The Curious Case of the Cottage – What Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Can Teach Us About Story
When you consider great moments in Theme Park design often times recent years aren’t considered. Sure, the ballroom scene from The Haunted Mansion and the blue bayou portion of Pirates of the Caribbean come to mind as some of the best sets ever created, but let’s jump to 2014 for a minute and discuss a static set piece that conveys a story first told in 1937. Of course we’re talking about Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and more importantly the roller coaster added to New Fantasyland at The Magic Kingdom just a few years ago. This attraction features not only a compelling story paired with a unique coaster but also a gigantic…. cottage. Let’s bring out the long zoom and focus in on the dwarfs’ cottage.
After entering the attraction queue we’re immediately dropped into the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The time and place? A forest, somewhere close to the main story, but still set apart. We don’t get our first piece of the linear story line until we continue on and see the big cottage.
The first glimpse of the cottage appears while either going through FastPass+ or regular standby. In the regular standby line the cottage is much further away, but either queue location sets you at a certain point in the Snow White story: The cottage has been established. Without any other context clues we can’t yet 100% determine when we’re viewing the cottage, but rather it exists. Faint music can be heard in the background, so this seemingly dormant cottage should be alive.
During the course of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train we follow the dwarfs digging in the mines, leaving the mines and going home (from work we go..), which brings us to the final drop and big moment of the attraction. You can see the cottage to the side off in the distance but the coaster still has a lot of track to cover.
Stopping at the final brake run before entering unload we confirm our original suspicions that the cottage is in fact very alive. There’s a party happening inside and the Silly Song is playing. If you need a refresher on Snow White you can check out The Silly Song scene here. The next scene in the movie involves the Wicked Witch giving Snow White the sleeping death apple. On the ride, as you travel past the brake run, you see the Wicked Witch getting ready to enter this scene. This is all linear storytelling by revealing key parts little by little.
The train approaches unload, you disembark, and walk past the cottage one final time while exiting the attraction. While the cottage doesn’t literally change or move you now witness the same building further along in the story line, mainly around the time when Snow White bites the apple.
Not every set needs to be animated, not every set needs to literally spell out a story with song or spoken words. Sometimes the best stories are ones you don’t realize are being told to you. This linear progression in time by a static building relies on Walt Disney Imagineering treating park goers like intelligent human beings. There’s not a point where any of this progression is spelled out, but you understand exactly what point in the story you are physically at during different times. My favorite bit about exiting past the cottage again is that people entering the queue are behind in the story, while you’re ahead. It’s truly something that feels natural but has an in-depth reasoning behind it.
Storytelling takes many shapes across Walt Disney Parks and the cottage here is just one example of the crazy amount of time and effort that goes into the design process behind attractions.