noise of the themed environment, all play a part in completing the immersive experience. Imagineers can use the properties of sound to steer a guest’s experience in a park, resort, restaurant, and within individual attractions. Here’s how they do it.

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Steering Sound

By projecting sound in a specific direction, Imagineers are able to separate guests in one area from those in an immediately adjacent area, even if there are minimal physical walls present. Dark rides are perfect for this technique. As guests progress from one scene to another in a dark ride, the sound from one scene will fade away and be replaced with sound from the next scene. The fading in and out of sound is not just a measure of distance and volume, but is also attributed to the direction the sound is projected. Once a guest goes outside the projection path of the speakers (in many cases this means traveling beyond or behind the speakers) the sound fades quickly. This is because the speakers are no longer pointing the sound toward the guests – they are now pointing away from the guests.  At the same time, sound from the next area is projected towards the guests, inviting them to hear the next piece of the story.  “it’s a small world” and Pirates of the Caribbean are good examples of this technique.

it’s a small world

This science also works to separate guests inside the parks from noise outside the park boundaries. Even though there may be equipment, construction, or other work noise happening right nearby to the parks’ perimeters, the music and sounds directed toward park guests will outperform most of the undesirable real-world noise.

Ambient Noise and Music

As guests walk through any Disney Park, the background sound and music they hear are carefully curated to place them within the theme of the area they are in.  Future World at EPCOT plays synthesized futuristic-sounding music. Walk around Tomorrowland and you’ll hear the energetic sounds of a bustling spaceport. In Frontierland you’ll hear banjos, harmonicas, and even the occasional whiz-bang of an old rifle.

Guests in Disney’s Animal Kingdom find themselves in the deep jungle, listening to fellow animals living their daily routine. Sometimes these audio loops, or “soundtracks” are up-front and obvious. Other times they are subtle, and guests might not even consciously realize what they are hearing.

Bonus – you can listen to many of these audio loops on YouTube and music streaming services (iTunes, Google Play Music, and Spotify to name a few). So if you are craving a taste of the Disney parks while at work or in the car, check out these auditory outlets!

Follow Your Nose

Unlike dogs, people don’t usually explore with their noses – at least, not consciously. But our sense of smell can quickly guide our exploration when the aroma is just so enticing. This sensation is not lost on Disney Imagineers, who know just how to hit us in the nose. So let’s stop and smell the roses…

…and Popcorn…

When Walt Disney first dreamed of Disneyland, he envisioned it to be presented as a movie or a show – a great adventure through magical realms, where the guest is the starring role. After entering through the front gate, you pass through a short tunnel full of attraction posters promising the amazing experiences you’ll have that day.

Image: Disney Food Blog

Every great movie experience includes popcorn, and that is exactly what you smell when you emerge from the tunnel to start your adventure on Main Street USA – freshly popping popcorn. As you head down Main Street toward the castle, you may also smell freshly baked cookies and other bakery items. In Fantasyland’s Storybook Circus at Magic Kingdom, aromas of cotton candy tease hungry guests.

…and… Musty Water?

When watching a show or travelling through a dark ride, guests often experience more than their eyes and ears will show them. Well placed scents greet our noses on several of Disney’s most popular attractions.

Pirates of the Caribbean

While swashbuckling your way through Pirates of the Caribbean, no doubt you’ll smell the musty water and damp air surrounding the seaside towns, coastal storms, and stronghold forts. This smell is maybe not tops on your list of pleasant odors, but it definitely places guests in time and place with their favorite collection of scallywags. 

Go Soarin’ Around the World, and you’ll smell the grasses and soil as elephants stomp the African plains, and jasmine as you fly over the Taj Mahal (though these smells can’t beat the fantastically fresh orange grove scent featured in the previous iteration of the attraction – Soarin’ Over California). 

Soarin’ Over Taj Mahal

As you travel through the past in Spaceship Earth, you can’t mistake the odor of dire circumstance surrounding the burning of Rome. The smell of apple pie in Mickey’s Philharmagic will make you hungry for dessert as soon as you exit the theater (don’t worry, Storybook Treats is located right nearby).

Sniffing Your Way Around the World

As you take a walk around EPCOT’s World Showcase, pay attention to your nose as you explore the pavilions. You’ll smell a whole array of worldly foods, from chocolates and candies in Germany to pizza in Italy. 

The sights and smells of Italy

With so many counter service locations and food carts, guests can sample small tastes throughout the countries, while letting their noses be their guides.

Disconnect and Get Lost

The next time you watch a Disney movie or visit a Disney park, try a couple things. First off – disconnect. Put your phone away (except as needed to work your Disney Genie+) and just let yourself get absorbed in the story. Turn down the lights when you watch your movie, and check out from the outside world for a couple hours. Also – be curious. The next time you are in the parks, look around, up, and down.  Listen to the world around you. Smell your surroundings. Think about how the sights you see, the sounds you hear, and the aromas you smell are part of the story. Ask questions of Disney cast members when you are in the parks – you’d be surprised how much they know, and would be happy to share with you.

Most of all – Enjoy the show!

I hope you enjoyed this series, and maybe learned a thing or two! If you’d like to reach out with a message, find Facts and Figment on social at: Instagram  Facebook  X

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