Thursday, 18 March 2010

Tokyo Disneysea's Mysterious Island

Welcome, declares Captain Nemo, to Mysterious Island!

The centrepoint of the Tokyo Disneysea theme park, Mysterious Island is a Verne fan's dream come true: a whole land (or in Disneysea parlance, a "port") based around 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Seen very briefly in that film as Nemo's secret base, in the few minutes before it was raided by the surface world's armies and subsequently consumed in a nuclear explosion, Mysterious Island recreates Vulcania in the "alternate history" of 1872 (some three years after the date given in the film for Vulcania's destruction and Nemo's death). Taking its name from the Verne book of the same name, this Mysterious Island is ruled over by the kinder, gentler and living Nemo.

Mysterious Island from Disneysea's Mediterranean Harbor,
with Fortress Explorations on the shore.

One of the most compelling things about Tokyo Disneysea is the overarching theme of the park. Rather than driven by situations of violence and conflict, Disneysea's narratives are driven by themes of adventure and exploration. Elsewhere in the park, one can join Sinbad's Storybook Adventure, take on the thrills of climatology in Storm Rider, help out Indiana Jones, or join the Society of Explorers and Adventurers in their Fortress Explorations. In keeping with this theme, Captain Nemo has been rehabilitated into an enigmatic and eccentric scientist singlemindedly devoted to discovery.

In some ways, probably unintentionally, this mirrors the arc of the character in Verne's own writings. As Mike Perschon observes of the novel Mysterious Island:
At the close of 20,000 Leagues, Aronnax wonders at the fate of the Nautilus and its Captain, with the hope that "the dispenser of justice will die, and that the man of science will … continue his peaceful studies of the seas" (388). Unbeknownst to Aronnax and Verne’s contemporary readers alike, the dispenser of justice had died, while the man of science survived, abandoning his quest for revenge and retreating to Lincoln Island in self-exile. Here, he is "no longer…unreconciled to God and man" (Mickel 496). Nemo’s benevolence toward Cyrus Smith and his castaway companions is evidence of a "man at peace with himself, one who has overcome the inner hatred which consumed him" (496).

Though Walt Disney gave Nemo the unequivocal death denied him by Verne, the company to bear Disney's name has given the mariner his chance at healing and redemption. To further his cause, Nemo has thrown open the doors of Mysterious Island and invited the peoples of the world to explore the ocean depths and centre of the earth along with him.

Inside Mysterious Island.

Therein, Nemo has provided the best in amenities. Handy signboards point out the various marvellous sights of Mysterious Island, like the volcanic Mount Prometheus and the Nautilus at berth. Of the former, the sign declares that:
The powerful forces of nature that created this island are still active beneath our feet. It is my quest to harness that power and utilize it for the future of mankind.

And of the latter:
Behold the Nautilus -- Perhaps my greatest creation! It is the world's first and only self-contained and powered submersible boat.

Too bad that, unlike Disneyland Paris, there is no walkthrough of the Nautilus itself. Some secrets must still be kept!

He has also opened up two eateries. The foremost is the Vulcania Restaurant, which serves serviceable Chinese food. Like the rest of the park, this restaurant is impeccably themed (except for the disappointingly normal bathroom) to the base's power plant. The other is the counter-service Nautilus Galley. Of the restaurant, the signage reveals:
Heated steam from deep within the Earth's core rises to the surface under great pressure. It provides an infinite source of energy that powers this entire island. It is even used to cook the food we eat.

Vulcania Restaurant.

Nautilus Galley.

Recognizing his visitor's desire for souvenirs, Nemo has also constructed Nautilus Gifts. Unfortunately, the gift shops in the Tokyo Disney Resort have bitten the same bullet as those in the United States. Nearly all the shoppes sell the same goods, which in Japan are an even more constrained collection of sweets and frumpy hats. Once upon a time, Nautilus Gifts had a vast array of statues and goods bedecked with the Nautilus. Now, the best I could muster was a toy car of the vehicle from Journey to the Center of the Earth, the park soundtrack CD and pins of Mickey and Minnie in crew uniforms, posed with Nautilus Gifts, Journey to the Center of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Nautilus Gifts.

Nemo's fantabulous penny-pressing device.

The meager spoils.

Water fountains!

Even the water fountains are in Vernian industrial style! But the main attractions are, of course, the big attractions: Journey and 20,000 Leagues. Together, they are perhaps the two finest examples of Imagineering in the world. 20,000 Leagues is a darkride-style attraction following, to an extent, the familiar narrative of previous 20,000 Leagues attractions. We see the undersea forest, ship graveyard and squid battle, and then it rolls off into weird and strange environs. Journey to the Center of the Earth is an inspired part-dark, part-thrill ride that takes Verne's novel, replaces Liddenbrock with Nemo and suitably mechanizes it. The grand sights of the novel - like the mushroom forest, crystal caves and underground sea - are all included, and then everything goes wrong.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
and a submarine pod.

Journey to the Center of the Earth
and a drill machine.

Mysterious Island is, without doubt or parallel, the fullest expression of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea's influence on the Disney parks. It would certainly have been amazing to have seen the original attraction at Disneyland, 50 years ago, which housed the original set pieces from the film. Walt Disney World's submarine ride is long since gone and Disneyland Paris' follows the Disneyland model of a walkthrough of Nemo's amazing craft. While such a walkthrough would be very welcome at Disneysea, the visitor still enjoys a chance to immersively enter the whole world of Captain Nemo and Jules Verne on an incredible scale. Mysterious Island is the height of Imagineering.

Mysterious Island by Night.


Nicholas Tucker said...

That looks so incredible. I hope I can visit someday.

The Infernal Mr Adams said...

Its sucks that they didn't have any good Mysterious Island merchandise.....Didn't they know the Steampunks were coming??

Cory Gross said...

The painful thing is that they used to have tonnes of stuff. If you do an Ebay search for "Tokyo Nautilus" there is usually some pretty cool stuff. I was hoping for a nice desktop model or something. Alas. But man, were they marketing the bejeezus out of Chandu and Shikiri-Utundu.