Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor: Notes from a Soft Opening

8 Jan

On Tuesday, December 19, my son and I happened across a soft opening (ie, unscheduled preview) of the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor attraction at Walt Disney World, in the Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland.

Monsters Inc Laugh Floor Coming Soon

As you may have already heard, the Laugh Floor had been scheduled to open in January 2007, and feedback from early soft openings led to the opening date being pushed back to some unspecified date in the spring of 07 (the Orlando Sentinel has more on this). In my opinion this was a wise move. The attraction has a lot of potential, but also some serious flaws which I believe Imagineering can address. In its current state, it could be a big hit with the 7-10 year old crowd, but leave adults bored and irritable. With some improvements, it could be even better for the kids, and better tolerated by their parents.

Out of respect for the Imagineers who requested no pictures be taken, I’m omitting photos. However, I can tell you that much of the aesthetic of both the queue and the pre-show are similar to that of the Monsters Inc ride in Disney’s California Adventure, including a replica of the soda machine from the queue in that ride:

Drooler cola

Snacks

The theatre is a decent size, seating a few hundred people in rows of tables, as if you’re at a comedy club styled like a factory (but not, sadly, The Factory of Andy Warhol fame). There are three screens up front, with most of your attention focused on the left screen (where you’ll see Roz) and the main screen, which features a series of comedians vying for your laughs. You see, following up on what they learned in the movie Monsters Inc, the monsters are gathering laughter to power their city.

There’s also an interesting gimmick . . . they’re integrating the use of cell phone text messages into the attraction. While you were in the queue, you had the opportunity to send text messages from your cell phone to the monsters, offering your jokes for the monsters to tell. (And if you happened to be there for this soft opening, you also had the opportunity to give those jokes to Cast Members, running around a bit frantically to gather jokes. Perhaps they don’t yet trust that people can easily text message? Or are they having trouble with receiving the messages?)

As you wait for the show to start, a camera is pointed at random people in the audience, with amusing subtitles below each person (ie, “Is sitting between two aliens,” “Will buy you all churros,” “Doesn’t know you’re looking at him” — though I didn’t take notes so don’t take those as verbatim).

Once the show begins in earnest, there are essentially four acts:

  1. Mike Wazowski and Roz explain why we’re here: The gathering of laugh power, and a contest among three comedians. This part of the show works fairly smoothly, though a bit dry.
  2. The three comedians each perform in turn. Here, we need some real work. The jokes aren’t great, and the audience’s expectations are understandably high. This is the Laugh Floor, after all. Shouldn’t this be side-splitting stuff, since their world’s power supply depends on it? There’s some audience interaction here, much like in Turtle Talk with Crush, and this is the high point — the comedians seem to be at their best when they’re ad-libbing (or, perhaps the writing is best when it’s loose).
  3. The monsters tell another batch of jokes, sent in by text message (or, in our case, Cast Members carrying clipboards). This is hit or miss. Obviously the jokes will be of varying quality, especially if they have very few to choose from. But for the kid who hears his joke read by one of the monsters (or the parent who’s sitting by his side), it’s an instant pixie-dusted memory.
  4. The audience votes with applause for their favorite of the three comedians, and the winner is announced. The show wraps up, and we’re on our way.

Or, if you’re at a soft opening, maybe you’re not on your way quite yet. In our case, the Cast Members asked for our feedback. We were asked to vote by show of hands, responding to a series of fairly detailed questions, most on a scale of 1 to 5. The audience response at our soft opening was fairly positive, but not quite enthusiastic. Few people responded with 1’s or 5’s.

For me, some of the technical issues left me frustrated (and, of course, we were warned that this would be the case — this was of course a soft opening, which one expects to be technically rough). The left-hand screen looks great, but at our preview the main screen seemed less bright, less clear, and with slighly rougher edges on the characters. Looked like a rendering issue to me. Microphone coverage in the theatre was inadequate, which was an issue during the interactive sections of the program. Perhaps that’s just because they’re in previews, and will have more Cast Members running around with handheld mics once the attraction opens?

I also have to wonder where Sully is. Did they leave him out because he’s not a great comedian? Or is his fur just too hard to render on the fly, given the tremendous amount of software work behind that gorgeous mane?

Overall, though, I do believe that this is the next Turtle Talk with Crush, both for its charming interaction (I know they’ll improve the writing!), and for the popularity of some of the main characters. I’m rooting for the folks at Walt Disney Imagineering who are no doubt putting in long hours to make a great show for us.

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