My daughter is visiting from Washington for a few days, so I am attempting to wow her with visions of all things Walt Disney World.
For one thing, Disney has brought out all these extra people to make the place feel so much more magical. And not only that, they speak all sorts of exotic languages, and have all sorts of strange and wondrous customs – like not observing queues, or one person holding a spot for forty people until the last moment. How very quaint.
But still plenty of intentional magic to go around.
One of my personal favorite attractions is Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor – a combination of “gee whiz” and “ha ha” all wrapped up in a fun little show. The attraction is based on the movie Monsters, Inc, and the final realization (spoiler)…
…that LAUGHTER is more powerful than screams. So instead of coming over here and getting us to laugh one on one, they built a comedy club and get us to laugh as a group. Or try to.
You get shuffled in to the show, and invited to text your jokes. Told they’ll use them in the shows. And then, in what has to be the most amazing sign I’ve ever seen in an amusement park, they post THIS:
Yep. The Walt Disney Company and all it’s affiliates now claims ownership of that joke for ever and ever. Amen.
It really is a small world after all.
So, you pass through one of their “doors” and into the hallways of Monsters, Inc, for the pre-show waiting area. Basically, a nicely appointed cattle chute. The walls have interesting visual details, such as portraits of the comedian of the month, reviews of the club, offices with names on them. and the overhead speaker puts out occasional PA announcements (voiced by Jennifer Tilly) appropriate to a company staffed by monsters. Five minutes before the show, overhead monitors give us a video starring Mike Wazowski, a round green friendly-looking cyclops type, voiced by Billy Crystal as a typical Borscht belt comedian. (“That’s Wazowski with one eye.”)
We get explained how the show works, show a set of clips (mostly of Mike getting safes dropped on him), and then the doors open and head into the main show room.
As I head across, at the center aisle halfway across a cast member stop my daughter and I and says, “That’s far enough. for you.” Curious. Normally they want you to fill in all the way to the end. I smell a setup. But we take our seats on the molded plastic benches.
On the main screen, a monster comes out and the magic really starts. The technology is something called “digital puppetry.” Basically, it allows performers on monitors backstage to watch the audience and interact with them. They speak and manipulate the characters reactions, and the animated characters faces move and express emotions and point and gesture and look surprised and suspicious, etc. They also look as appropriate at audience members. The computers synthesize and process their voices in real-time – in other words, real-time computer animation. The first use of this technology was in the attraction Turtle Talk with Crush at Epcot Center in 2005, which is still amazing.
But this is comedy. So the voices behind the mike aren’t just actors. They are improv comedians. They have to be able to interact with the audience, pick out and riff on, oh, things like face paint as a “skin condition.”
Or a new-born child as “freshly baked and right out of the oven.”
Or me as “THAT GUY.”
You see, Mike, the MC (That’s Monster of Ceremonies), explains to the audience at the start of the show that things are different in the monster world. So… (switching to the script…)
So if I were to say ‘you stink’ to THAT GUY…
(A GOD LIGHT from above illuminates a gentleman who looks like Santa Claus sitting in the 4th row next to his startled daughter. His image appears on the side video screen. He waves his cane angrily at the camera and mutters “get off of my lawn.”)
That would be a compliment. You’re welcome, sir.
And thus, I was labelled “THAT GUY” and was now part of the show’s running gag.
Every time a performer referred to “That Guy,” on came the light and camera. But the neatest part? The video puppets on-screen interacted in real-time with me:
- The first act, a two-headed monster named Sam and Ella, wanted me to say “And I would have got away with it to, if it weren’t for those meddling kids!”
- The second act, a mentalist named Buddy Boyle (I’m telepathetic!”) mentioned he really wanted t go find my lawn just so he could go stand on it.
- And the last act, Mike’s nephew Marty, explained that I was probably just grumpy because I was tired after delivering all those presents.
Funny, funny show. Great timing. Would love to know who the fellow comics behind the curtain were – maybe someday. But for today, they made me THAT GUY… and it made my daughter and my day pretty magic.
And that’s a wrap for #OneMagicYear – Day 2.