Theming vs Immersion vs Suspension of Disbelief

I’ve just read Tom Bricker’s latest blog post — on the subject of Ratatouille (which he’s ridden many times at DLP, and I rode there last August) and whether it might be over-hyped.

It turns on the question of suspension of disbelief vs immersion. The conceit of the ride is that you are Remy, scurrying around Chez Gaston. I thought the ride was tremendous fun and wonderfully themed, but I never for a moment imagined or believed that I was Remy.

This got me thinking about other attractions.

The one that springs to mind is FOP — I don’t find it too hard to believe I’m flying on the back of an animal, swooping around a fantastical alien world. I really want to believe it and that helps.

On the other hand, I don’t for a moment believe that Pandora is, er, Pandora. Or that the floating mountains are either mountains or floating. That’s not to say that I don’t love how cool the whole area is. But it’s the theming that gets me, not the immersion and there’s certainly no suspension of disbelief on my part.

The same goes for TSL. The conceit here is that we are toys, wandering around Andy’s backyard and exploring his creations. Those are giant popsicle sticks because we are very tiny. Except I’ve never felt like that. It never occurs to me that I’m small. Again, the theming is marvellous and I love TSL. But it’s not immersive. No suspension of disbelief.

What about SWGE? I think that does a better job of being superbly themed and being immersive. However, while ROTR is clever and wildly ambitious, I never believe a word of it. I do think the docking bay full of stormtroopers is an awesome sight to behold, but I never feel any sense of peril or dread. One of my friends complained that she felt pulled out of the experience while you wait in the corridor after the docking bay until you are called to the lines for the interrogation rooms. Even then the cast members do their best, but I know they are cast members.

Which brings me to character meets. I can and do suspend disbelief for fur characters, but I just can’t do it for face characters.

For those of you who aren’t self-harming Disney obsessives, let’s turn to UOR. One of the reasons people like me love UOR is because the WWOHP is both superbly themed and incredibly immersive. I don’t really think it’s real (though King’s Cross is so realistic I did catch myself suddenly thinking I was actually in London). But — to quote the Pope in response to the Passion of the Christ — it is as it was.

I actually think Kong does a good job of immersion and I’m nearly at suspension of disbelief. Hugely controversially, I even think F&F works. Well, for me.

Which experiences work at what levels for you?


I’ll just add that I think age is a big factor here. A long time ago HS (then MGM) had a “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” play area. So the conceit was the same as TSL - you got shrunk and are roaming around a backyard. At the age of 12, I did, in fact, feel as though I had been shrunk. Everything was so huge and it was contained - as in, I couldn’t see real trees or the entrance to other parts of the park as you do with TSL. But I don’t know that it’d still feel that way to me today.

I do know that on Peter Pan’s flight the inner child in me truly chooses to believe that the ship starts to fly.


wow @eeevah that just brought me back! I couldn’t remember where we had gone that had Honey I Shrunk the kids but like you, I did feel shrunk and it was amazing to me.

I also tend to agree that I can suspend belief for fur characters but struggle with face. I will say though that some of Disney’s face actors have been so good there were moments that almost got me there in kid interactions. The mannerisms are unreal.

Going for ROR and FOP next week so will let you know after on those. :wink: But yes, I have never told anyone I thought these things seemed real, commentary is always around how amazing the theming is or how well they try to create an immersive experience. For example the Radiator Springs area (Carsland) in DL is epic and blew me away and I am pretty positive my kids thought they were in the real RS (to eeeevah’s earlier point about age being a vector and not being able to see trees or other things that would skew sightlines).


Reminds me that one of the early criticisms of Snow White’s Scary Adventure at DLR is that people walked out wondering where Snow White was.
They didn’t realize that the ride concept was that they were in the role of Snow White.


For me, SWGE and WWoHP are the two lands that come closest to Suspension of Disbelief, followed by Cars Land. For Cars Land, I never feel like I’m in the world of Cars as much as I can imagine I’m in a national park on the Utah / Arizona border, especially at night.

Pandora, World Showcase, Africa, Asia, Main Street, and New Orleans Square are the most immersive lands.

Frontierland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, and Adventureland, have incredible theming.

I’m not the biggest fan of the theming in most of HS, Dinoland, UOR, and (at least currently) Future World aka Constructionland - though that last one used to be incredible and I’m sure it will find its footing soon.


Personally I’m awaiting the immersive experience of Tomorrowland once they acquire the Star Trek IP.


This is a fun topic to explore every once in awhile, and I know we’ve had some polls on it. Yeah, it’s hard as an adult to truly believe you are somewhere you’re not or to think something’s real that isn’t, without losing some mental capacities. It’s hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube past a certain age no matter how imaginative we are. Once I knew pro wrestling was fake, I could never convince myself again that it was real.

But agree with SWGE and WWOHP coming the closest. In December, in GE for the first time, the plan was to take in all of GE in one shot without leaving and reentering, for best immersion, and it mostly worked. I base that on the feeling I had when after 5-6 hours in GE, we went out the front entrance and then on to Muppets. I legitimately had a feeling of “where the heck are we, oh yeah we’ve been in HS this whole time” for a second. And that’s what I was hoping for, a suspension of disbelief for just a brief moment. I felt the same the first times in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, where it felt strange to go back into the other UOR areas.


I find this topic interesting and look forward to reading how people believe/don’t believe in the perceived reality of their experiences.

For me it’s a choice. I don’t think I’ve found myself accidentally believing I’m in the fantasy of any land. There are lots of experiences where I just enjoy things for what they are and that’s great, but there are others where I make the choice to be in the mindset of the character or situation.

Two examples that come to mind are FoP and Forbidden Journey at WWoHP. I’ve had mind-blowing rides on those where I let myself experience it from the perspective that I really am in a Na’vi avatar or I really am a Hogwarts student.

Similarly, I use this as a coping mechanism on Mission Space.
I cannot handle the feeling of the spinning and the enclosed capsule and was really really nervous to go back on it again on our next trip, however, I completely embraced the storyline and it helped immensely.
Instead of feeling claustrophobic about being in such a small space, I bought in to the idea that there was a spacious rocket behind me. When the spinning started, I bought in to the feeling that it was actually the forces of a rocket launching.
Deliberately deciding to believe the experience was real makes that one of my favourite rides.


Oh the fun to be had by those CM’s!! I have a very vague idea (keeping it that way) but I get the gist.

If I could keep a straight face, I’d be all OVER that role. As it stands today, I’d make it halfway through and start giggling madly. Oh! I’d like the job that directs the CM’s how to be immersive in that role!!

Same! -ish. I still have a hard time because I’ve been backstage. But I want to not be in my head and let myself believe. That being said, there used to be Genie who would hang around Dumbo when I was on rotation, blowing kisses and drawing hearts in the air whenever there was a lapse in the greet. I still smile when I think of them, though I never saw who it was.

To me Disney does a better Bubble experience. Those CM’s are nice enough as not only not to detract, but to aid in the Nothing Wrong Here, Leave Your Troubles at the Door approach.

When I’m there I’m not thinking taxes or drama (unless I feel ready to discuss it). No helicopters/planes overhead and no (used to be) outside references to drag me back into reality. I was in my own space where everyone was nice to me that I needed to be.

In UOR, I was completely blown away by theming. No one does it better, period.

But the regular workers do not do it for me. They’re eating and drinking on stage, cell phones, bored expressions. To me if feels as if they’re just at a job, not putting on a show which is what Disney is SO much better at.

I am also not a huge fan of the one box fits all approach UOR seemed to be leaning towards. They did much better with FJ, Gringott’s, Hagrids and now this Velo-whatever. But I was horrible disappointed with the Simpsons ride and couldn’t bring myself to try Transformers. My motion sickness just cannot handle anything in a box, and half of what’s out of the box either tbh, but I force myself on those because the storytelling’s better.

I guess that’s the answer, I force myself onto FJ and Gringott’s, despite it making me sick. Disney, I don’t have to force anything. In fact, I keep giving them more money because nothing DOES seem forced. I don’t know if that makes any sense. But great discussion topic!


Me too!


One thing I’ll add -

Most of Disney’s rides are immersive to me. Not always suspension of disbelief, but real immersion. Most of UOR’s rides are not, outside WWoHP. But UOR is better than most other theme parks, and their newer rides are getting better at this (like Velocicoaster :eyes::eyes::eyes:).


I forget I’m not in real RS and I am way past kid age, my personal favorite Land ever. Having the cars as greets…next level.



Oh Crap!! :rofl::rofl::rofl::rofl::rofl:


It never bothered me that she wasn’t there, I was always too freaked out by the witch to care. I just wanted off! It makes so much more sense now! :rofl::rofl:


SWGE put me on the verge of suspension of disbelief. My kids definitely had no problem with suspension of disbelief on ROTR. They 100% believed we were on a first order ship. My DD7 had to get out of line because she thought it was real. On MFSR, I felt like I was on the falcon. Logically of course if someone asked me, I knew that in reality it was just a ride set. But emotionally I was there. Living my childhood dream.

Meeting the characters, again logically I know that they are actors, but emotionally I am talking to Minnie or Merida, and seeing my son crow with Peter Pan or dance with Baymax. Obviously I don’t believe they are really them, but in that moment It’s a bit of bent reality. I think that’s the thing with suspension of disbelief- if you are required to think logically of course you know it isn’t true or couldn’t be possible, but in that moment even if it’s brief you feel that it could be so. I think some of us have a harder time turning the logic off sometimes. Sometimes I’m that person- I’m very logical. I work with statistics and data analysis in human behavior. By nature I logic the heck out of everything. I think that is why I love Disney. It gives me an excuse to not be logical, and operate in emotions and silliness.

I don’t know that I’ll feel like I’m Remy on the new ride, but I don’t think it’s too much of a leap to think that I’ll be able to tell it’s from his perspective. I’m really looking forward to the theming because for some weird reason I love normal items that have been made to be very large. I love the giant game pieces in Toy Story Land, and the giant glue bottle in SDD line absolutely cracks me up… and I really miss the Honey I Shrunk the Kids playground…


The irony is not lost on me, that I say this knowing that even the way I (and we all) approach the parks is to create touring plans based on statistics and analysis of human behavior :rofl::rofl::rofl: babysteps, I guess


I’ll second that! :cry:


Sadly I missed out on it.
Pity. I imagine kids would get a kick out of it even if they weren’t familiar with the movies.

Maybe this is suspension of disbelief:
I’d never really interacted with a character until about 5 years ago. We’re retired now, and can do trips for just the two of us. The first character I came across, with very easy access, was the Fairy Godmother, on the trail near the castle. There was almost no line. I felt ok to approach her because she’s (the character, not the CM dressed up) close to me in age, and we could talk as grownups. I felt a bit silly, and commented about how everyone, including us older folk, could still use a Fairy Godmother. Hey, why not have fun and be childlike? From that moment on, I was eager to talk to any and all characters - and to have fun and be playful. Why not?!?


Yes! This me too! And then when I brought my 5 yo DD on a disaster if a WDW trip, this playground turned it around. Literally.