Sunday, April 13, 2014

Excuse me? Oh, I S.E.A.!

by Sam Vlas

For me, what makes the Disney theme parks so special, are the stories. And those stories can be very clear and well-known. But the mystique of certain parks and resorts is created by the stories that aren’t that apparent, but are certainly there. Today we are going to look at a prime example of such a Story, which is unique to the Asian parks, but can rival Harry Potter in scope and lore. I’m talking about the Society of Explorers and Adventurers. Who? What? How? Continue after the page break and find out, adventurer…

Back stories for parks, themed areas and resorts, often created by Imagineers, are some of the hidden gems of Disney theme parks. One particularly interesting group of individuals is the S.E.A., the Society of Explorers and Adventurers. This society, consisting of scientists, rangers, scavengers, spelunkers, archaeologists and adventurers, is dedicated to exploring every corner of the earth and gathering every bit of knowledge they possibly can.
Sounds like an exciting club to be part of, doesn’t it? Traces of the crazy antics of this Club can be found most prominently in two Asian Disney parks, Tokyo DisneySEA and Hong Kong Disneyland. We are going to look at both of these parks and where the S.E.A. can be found.


First, we’re off to Tokyo! More specifically, to DisneySEA. This is where the Society made its first appearance (what do you think SEA is in capital letters for?) and where the most “evidence” of the Society can be found. The foremost place to look at is Fortress Explorations in the Mediterranean Harbor section. Here you can explore rooms and play with unusual objects as you wander through the corridors of the grand stronghold. But, dear reader, this is all but a simple playground. It is here where S.E.A. introduces itself and makes the purpose of this Fortress clear:

“Within this citadel and on its waterfront, you can witness first-hand the progressions of our explorations and research. Our quest is never-ending and it is our hope that you will return here often to embark on your own explorations of Adventure, Romance, Innovation and Discovery.”

A very interesting premise. I mean, who doesn’t want to do that? The four main rooms of the Fortress each represent a different aspect of S.E.A. You have the enormous galleon outside on the waterfront (Adventure), the beautiful Victorian planetarium (Romance), the Galileo-esque pendulum room (Discovery) and the DaVinci-esque flying machine (Innovation). Throughout the Fortress are plaques, not only explaining the objects and rooms, but also giving hints about the Society. Also, we can find the crest of S.E.A.

Tower of Terror is the second place to look at, since it focuses on one of the presumed members of the Society: Harrison Hightower III. Obviously inspired by famous Disney Imagineer Joe Rohde, Hightower was an adventurous guy who travelled the world and collected all sorts of artifacts he could find. One particular artifact, a Tiki idle, burdened him with a terrible curse which caused the Hightower Hotel to fall in despair. The Hotel remains cursed to this day, but we can find many clues on the life of Henry Hightower III. Somewhere in the lobby, a newspaper can be found, chronicling his latest acquisition:


You can see Hightower on the 1899 group photo of S.E.A. on the far left holding his prized possession in his hands. The other “old guy with a fez” in the chair on the foreground is someone who the world actually just came to know: Lord Henry Mystic of Mystic Manor. We’re going to leave the islands of Japan and head straight to the ancient forested hills of China… to Hong Kong!

Because it is here where in 2013 S.E.A. made a “second” appearance in the queue and overall back-story of Mystic Manor. This time it tells the story of Lord Henry Mystic and his monkey companion Albert. Mystic, like Hightower, is a world traveler and collector of fine art and exotic curiosities. His prized (and, surprisingly, also cursed) possession is Pandora’s Box, a very “special” music box. If opened incorrectly, it will set the spirits inside it free and havoc (and hilarity) ensues. We can find painted and written recordings of Lord Mystic’s adventures in the queue.

Many interesting Easter-eggs can be found in the queue. We get to know some more members of S.E.A., and we can also find the group portrait seen in this article. It is clear that the Imagineers had a lot of fun constructing these fictional characters, locales, stories and articles. The portrait can make one curious: who are these people? Are we going to see more of them in future attractions or parks? Who knows?

I can’t help but seeing the infinite possibilities with these types of park-wide stories. You can make television series, books, more rides, games, almost anything out of these “open” stories. When done right, Disney and Imagineering could have a potential gold mine. I listed only three examples here, but what about Mysterious Island, Paris’ Discoveryland, the Adventurers’ Club? Are they connected too? There are so many mysteries surrounding this group of explorers and that depth is what makes Disney storytelling some of the best in the industry. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for S.E.A. and hopefully the Imagineers will dive deeper into the lore of this mysterious society.

I’d love to stay a bit longer, but adventure lurks on the horizon! Have a pleasant day, good exercise and always check your underpants… for snakes.


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