The Disney+ docuseries Behind the Attraction, which premieres Wednesday, exposes how Disney Imagineers create magic in their theme parks, according to director Brian Volk-Weiss.
“It’s the nuts and bolts of magic,” Volk-Weiss told UPI in a phone interview. “You see the Imagineers doing what they do, and you’re like, ‘Oh, this is the closest I’ll ever be to magic.'”
Volk-Weiss previously created the Netflix series The Toys That Made Us and The Movies That Made Us. Behind the Attraction Season 1 includes 10 episodes, each chronicling the development of a specific Disneyland or Disney World attraction.
The Walt Disney Co. calls the designers of their attractions Imagineers, a combination of imagination and engineer. Volk-Weiss said the Imagineers behind Star Tours, It’s a Small World, Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror and more make magic by crafting immersive experiences.
In Star Tours, park guests enter a spacecraft and fly around the Star Wars universe, as the motion simulator shakes the ship in sync with a movie playing on the front screen. The Behind the Attraction episode of Star Tours shows how Imagineers adapted a military grade hydraulic flight simulator to simulate space flight.
“It was more advanced than anything else that existed on the planet by far at its time,” Volk-Weiss said. “Three or four Imagineers flew to England, got off the plane, went to this warehouse near the airport and tried the simulator because they had heard about how crazy it was.”
The development of the animatronic Abraham Lincoln robot that speaks the Gettysburg Address is the subject of an episode on the Hall of Presidents. In the 1960s, Imagineers had to work through a slew of issues just to get Lincoln to stand up and talk.
The new Spider-Man robot for the Avengers Campus stunt show was seen by Volk-Weiss’ crew more than a year before Imagineers presented it in June. According to Volk-Weiss, the technological leap from Lincoln standing up to Spider-Man swinging from a crane left him speechless.
“Imagine seeing that in a warehouse, not knowing what you’re going to be seeing until you’re looking at it,” Volk-Weiss said. “Nobody was talking. We literally couldn’t believe what we saw.”
The magic extended beyond the rides themselves. In researching Disneyland trams, trains and monorails, and the nearby hotels, Volk-Weiss said he discovered magic in surprising places.
“I didn’t wake up when the show was greenlit and say, ‘Woo, I want to do an episode about Disney hotels,'” Volk-Weiss said. “If people like this show, hopefully they’ll trust us and try these episodes out.”
The Disneyland train, for example, is shown in the Trams, Trains, and Monorails episode, and its steam engines emit a distinct odour for passengers. Walt Disney commissioned Matterhorn and Autopia Imagineer Bob Gurr to create the Tomorrowland monorail, the country’s first monorail.
According to Volk-Weiss, most of the charm is created by those who park visitors never see. He was able to see what keeps Disneyland and Disney World working after hours while producing the series.
Volk-Weiss and his crew took a third-shift tour of the parks from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. to see how they operate. Crews are preparing to close between the hours of 10 p.m. and midnight, and to reopen between the hours of 8 a.m. and 10 a.m.
“There are 12 people whose full time job is to go over one attraction every night to make sure it’s safe for the next day,” Volk-Weiss said. “If anybody knew how this actually works, nobody would believe it.”
Many of the episodes show how Disney attractions evolve over time. Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror became Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: Breakout and Space Mountain had a Tron overhaul after 2010’s Tron: Legacy came out.
Volk-Weiss said that a magical bond forms when kids experience a memorable theme park attraction. For Volk-Weiss, it was his grandfather taking him on Mission to Mars before it closed in 1992.
“No matter how the technology changes, no matter what the sign out front says it is, it’s the emotional connection you have to the attraction,” Volk-Weiss said. “That’s what you have with you your whole life.”
Behind the Attraction premieres Wednesday on Disney+.