Nǐ hǎo! There’s Monkey Business Afoot!
The Internet was abuzz this past weekend with ride-through videos of Hong Kong Disneyland’s Mystic Manor, a nice counterbalance to the horrible week that preceded it. The Girl Scouts introduced a Video Game Developer badge. A good friend made it home safe and sound after a trip a long way from home. My daughter is working on the Charcoal Still Life From Hell (as she has been describing it) and comes out of her room/studio looking like a chimney sweep from Mary Poppins. A good week so far and we’re only a day in.
I was blown away (see: Monkey God Room) by Mystic Manor. I’d love to see it here, but can’t think of where it would fit. Adventureland lost most of its colonial flavor in the early 90s. Possibly Animal Kingdom back East, but it would be a bit of a wiggle to make it fit. They’d love it in Tokyo, too…but they, like us in the United States, already have this attraction in its original form: The Haunted Mansion. Don’t believe me? Look. Changing paintings. The Conservatory – same windows, and, hey…those plants look a bit like the singing wreath from Haunted Mansion Holiday, which hang out – literally – in the Conservatory. Danny Elfman does the (delightful) earwormy soundtrack.
So – why no “Grim Grinning Ghosts”? The song in the attraction’s actually pretty close, from what I can hear of it in the video, to the mood of the original. This attraction is big on amazing special effects, but there’s also a big cute/humor factor as well. Noe melted when Albert, the little monkey, said “Nǐ hǎo!” (“Hello!”) in the preshow.
Chinese culture views ghosts differently than do we in the West. A good primer on how ghosts are viewed is actually an animated film, Grandma and Her Ghosts Amazon has it listed as Japanese Anime, but it’s actually Chinese. In death, the person splits into three parts. Family members are still fed and given offerings (often money and luxury items made of paper) after death. Only ghosts that have been terribly wronged are evil, but some are mischievous. Ghosts – “gui” – are deeply tied to religious beliefs. It just wouldn’t work in Hong Kong.
Also, the colonial aspect, the British collector in his marvelous house, the monkey in a fez, that all fits in with British colonialism in Hong Kong as well. So it’s a good fit. If they don’t find a way to bring it here, we’ll just have to go to Hong Kong to see it. And Bae Yong Joon at Madame Tussaud’s, because Bae Yong Joon.
Here’s the spoiler-riffic video:
Thanks to Alex Yeung!
I love what I see there: the nods to the Haunted Mansion, but also fresh and unique. THIS is how you do projections in a theme park attraction, not as a lazy/cheap way of storytelling, but used creatively, to make breathtaking effects that add to the story instead of trumpeting that you came in under budget. I honestly wish Theme Park Productions had never existed.
My favorite part has got to be the Monkey King – he’s an old acquaintance of mine from college. I learned about the Monkey King in both my Chinese and my History of Asian Art classes. Here’s what little I remember: He was the Daoist personification of chaos, born from a magical stone, and was stronger than The Incredible Hulk. He could transform into several other animals, and could control fire, wind and water. He could also perform a barrier spell against demons and evil spirits – which is what it looks to me like he’s doing in Mystic Manor, casting a circle that blows away the chaos and restores order – he is chaos, so he can control and subdue chaos. I’m just making an educated guess based on what I saw and what I know. I could be completely, utterly wrong. It’s fun to know these things, though, even to a limited degree like I do.
Sun Wukong (rough translation: “monkey who knows something’s missing in his soul”) went to war against heaven because he wanted to become an immortal god, and was imprisoned by The Buddha in a paper cage. There he stayed 500 years, until he was partially released (but still under control) by a monk from the Tang Dynasty, who sought the Buddhist sutras (a series of holy texts) from India. In the 16th Century, a retelling of this story, “Journey to the West” was written. Many versions of the story have been passed down and published, including Osamu Tezuka’s manga “My Son Goku”, (You’ll read more about Osamu Tezuka in my ‘Men Who Would be Walt’ series.) which was later made into the anime “Alakazam The Great” in 1960. Sterling Holloway (Dumbo, Peter and the Wolf, Winnie the Pooh) was one of the voice actors for the English version, and Frankie Avalon sang for the hero.
I think it’s beyond cool that they include this – the people who have that attraction in their homeland have an attraction that speaks to their culture and history, while accessible enough that people unfamiliar with the stories can go in and have just as much fun.