Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Bad Amusement Park Art

Today my husband and I brought our two kids to York's Wild Kingdom Zoo and Amusement Park up in York, Maine. A great time was had by all, especially since both kids are now old enough (or more specifically, tall enough) to go on most of the rides by themselves. Which means that my husband and I get to sit back and watch them having fun.

But they're still young enough that they want to ride each ride 3 or 4 times. Now, I adore my kids, but watching them ride the exact same ride 3 or 4 times in a row gets a little boring. So I look around. I check out the other kids on the ride. I watch the other parents watching the other kids on the ride. And I also check out some of the impressively bad art on and around all the rides.

Have you ever looked - I mean really looked - at some of the pictures that are airbrushed onto these rides? I have a very strong memory from my childhood of a bobsled style ride somewhere (Canobie Lake Park? Six Flags back when it was Riverside Park? Disneyland, even?) that was emblazoned with incredibly creepy-looking, bell-bottom-wearing German people playing rock band instruments. I did some Googling and discovered it was, in fact, a ride called Musik-Express (which my husband agrees used to be at Canobie, although it seems to have morphed into the Matterhorn since our childhoods - possibly because I was not the only child terrorized by the scary hippie musicians). The art looked something like this:

I recall it as being much more disturbing than this art, but that might just be because I was going past it at approximately 300 miles per hour at a distance of roughly 6 inches. Even a good-looking German musician is kind of scary from 6 inches away at 300 miles per hour, especially when he's 9 feet tall.

Now, lest anyone think I'm discriminating against German people, the creepiness is by no means limited to them; behold the Americanized version of the same ride:

If you didn't think that James Brown, Patsy Cline, and Satchmo (I'm really only certain about that last one, because, you know, bad art) could be creepy, think again.

But the art I saw today that reminded me of how terrible most amusement park ride art is was the "Wacky Mouse" junior roller coaster.

First of all, check out the painting of Wacky Mouse himself at the lower left in the above photo. Zoom in if you have to. First of all, his hat is completely deformed. Next, his ears are different shapes and sizes. Then, his arms appear to be completely different lengths. But the kicker is his eyes. Is he squinting? Is he blind in one eye? Is one of his eyes sliding off his face? What on earth is going on here, people? And while we're looking at the bottom of the photo, why is the name of the ride formed from bamboo? Is there a lot of bamboo growing in this bizarre desert where Wacky Mouse apparently lives? There is just a lot of weird stuff going on here.

It's not surprising that this bad art was part of a kiddie ride, though. When it comes to creepiness and bad art, the kiddie rides often take the cake. In an (often misguided) attempt to be cute and make the rides less scary, the designers frequently anthropomorphize the cars, making them into animals or insects. Good concept, not always good execution. Look at this series of kiddie rides. Would YOU want to climb into any of those abominations? Yeah, me neither.

I mean, just look at the rooster in the last photo. This rooster will CUT YOU, man. Seriously, do you want to put your kid on a ride designed by someone who thought these images were a great idea to use on 3-year-olds?!?? I'm thinking that person must either have a serious lack of good judgment or be on drugs. And either way, I don't want to strap my child into a Machine of Terror and Death designed by him.

Another category of bad (and scary) amusement park art is the funhouses. Now, admittedly, funhouses are supposed to be a little bit creepy and off-putting. But there's off-putting and there's off-putting, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. For example, this:

is a little off-putting, but not horrible. The gigantic eyes peering out of the window are creepy, as is the grinning face above the sign, but they're counteracted by palm trees made out of balloons and even a cute teddy bear sitting near the entrance. And the purple and green color scheme is wacky but not terrifying.

These, however:

are definitely scarring. You may need to zoom in to really see how bad the art is, but trust me, it's worth doing. These three funhouses are creepy in different ways, but their creepiness does include one thing in common: a complete disregard for proportion. The figures around the table in the first photo are all different sizes. Are they mutants? Are some of them children? Are some of them giants? And in photo 3, check out the surfers on the right carrying the beach board, as well as the figure (gender undetermined) getting the surfboard off the car roof. These three are apparently the offspring of Elastogirl, because the lengths of their arms and legs bear no relation to each other nor to the torsos to which they are attached. As for photo number two, I can't even figure out what that creature at the lower center is supposed to be. Is it a monkey? Is it a wild jungle boy? It is Paul Simon during his unfortunate combover period? Whatever it is, it's creepy.

Even carousels, which are usually shining examples of the true art of amusement park design, occasionally go awry and fall into bad art territory, as in these examples, below.

And that middle photo is from a relatively recent Disney ride, so that's further proof that even the best of designers can lose their way.

But let's cleanse our palates together with some examples of the best art that amusement parks have to offer.

The Eiffel Tower carousel in Paris. 

The Crescent Park Carousel in Providence, Rhode Island

The Columbia Carousel, Columbia, Maryland

The Carousel at Pier 39, San Francisco, California

Hmm, maybe there's a reason that many of us close our eyes on roller coasters and in funhouses but open them on carousels...

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