Themed Entertainment Designers From Disney, Knott's, Efteling And More Preach The Importance Of Play Over Technology

The Disneyland Resort played host to the usual tuneful pirates and hitchhiking ghosts this past weekend, but what visitors may not have noticed among all those carelessly pushed strollers were the 800 or so artists gathered for one of the most respected awards ceremonies of the themed entertainment industry.

The honorees were announced months ago, so there was no envelope-opening suspense when attractions and creations such as Pandora — The World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Florida or Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout! in Anaheim's Disney California Adventure were saluted at the industry gathering, presented by the Themed Entertainment Assn.

Ultimately, TEA's Thea Awards, named primarily after the Greek goddess, sought to make the case that, while the tenants of theme park creation may be particularly well-suited to crafting a Marvel-themed thrill ride, narrative-driven experiences today are regularly penetrating more and more aspects of society, be it an out-of-the-way visitor center on a tiny Mediterranean island, an unassuming cultural site in Latvia or a war museum in New Zealand.

The story line developing among the participants of the two-day business expo and Saturday evening awards gala at the Disneyland Hotel: Technology, said one awards recipient after another, should no longer be the driving force of an experience. In an era when most everyone carries a high-powered computer in their pockets via a smartphone, immersion isn't just about wowing visitors with the latest razzle-dazzle.

Play, discovery and person-to-person interaction are increasingly placed on par with special effects. While creations from Walt Disney Imagineering — the company's highly secretive arm devoted to theme park experiences — may have dominated the award winners and the weekend, the event also made it clear that industry giants are shifting their thinking when it comes to entertaining guests.

"Through technology, we continue to become more powerful in our way to create illusions, in our way to capture the attention of the audience, and it's easy to become seduced by the power of technology," said Joe Rohde, a creative executive with Imagineering.

Rohde's teams received multiple honors from the Thea Awards. Two were devoted to Pandora and one honored Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout!

Learn more at the L.A. Times

Kate McCartymedia