DisneySea's Sindbad's Storybook Voyage probably features, in my estimate, more audio-animatronics than all the of attractions at the American Disney parks built in the last decade combined.
There must be hundreds of these fluid, articulate designs working together to tell the story of Sindbad's quest to mercilessly kill innocent birds and giants in order to steal their treasures and bring them back to his homeland. Wait, that was the old version. Now Sindbad is seen as a liberator who brings democracy to foreign lands and they reward him with gold and trinkets. Look, it's in Japanese. What do you want from me? It still makes more sense than Under New Management.
Modern thinking suggests that only projection screens such as the type installed in the new Submarine Voyage or Toy Story Mania! can offer such movement and fluidity. Try telling that to the designers of Sindbad. The attraction is so full of movement, life and wonder that it puts the derivative Nemo Submarine "Let's Watch The Movie On TV Again But Underwater" Voyage to shame.
Download this video (90 meg AVI) shot by me and follow along as we take a look at some of the highlights of this unique attraction.
In one scene (4:00), Sindbad is seen freeing a green giant from a jail cell. As we sail into the next scene his massive girth is fully revealed (4:45). Even here the giant animatronic gracefully plays his instrument.
In another scene (8:12), a huge whale gives Sindbad and his boat a hand, allowing him to cover more ground as our hero looks ahead through a nautical telescope. In lesser rides the green giant would have been the capstone, but this attraction packs in a huge whale, an oversized bird (3:40) and more animatronics than you can shake an E-Ticket at.
There are subtle details everywhere, such as the fireworks in the finale that cast a green and red glow onto a palace (10:14). In the opening scene a couple of puppet's silhouettes can be seen on the cloth wall of a tent (:42). As the boat sails around the tent, guests can see a full-sized AA manipulating the puppet show. Cartoonish clouds attempt to hide the ceiling (2:55).
Sindbad's Storybook Voyage sets a new standard for a type of attraction that has been neglected for so many decades. The Imagineers who designed this AA extravaganza proved that you can teach an old technology new tricks. Sure, the animatronics don't do backflips and you can't shoot lasers at them to score points, but the magic of Sindbad draws guests into the experience in a way that projection screens and 3D glasses just can't.
Sindbad has been described as it's a small world meets Pirates of the Caribbean. From Pirates Sindbad takes a little swashbuckling. From small world he takes the concept of singing an insufferable song over and over again. Sindbad doesn't rely on modern theme park storylines such as, "then things go horribly wrong!" or "we gotta find (insert character or object here)!". It's a simple story with no gimmicks, just solid Imagineering.
There's hope for the American parks. One of the most beloved attractions never realized, The Little Mermaid dark ride, is slated to be built at California Adventure as part of that park's billion dollar makeover. Rumor has it that the attraction may end up being an AA extravaganza the likes of which American park goers haven't seen in a long time. I hope so, but Ariel has a lot of catching up to do.
While I am looking forward to The Little Mermaid dark ride, let's not forget the great strides the designers of Sindbad have made for this type of Disney theme park storytelling, nor should we forget the Oriental Land Company for making Sindbad and DisneySea possible. American Disney park fans should know what's going on in Tokyo and why Disney isn't offering an equivalent experience in the United States.
Why wait? Go without a few trips to the deteriorating Disney World and make a pilgrimage, if you are able, to Tokyo DisneySea and discover what happens when Imagineers are put in charge and the "accountanteers" are locked in a crate and stored away in that warehouse from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.